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Silk Aquatint Print Instructions

What’s a Silk Aquatint?  This previous post covers the mechanics of how silk aquatints work, and some of the materials used.  And Sue Brown has a manual with instructions you can get over here.

Let me show you more details here so you can build one yourself.

Silk Aquatint is a form of printmaking that’s considered an intaglio print – that is – you’re printing from the recessed areas of the plate’s matrix. Ink is hunkered down in the weave of the silk, after wiping the uppermost surface of the plate clear.

In order to get paper to dip down into those tiny spaces in the screen of the silk to collect ink, printing via an etching press is your best bet.

Hand burnishing this sort of print would be challenging, at best.

silk screen fabric used in silk aquatint printmaking 2019
This is 55T (or 12xx) Polyester screening silk, hovered over a plexiglass plate. I purchased the silk by the yard here. When you get yours, be sure to unfold and hang it, to remove any creases or ripples resulting from being folded in the packaging.

Mat Board as a Plate?

Before I adhered the polyester screen to the mat board used for this print,  I coated the entire surface and all the edges of the mat board with Acrylic Medium, twice, to seal it. (You don’t have to do this is you’re using plexiglass.)

Various silk aquatint instructions I found online suggest avoiding cardboard as a plate, because it’s too absorbent, and it’ll crush under the pressure of a press.

I have a lot of scrap mat board leftover from framing my work.  I use it to make collagraphs and now, silk aquatints. It’s sturdier than cardboard, so I’m blocking the absorbency with acrylic gel as the first step to preparing the plates.

an artist's studio with silk screen adhered to small rectangular plates using black acrylic paint
New silk screen polyester being adhered to plates with thinned black acrylic paint to make silk aquatints

Screening Polyester 12-14XX (or 55T)

The photo above shows a batch of silk aquatint plates under way. I was testing different plate materials, so these are either plexiglass, with the edges beveled at an angle (<– here is a link to a tutorial video on that), or the back of scrap mat board (also known as press board and mount board in other parts of the world), coated first with two layers on all sides and edges of Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish.

This step (above) shows polyester silk cut about an inch larger than each plate, and laid on the surface, adhered with black acrylic paint thinned with water.

building silk aquatint plates 2019
Adhering polyester silk to the verso of matboard and plexiglass plates with thinned black acrylic paint – you can see here why folds and creases in the silk can be a problem
silk aquatint plate under construction printmaking 2019

Silk Aquatint Plate Preparation

Using a foam applicator brush, I spread a layer of black acrylic paint, thinned 1/5 with water on each square of polyester silk so it would adhere to the back of the mat board plate with no air bubbles or wrinkles.

I let these dry overnight, and trimmed the excess fabric the next morning. For some other “found” instructions on making plates for silk aquatints, see the description at the bottom of this page in the Art Quote.
Using white acrylic paint, blended with either acrylic gel (for thicker application) or acrylic medium (for thinner application), I painted this little interior bedroom scene and let it dry completely.

a silk aquatint plate, inked and wiped on the press bed, next to a sheet of paper, ready to print
On the Takach press bed, inked and wiped, with a soaked & blotted piece of BFK Rives paper, ready to print.

Reduced Pigment Printmaking Inks for Silk Aquatints

Above, I’ve inked and wiped the plate, intaglio style, with a blend of Akua Intaglio water based ink in Paynes Gray, cut 50/50 with Akua Transparent Base.

I find that this reduced pigment blend prints silk aquatints with more subtle halftones, compared to full pigment inks.

Silk Aquatint prints are often referred to as What You See is What You Get. Unlike other forms of printmaking, where there is a certain amount of guessing as to how your finished print will look. Silk aquatints print a copy of just what you see on the plate, only in reverse.

And if a passage is darker than you meant it to be, you can clean the plate and go back in to add sheer veils of thinned white acrylic to adjust halftones. Then, print again. See the print compared to the plate below.

pulling a silk aquatint print on the bed of an etching press 2019
Pulling the print, after a trip through the press, using Akua Intaglio ink in Paynes Gray, cut 50/50 with Akua transparent base

Pulling the Print

After a trip through the press, I’m pulling the print (above), and you can see the variations in tone and value – from deep darks to brighter passages, and some nice gradations in between.

If you have access to a press, I highly recommend experimenting with this lovely, non toxic printmaking method.

You can find more about it in the Art Quote below, and by searching the web for ‘silk aquatint’.

rinsing a sealed silk aquatint plate after printing
Cleaning the plate after printing. Only do this ‘in sink’ washing if you’ve read about plate materials below.

Plate Material

In the photos above, I’m rinsing the plate after scrubbing the printmaking ink off with Dawn soap.

[NOTE: If you’re using mat board as your plate, and you haven’t sealed it first – front, back & all four edges , TWICE – with Acrylic Medium before building the plate, don’t run it under water, or you’ll turn your plate into a handful of paper pulp. Really.

