John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Is there any way to make an etching without acids?

I live in an apartment and do not have access to acid baths, but I really miss printmaking. I’ve done reduction woodblock prints, but its just not the same.

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  1. John Steins December 17, 2010

    You can make an intaglio etching without the use of dangerous acids within the confines of an apartment.

    You’ll need the following: the copper or zinc plate for your etching, a shallow metal tray larger than the metal plate, a battery charger and some water with salt added to it.

    First of all, prepare your plate for etching as you would normally using the various methods available, with the only difference being that the underside of the plate is coated with acid resistant material as well, such as asphaltum.

    Fill the metal tray – this could be a shallow baking tray – with water and some salt added to it creating a saline solution.

    The idea here is to suspend the plate to be etched in the solution without it coming in contact with the metal tray. To achieve this, build up four little cones out of wax or plasticine in the tray on which to rest the plate.

    Furthermore, the plate is placed upside down onto the plasticine rests. A small sacrificial corner of the plate is scraped clean, exposing a bit of metal.

    One alligator clip from the battery charger is attached there. And the other clip – positive or negative – is attached to the edge of the metal tray.

    Making sure the the entire underside of the inverted plate is in contact with the saline solution turn on the battery charger.

    This passes a low current of electricity through the saline solution creating a chemical reaction between the exposed metal of the etching and the solution. This causes the exposed metal to erode and dissolve into the solution making an etched surface for printing.

    Depending on a number of factors it could take all day for an etch. The main thing is that it’s safe to use in confined spaces without the proper ventilation for using acids.

    This is just a quick summary. I’ll post something more in depth later on. In the meantime don’t hesitate to ask me for more details on this process.

  2. Irene Butcher April 30, 2011

    I love your website and have linked it to mine. I am faily new at printmaking and have attended lessons on etching which I enjoyed enormously.
    I now have to carry it on at home as I can no longer afford the classes. However I’ve had some success using drypoint or mezzotint methods and the use of my table top printer [a present]. I do miss doing soft-ground etching which suits my style of work, but I’ve made a note of the method using a battery charger and saline solution to do etching as it sounds like a very good and inexpensive method to use. I will let you know how it turns out when I’ve tried it.
    Thank you,

    Irene Butcher

  3. John Steins April 30, 2011

    Hi Irene,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging comments. Yes, the battery charger method can produce good results but I think the bite isn’t as crisp as with acids. Look forward to see your results.

  4. A.L April 13, 2012

    There is this rather curious method of “etching” a plate which involves powdered sulfur and some olive oil. The sulfur is mixed with the oil into a paste, and painted onto the parts of the plate which you wanted to etch. this paste is left on for a few hours, after which it is washed off, leaving a very delicate etch .

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