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How to Print a Collagraph plate | Printmaking at Home

Updated: Mar 28

*If you've not made a collagraph plate yet, check out this post!

*Pssst! If you'd like a more in-depth look at Collagraph, check out my Skillshare classes!

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photo of a sealed collagraph plate

So you’ve made your collagraph plate. Hurrah! Now you get to print from it. Here’s how to print a collagraph plate at home…

Collect your materials together & prep your space

*Disclaimer: Please note there are affiliate links included here (underlined). Clicking on them will not cost you anything but they help to support my site by possibly giving me a small commission.

You will need:

Printing Ink & Brushes

You can use water-based inks or oil-based inks. Water-based are easier to clean up; oil-based are often more vibrant. If you are new to printmaking I would suggest starting with water-based and moving on to oil-based later if you enjoy the process.

I like using scratchy horse-hair type brushes for applying collagraph inks - they are stiff enough to get into all the little crevices of the plate. If you have any old brushes, perhaps use them for this!

Various Papers

You can experiment with lots of different types of paper to print with as you’re learning - that’s part of the fun! - but the ones which will work best at home are likely to be thinner ones. If you have access to a printing press, thicker ones work better, but when using a thicker paper without a press it can be hard to generate enough pressure to be able to print well.

  • For my main prints here I am using Black Ink Unbleached Natural Mulberry Paper. This is a thin but strong paper, which is great for at home printing.

  • For any first test prints make sure to have some pieces of paper handy that aren’t pricey - computer paper or some scrap cartridge. While it may not print well, it is great for testing out inks/pressure before using your nicer papers.

  • Optional - have some thin paper like Newsprint available. This can be used over the top of your thinner, more delicate, printing paper, to bear the brunt of the pressure you apply.

Optional - Non-Slip Surface or Tape

You need to keep your plate steady while you print from it. Any movement of the plate while you are pressing down may result in blurry prints. Once you get used to printing, you'll find you can keep it steady with just your hands, but if you feel it's a bit unstable at first you can create a non-slip surface by using a silicone mat or similar. I've used a silicone baking mat in the past.

You can also use masking tape to secure your plate to your surface. Fold strips of it into loops, sticky side out, and affix to the rear corners of your plate.

Optional - Pressure Makers

The best tools you have for pressing a collagraph are your fingers! But you can also have these optional extras handy if you want to experiment:

  • A metal spoon. Any metal spoon you can spare from your kitchen will be perfect. You can use it to press/rub down on your print.

  • A rolling pin. Again, if you have one from your kitchen spare, feel free to try it for rolling an even pressure.

  • A brayer. This is a more specifically printmaking tool, but if you have one for block printing you can use it here simply for rolling pressure.

Water and a sponge

You will need to dampen your paper before printing. I use a sponge dampened with water to wipe across my papers, but you can also use a large bowl big enough to dip your paper in. Have a clean area ready where you can leave your damp papers to soften.

Prep your area

Make sure you have set spaces clear and ready - a space for dampening paper; a space for inking and printing; and a space for prints to dry.

How to print a collagraph plate at home:

1. Dampen Your Paper

Damp paper helps the inks to transfer better, but remember - damp is not the same as wet.

If you use a sponge, make sure to squeeze it out before applying it so you don’t use too much water. Sweep the sponge across the whole page and then leave to sit while you ink your plate.

If you are dunking your paper into a water bowl, you may want to squeedgee or blot away excess water before leaving it to sit.

*Keep an eye on your paper while inking - don’t let it fully dry out.

2. Ink Your Plate

Secure your plate on your non-slip surface, using masking tape to keep it steady if needed.

photo of a collagraph plate with ink on it

A little ink goes a long way! Only squeeze out a little at a time, as you need it, so as not to waste them.

Brush on the ink a little at a time, working your way around the plate. Scratch ink into the textures lightly and try not to make it too thick. For a first print, using only one colour can be helpful, as it shows you how well the textures are printing with no distractions. If you are using multiple colours, apply your lighter colours first and experiment with either graduating them into the others, or creating strong clean distinctions between areas on the plate.

Note: As you go further into printmaking you will come across terms such as scrimming. This is when you use a cloth to remove some of the inks from the plate, which can help you to gain more clarity and definition in the print. This is a very useful method, but I am consciously leaving it out as a step here because I feel that complete beginners do not need it. There is plenty of time for that later! For now, let’s just get printing and seeing what happens!

3. Print Your Plate

A little forewarning - Your first prints, of any plate, are unlikely to be your best. That’s totally ok! The first prints you do are called “proofs” and are, essentially, tests for creating more purposeful prints later.

For your first prints, use some of your rough scrap paper, dampened, and let go of expectations.

  • Place a piece of damp paper on top of your inked plate.

  • Optional: Place a piece of newsprint (or similar) on top of your printing paper, if you are worried about inks coming through onto your hands.

  • Apply gentle pressure. The best tools for this are your hands, but you can gently use a rolling pin, brayer, or a metal spoon if you want to. Try to keep your pressure even as you work your way around your plate, making sure to find all the textures.

  • Remove the newsprint if using. You can do further finger pressure on any areas that seem to have not imprinted so deeply. You don't need to press down too hard - it's more about trying to encourage the paper to mould into all the textures without ripping.

  • When ready, peel up your print and see what the result is. It’s always a surprise!

  • Leave the print somewhere flat to dry and go print another one!

Depending on how heavily you applied the inks, you will likely get a few prints before you need to ink again. Or you may only need to “top up” certain areas where more ink has been transferred. After trying a few prints, you will begin to see just how much, or how surprisingly little, ink you need to create prints, and how the varying amounts can change the effects you can achieve.

When you have practised with a few prints on rough paper, you can try out your mulberry. This is thinner paper and so you will see very easily through the back of it how the ink is transferring. Less ink works well on mulberry so keep your inking light. You will not need much pressure to gain a good print - just feel your way with your fingers.

Photo of four prints, each with different results

You can see from this photo example above how the different papers and weights of ink can alter your result:

  • No. 1 was the very first proof on standard cartridge paper. The ink, being first and fresh came out heavy and thick.

  • No. 4 was my second attempt. Again on standard paper, but I did not ink the plate further. I had slight movement of my plate, so there is a little blur, but the textures are far more delicate due to having less ink.

  • No. 2 is the first on the mulberry paper. I had inked a bit too much for the weight of the paper and it came out very dark. Therefore, I did not add any further ink for the next print...

  • No. 3 was made immediately after No.2, and came out very well. The textures printed with some subtlety and distinction.

The joy of printmaking is that you get a surprise every time, and you get multiple chances to try again!

*Check out my video at the bottom of this blog to see printing in action.

4. Clean Up!

It’s important to clean up your plates and area when you are finished printing. Leaving ink on your plates could clog up some of your plates delicate textures and make them less easy to print with in future.

For water-based inks all you need for cleaning is water and a cloth. Dampen a cloth and gently dab it over your plate, lifting off the ink. You won’t get every little speck, but just get the majority clear and you can walk away feeling all smug with yourself.

For oil-based inks, grab some sunflower or vegetable oil and a cloth. Dab/rub the oil onto the plate to remove the inks. Then use kitchen roll or a separate clean cloth to remove the oily leftover residue. Do the same for any ink-stained surfaces.

So you did it, you printed a collagraph! Do you feel accomplished and crafty, or what?!

Thanks for jumping on my collagraphing wagon - I hope you enjoyed it! There are so many ways to experiment with this process, and to combine it with other mediums - keep an eye out for my future blogs for more ideas.

Keep Making To Make Happy,

Love Gem x

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