Scrubbing water-wash-up printmaking ink from a silk aquatint plate with dawn dish soap and a scrub brush

Tips from Takach

The fine folks at Takach press gave me a good tip: when cleaning Akua Inks from plates, hands or work surfaces, straight Dawn dish soap (no water) works fast.

I used more than I needed here to illustrate the point, but a dime sized dollop and a scrub brush or old rag works great to clean all the ink from the polyester screen on my plate.

So there you have it! The basics for making a silk aquatint plate with silk screen polyester, and either a plexiglass plate or a sheet of mat board. Are you going to make one? Do you have any questions about the process? Leave any questions in the comments section below, and I’ll get right back to you.

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

Make something soon,


P.S. This class is streaming free for a limited time too: How to Double Your Followers and Get your Creative Marketing launched

Studio windowsill, where Bunny is bookended by glass in the sunshine

Art Quote

To prepare a silk aquatint plate, you will need a substrate or backing board, some black and some white acrylic paint and fabric. Caraccio prefers to use high impact polystyrene because it comes in large sheets, has the thickness of a zinc plate and cuts easily, even curved shapes with just a mat knife. Other choices are Plexiglas, rigid wood or metal. Avoid cardboard as it is too soft and absorbent. For black paint, use any kind, even inexpensive house paint as long as it is acrylic. The acrylic white paint should be artist’s quality. Acrylic medium or gel are needed too, but do not use gesso or modeling paste as they both have a sandy texture. For a brush to make the plate, use a sponge brush if possible. For the image making, some artists use trowels, spatulas and squeegees as well as painting brushes. Caraccio’s favorite fabric is silk screening polyester 12xx or 14xx. Real silk organdy will work as well; other fabrics can be experimented with. Wrinkles are a potential problem. Roll the fabric and do not let it touch the floor to avoid dust.
First, sand the backing material lightly to give it tooth.
Next, clean the board of all dust with water and a rag and let dry. The black paint is then applied to the board after first thinning it to the consistency of light cream. If you are getting obvious brush strokes, thin the paint even more. After the black is dry, inspect the surface for any lumps and remove them. Next cut your fabric on the bias and cut the fabric larger than the backing by one half inch. The bias cut prevents fraying around the edges. Lay the fabric over the painted backing. It is helpful for the next step to lay your backing plate on a surface into which tacks or push-pins can be used. Tack around the edges only if there are wrinkles to be pulled out. Now with a brush, flood paint the fabric with more black paint. Make this a fluid application to drench the pores of the weave. This colors the silk and adheres it to the backing. Let dry completely, about three hours.
Now prepare the white paint by mixing 1/5 acrylic white paint with 4/5 acrylic medium (for smooth coating) or gel (for impasto effect). Now begin to make your image. If you do not wish to see brush strokes in the print, water down the white paint and use more layers (letting the paint dry before adding to the layers). You can wet the silk for watercolor effects. Let your plate dry and trim the edges. Ink with a square of cardboard or plastic ink spreader. Wipe the plate with tarlatan & print.

Maryland Printmakers InPrint article,  Sue Anne Bottomley visits the New York City studio of Kathy Caraccio, March 1998
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Here’s a free mini-class for you: Six Tips to Paint More Often. Check it out by clicking the paint brushes.

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4 thoughts on “Making a Silk Aquatint: The Captain’s Cabin”

  1. Sonia’s warning is very valid. I had a glass object on a window sill in my apartment in foggy San Francisco. The sun came out one morning and shined through it and set the papers on my desk on fire! Fortunately, while I had left for work, I had forgotten something and came back, smelled the burning, and put out the fire before it did more damage. So, be careful!

    1. Hi Lee, Wow, you had such a close call! That could have been devastating! I’ve just moved the paper weight to another spot in my studio, away from the sill on this cloudy, rainy day, lest I forget to move it later when the sun comes back out! Thanks for watching out for me! You guys are the bees knees! XOXO

  2. Thanks for yet another really interesting article Belinda. I am still hoping to get around to a decent collagraph print before I try this one out. Just a comment about your studio windowsill photo – I used to display a glass paperweight in my window until after one sunny day I noticed that the pvc windowsill immediately underneath had begun to melt! (NB: we are not noted for extremely high temperatures in the UK!) Just beware.

    1. Hi Sonia,
      Oh my goodness, the paper weight as magnifier of the sun! I would have never considered this! Thanks for the heads up. My placement of the glass will have to be seasonal then; I don’t get much sunshine in this window all winter (seasonal angles and a huge macadamia nut tree), but come summertime, it’ll have to go somewhere else! Thanks for that! And I hope you get to make a collagraph soon. I’m working on an experimental one using carborundum, so stay tuned! Thanks for the tip! 🙂

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