Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thoughts on new inks & press

I'd like to respond to some of the comments made about the Xocoatl post, as there are some good points that I'd like to make available to others (who might not think to read all the comments on a post!).

I, too, just started using [Daniel Smith water-soluble inks]. The consistency was fine (except for the yellow), but the drying time was crazy slow unless the paper was damp. Do you print successive colors right away or wait for each to dry? - Joan
Drying time of inks depends on paper, humidity, layers of ink, and of course the ink itself.

Prints on sized paper tend to dry slower than unsized because the sized paper can't absorb the moisture from the ink as well. If you soak or moisten sized paper before printing, you will remove at least some of the sizing (the longer you soak, the more sizing is removed, and the more the fibres swell to absorb more water into the interior of the paper, until, eventually, the paper is completely saturated - which is probably way too long for most relief printmaking techniques!), so that's why some relief printmakers like to soak/moisten their paper first.

Obviously, if you live in a humid environment, inks just dry slowly. As an aside, I had a rather entertaining thing happen to me when I was in Australia. I was working on little watercolour sketches as Christmas presents for the family that I was staying with, and I tried to use the salt technique: when you throw salt into still-damp watercolour painted onto paper, the salt draws the pigment-loaded moisture off the paper into the salt crystal and leaves neat trails of lighter areas in the painted surface. Really beautiful. Except, this time, the salt was absorbing the moisture from the atmosphere (it was about 95% relative humidity!), rather than from the pigment, so I just ended up with salt-watercolour. The point is, if there's lots of moisture in the air, any moisture from the ink will not be drawn up into the air. If you're inks cure (see below), that can also be affected by atmospheric conditions, as it is a chemical reaction.

With just one layer of ink, unless you're somewhere really humid, it shouldn't take more than a day (for the Daniel Smith water-soluble inks) to at least dry to the touch, but you should let them cure for at least a week before packaging or framing. If you create a print with lots of layers, the drying time in between layers increases more and more. Progressive layers of ink also reduce and eventually eliminate the paper's possible effectiveness at absorbing some moisture from the inks.

Another consideration about layers of ink is the thickness of ink that you apply. I've noticed that a number of self-taught relief printmakers have a tendency to use quite a lot of ink on their brayer in one go, rather than accumulating lots of thin layers to obtain that level of intensity of colour. I certainly did that until I took a course with a professional printmaker and discovered that I had waaaaay too much ink on my brayer. It makes a huge difference in drying time. Some tell-tale signs that you're probably using too much ink (other than ridiculously long drying time!) include:
  • ridges in the printed image where the surface tension of the thick ink pulls off the brayer and causes little pucker marks
  • fine details filling in very quickly
  • if you're observant enough, the ink also "zings" really stickily when there's too much ink as you're rolling the brayer over your inking slab. Zinging sound is good, just not super tacky-sounding for many relief printing inks (for comparatively tackier, like litho ink, the sound is different and stickier). That, of course, is entirely subjective, and requires that you just practice with your own inks & brayer.
Finally, if you're using an oil-based ink (like the Daniel Smith - they're still oil-based, just water soluble for ease of clean-up), the ink has to "cure" or polymerize to dry, rather than relying entirely upon evaporation of moisture like water-based inks.

So, with Speedball, I used to whip through about 5 or 6 layers of ink within a day's worth of printing, because Speedball inks pretty much dry by evaporation. Not any more with these new inks!! I waited about a day in between each layer (given that there were > 30 prints for each layer, I was happy to go and do something else!!), but really, for the last layer, I should have waited at least 2-3 days, as the third layer of ink wasn't quite dry enough to accept a fourth layer. But it worked out ok.
Richeson makes the blick presses. That being said, take a look at the phenolic bed. It's light and will not warp. Pretty happy with mine so far. - Curtis
Yes, I have heard great things about the phenolic beds; Dave's got an idea that we're both keen to try before we go spending more money on something that I might not actually need. Once he's had a chance to turn that idea into actuality, I'll definitely post the results here!
Ed: We didn't manage to successfully make a new bed, but it turns out that it's not necessary. The bed wasn't racking, it was the stupid "black linoleum" (vinyl) stretching under the pressure of the press. I just tested it again with a mounted block of linoleum; paper first, then block face down, and a heavy cardboard sheet to protect the roller, and voila! It worked beautifully. Baby press wonderful, vinyl I'm starting to hate.

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