Acrylic Gloss Varnish Sealer on Mat Board Collagraphs
When you make a collagraph plate from mat board (also known as mount board), the front, back, and edges of the board should be sealed. Moisture from printmaking inks and modifiers would soak the mat board plate into cotton pulp. The sealed printable surface should be a barrier between the ink and the cotton paper. The sealer should also be slippery enough to release ink when paper is pressed against it.
For the past 15 years or so, I’ve use the same product to seal my plates: Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish. If you’ve followed any of my collagraph tutorial videos on YouTube, you’ve seen and heard me sing praises for the stuff.
I found out a couple of weeks ago that Liquitex has discontinued it. Mediums and Varnishes are in separate categories now.
The old-version of acrylic sealer I’ve used on mat board collagraph plates on the left, and the new sealer I’m testing in the studio on the right.
Testing Acrylic Plate Sealers
According to the advice from the rep at Liquitex – my best bet was to try the Varnish products. When I looked for it on Amazon, Gloss Varnish (not high gloss) was the only type available.
Gloss varnish is described as brush on or spray, non-removable, archival varnish with a gloss finish. Sounds good, right?
I want to compare this with their line of High Gloss Varnish, which is described as Non-Removable, archival varnish with a high gloss finish. This version is even slipperier than the gloss version, which would imply that it will release ink quickly when transferred to paper. It just became available, so I haven’t tested it yet.
But I did test the Gloss Varnish on some mat board collagraph plates (see below).
Seal the Plate Before You Carve
By sealing the mat board with a thin layer of acrylic varnish before you start carving – you can pull your cut-out shapes off with less risk of tearing.
After peeling shapes from the thin uppermost-layer off the back of the mat board (carve on the reverse, not the front, because its smoother), add another coat of acrylic varnish to seal the exposed cottony filler fiber.
The new Liquitex Gloss Varnish brushed on the plate similar to the previous version I’ve been using, but it was a bit thinner, and it seemed to soak into the paper fast. The surface had a shine, the same as the older version of the medium and varnish, but it felt thinner and a bit more fragile.
Close, But Not Quite the Same
The Gloss Liquitex Varnish is close to the previous Varnish and Medium, but thinner, and a bit “porous”. The ink penetrated through the two coats of varnish sealer, and stained the plate with more saturated inks than usual. Even after wiping the plate clean, it still looks inked. (See below)
I added a third coat of the gloss varnish and printed a few more the next day, which improved the ink release a little. It’s not quite the same product, but it’ll do for now. I’ll be ordering the high gloss varnish this week, and I’ll test it on another collagraph. Have you used it like this?
Varnish for Painting, Used for Printing
I should be clear here, and confess that I’m using a product by Liquitex that wasn’t meant to seal printmaking plates.
This varnish is primarily a painting medium, for use with their line of acrylic paints, so it’s not fair to stamp my foot and demand ‘How Could You Change My Varnish!?’ I’m not using the stuff for what it was formulated for, so its best to roll with it.
Printmaking has always been a squirrelly art-making medium. It’s loaded with necessity for adjustments, tweaks and unconventional work-arounds.
Making prints honors ingenuity. I think it’ll always be that way, and if you’re a natural born problem solver, head scratcher, figure-it-outer, printmaking could be your spirit animal.
Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post!
P.S. Have you seen Nell Smith’s Collagraph Printmaking demo video using plain cardboard and a variety of tapes, with no press?
P.P.S. In a printmaking group that meets every Thursday morning at 8:00am (California time) on the audio app Clubhouse, I asked what other printmakers seal their plates with. Wood glue and Mod Podge came up. What do you think about other water-washable plate sealer options?
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