Figurative Drypoint Etching from a Plexiglass Plate

drypoint etching from plexiglass, of a girl in a bath tub

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Drypoint Etching Intaglio Prints from Life Memories

This little Drypoint etching is a nod to a time when my siblings and I lived in a rambling old house in Santa Barbara, California. We had one luxury; a generously sized claw foot bath tub under a sunny window in our single bathroom.

We loved that bathtub. Each of us spent languid time soaking in sun-dappled bubbles, with cups of tea and music. That chapter of my history set up a life long appreciation for the simple luxury of taking a bath. So, I wanted to make a Drypoint, based on a photo I have of my little sister taking a bubble bath in that excellent tub.

drypoint from plexiglass or acrylic
Scribing line work into a sheet of plexiglass to make a peacock drypoint etching.
cutting plexiglass into smaller sizes for printmaking projects
Cutting Plexiglass in the studio. I buy larger sheets (like this one), and cut them into smaller sizes to make printmaking plates for drypoint etchings and monotype prints. You can watch a video of how I cut plexiglass to size here.

Using Plexiglass or Plastic for Intaglio Drypoint Prints

Drypoint printmaking is a very old intaglio printmaking method. Plates were traditionally incised on copper or metal – and they are still made that way. But you can use everything from plexiglass and mylar to recycled produce containers to make an etched printmaking plate. (<—See examples here.)

In this demo, I’m engraving a Drypoint print on a sheet of plexiglass purchased online. I used a cork-backed straight edge ruler, and a utility knife to score the material, and then snapped the plate along the score line to make smaller pieces.

drawing on plexiglass to make a drypoint etching
After beveling the edges of the plate [see a tutorial video for that below] – because I’ll be printing this drypoint on a press – I’ve put a loose drawing – like a little map – on the plate with a sharpie marker.
using a sharp stainless scribe to engrave plexiglass to make a drypoint print
Engraving incised line work and cross hatching – like microscopic canyons – into the plexiglass to hold ink, using a sharp stainless tool (like this etching needle).
mixing ink on a plexiglass sheet
Mixing (and warming via friction) two different printmaking inks to make a perfect consistency for a drypoint print (see more about this ink mix below)
applying ink to a drypoint plate with a card
Applying ink to the plate with a soft wedge of card, carefully, so I don’t scratch the plexiglass. It helps to put a sheet of non-skid shelf liner under your plate – to stabilize it – while you’re inking, wiping and later, cleaning the plate.
wiping ink from an intaglio style print (a drypoint) with crumpled phone book pages or newsprint
Wiping the plate with crumpled, soft newsprint, or old phone book pages. You can also use stiffened muslin, called tarlatan.
after inking and wiping a sheet of engraved plexiglass, it's ready to test print
The plate after being inked and wiped. Ready to be squeezed against a sheet of soaked and blotted printmaking paper on my Takach etching press.

after making an artist's proof print from a drypoint plate, more line work is engraved into the plexiglass with a stainless scribe
After the artist proof of this Drypoint was printed, I used that first print as a reference, and went back in with my twisted scribe to adjust values by etching a little more here and there.

Printing Press Options

I borrowed time on other artists’ presses for decades. Eventually, I researched, saved, and selected a press of my own.

These days, there are many more affordable and small scale options for printing intaglio prints (drypoints, etching, mezzotints, etc).

You can use a small embosser as a press ‘, or a pasta press. I love how the creative community usually finds a workaround to solve common problems.

There’s a very active group on Facebook called Craft Press Printmakers, where everyone in the group has altered a craft machine, like a stenciler, or embosser to make small prints. There’s another group called Printhackers, with lots of research into small press alternatives. I recommend both groups if you’re looking to get a small press alternative to make prints from your kitchen counter or dining room table. It can be done very effectively.

after a trip through the press, a drypoint pint is pulled from the inked and wiped plate, revealing a girl in a bath tub
After a trip through the press, pulling an artist’s proof print of this bath tub drypoint

Drypoint Print Ink Mix Recipe

I read a master print shop article (here) about a lovely blend of two inks perfectly suited for dry point engraving. After ordering the inks (below) – this was my first test print with the mix. I *loved* them. The viscosity of the ink printed every line in the Drypoint. If you’re looking for a drypoint ink blend, I recommend this one. It’s oil based, so you’ll either need solvents to clean up, or vegetable oil and dish soap.

The best ink mixture for drypoint printmaking
The Best drypoint print ink recipe uses these two Graphic Chemical and Charbonnel inks in a 50-50 mix

A Drypoint etching from plexiglass of a girl sitting in a bathtub
An artist’s proof (designated on signed prints as A.P.) After printing this, I adjusted lines and cross hatching on the plexiglass plate.

Plexiglass for a Drypoint Print

Here is a tutorial video (below) demonstrating how to bevel your plexiglass plate, using a rasp and a sanding block. 

By angling the hard corner edge that was snapped off in the plate-cutting process, you’ll ensure that your sharp edges don’t cut your printmaking paper or your blankets under the pressure of your press. 

You can read more about the process of preparing a plexiglass plate to use watercolor, water soluble crayons and adding a bevel in this post.

A demonstration video to show you how to bevel a plexiglass plate – which is important if you plan to print your Drypoint etching on a press.
Drypoint etchings of a girl in a tub drying in an art studio
Drypoint etchings hanging in the studio from a closet made shelf with clothes pins while the ink dries
an artist's proof drypoint print of a girl on a bathtub, painted with watercolors
Adding pigment (in this case, watercolor) to the proof print
helps me see where I need to adjust tones (darks and lights)
on the plate before printing the edition.
Bubble Bath 4×4.5 Dry Point Engraving with Watercolor (See this Drypoint etching with watercolor framed and ready to hang – available in my Etsy Shop.)

Have You Made a Drypoint Print Before?

Now you have step by step photos of the process to create a drypoint engraving from acrylic or plexiglass (also called perspex in other parts of the world.

Take a look at this playlist of Drypoint print from plexiglass plate tutorials on my YouTube channel for more details.

Under each video window, you’ll find a Show More link (see the screen shot below) to expand the description, and there’s a supply list with links to help you find the things you need to make a Drypoint.

Have you ever made a drypoint from traditional copper plate? If you know any resources that would be helpful, please leave details in the comments so we can all get better at printmaking together.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email here.

Finding the Show More Details in a YouTube Video

Art Quote

When Mark Rothko used tempera, he would follow a procedure that has existed since the Renaissance, separating dozens of eggs, and beating the whites into a consistency close to that of a soufflé.  Those few friends who saw Rothko perform this rite were delighted by the bulky Balzacian figure, with large hands, delicately transferring yolk after yolk, from half shell to half shell.

While teaching at a University, and feeling isolated and far from home (New York), he participated in an exhibit. He wrote home: Two of my paintings hang here for the last three weeks. Not a word or a look from the faculty, students or the Fricks. One of them, on my first visit, I found was hung horizontally. I phoned the hanger about his error. “Oh, it was no error,” he said. “I thought it filled the space better.” I swear by the bones of Titian this is true.

The Legacy of Mark Rothko – Lee Seldes

Drypoint on Plexiglass or Recycled Plastic Printmaking Supplies

Here is a list of supplies to help you prepare to make a drypoint print from plexiglass, drafting film (mylar), or recycled plastic.

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3 thoughts on “Figurative Drypoint Etching from a Plexiglass Plate”

  1. Belinda, this was a wonderful tutorial! Thank you – I am about to go try it out!!! I’m going to go finish that watercolor I’ve been working on, too!!

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