Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I am writing this more or less for the benefit of some inquiries from the Letpress List. This is concerning typographic prints from lucite or plexiglass surfaces. I experimented with this venue about fifteen years ago with varying degrees of success, enough to make it worthwhile.

Plexiglass, or it's cheaper cousin Lucite, comes in varying thicknesses. I was restricted to what i could find, which was medium mill thickness. Not very thick, but enough to maintain rigidity when mounting an approximately 4 x 6" piece on birch ply at relative type height. I had to be careful about how i spread the adhesive, it was easy to create high or low spots where adhesive was particularly thick. These days i would use a spray adhesive, but in 1991 all i had was a can of 3-m brush adhesive which we used for edger chucks at my Optical shop in Clearwater, Florida.

For cutting, i used some standard engraving tools, and some home-made tools made from bar-stock (large diamond cutters and flat gouges) plus an iron pin-file for scoring. Also used was a standard diamond point graver and an elyptical "spitsticker". For the sake of this installment, i rounded up my tools which i still keep together with my linoleum cutters and cutting board. Refer to the above photo, left to right: Ozark oilstone, bar-stock diamond point, bar-stock flat gouge, which is in essence a cold chisel, an iron pin-file (fine optical rat-tail) and an elypse. Behind is a wooden handle of the type i used for the bar-stock cutters. I obtained steel bar-stock from a military surplus store in Orlando. The corners are not sharp, so i had to sharpen the corners on a fine grit grinder. I also established the 45-degree cutting angle on this same grinder, and bringing a fine edge with the ozark oilstone. I show a close-up of the bar-stock graver in the next photo. Note the size! About the size of a Linoleum "V" cutter.

The pin-file was used, actually, for dry-point etching. This can be done on Plexiglass as well as engraving, but dry-point is an intaglio process, which requires a substantial amount of pressure. Therefore i submit plexiglass be used for typography, not intaglio type graphics. I used polished aluminium with good results, but more on that later. I included that pin-file, though, because i did use it for scribing as well as stipple work.

And how did those plexi-cuts turn out? Actually, quite nicely. I show two below, the first being a version of the Linocut i showed in a prior post - the winter village scene with the little foot-bridge. This is actually a piece inspired by a combination of two influences in my life as a kid growing up in South Germany: Bruegel and 16th century woodcuts. You may notice the influence. Maybe not . . . .

If you compare to the linoleum version, the lines are actually finer, with a harder edge. The problem i ran into was the pressure needed to engrave a line. You really need to secure the plate so both hands can be free. And you have to work slowly, resisiting the urge to cut deep. You need not cut very deep, really. As it turned out, i tried three different methods of printing this card: Linoleum, plexiglass and woodcut. I settled with Linoleum. I just liked the "personality" of linoleum in this particular case rather than the Plexi-cut. The woodcut might have worked well, if i would have gone ahead and printed with the maple plate i spent a day and a half cutting. What happened was that after i locked it into the press, inked with process black rubber base, and rolled the form rollers over it, i noticed the amazing contrast of the black ink with blonde recesses, and i stopped the press. Pulling the plate, i let the ink dry. Cindy liked it so much we wound up keeping it on display in our living room, where it has been ever since!

So . . . there it is, frozen in mid-inking. Maybe i'm just a little wierd. I dunno . . . but i do this sort of thing now and then. I've been tempted to make more, and set them side by side and create a whole Blackforest Village set ( Schwarzwalder Dorf Series.) Ahh, but i digress.

The most success i have had with plexi-cuts are with smaller images of the type you might use on a business or greeting card. The following was executed entirely with the diamond point graver and some finer lines with the elypse. The overall size is about 2 x 3". This particular impression was executed on a Kelsey 5x7. I have since used this plate for demonstrations with the Antiques Road Show when they came to Central Florida before the Hurricanes of 2004. The plate is backed with endgrain maple, and resides on display at the Florida Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts' 19th century print shop (along with my other hand-cut plates and my Kelsey collection.) The subject is a square rigged ship on choppy sea. The purpose of it was for advertiseing the rather nautical motives i often incorporated at Heirloom, considering we lived directly on the St. Joseph Sound between Honeymoon Island and Anclote Key, Crystal Beach.

Finally, i thought i might share a stipple piece. This wasn't actually stipple engraved, but the original artwork was stipple pen and ink on clear mylar overlay, the way we did artwork for multicolour work back in the analog age. This is actually a three colour registration piece. It was a stationery headpiece, and i sold every one i made. I saved these proofs, which only have two colours printed. The third would have been the red plate, which filled in the rose and the rosettes on the lady's pillow. For the original copywork, i used the finest Rapidograph pen made, which was one of my standard illustration tools both for letterpess plates and for commercial technical illustration which i also did on the side.

Well, there you go. Plexi-cuts and then some. If i can get the Pioneer Settlement to let me borrow the plexi-plates, i'll photo those, although they are not really revealing. You can get an idea directly from the prints. One challenge i'll also mention: I used clear plexi. I had to paint it with black india, which scratched easy. I might try white lucite next go 'round, perhaps using melted red beeswax to coat so i can see the image as i cut. No doubt more experimenting is called for.

I am looking around for my aluminium dry-point plate, which i used with a bench-vise for intaglio printing. It actually worked amazingly well! But it's been a number of years, i may have lost it. If so, i'll cut another piece of aluminium and make a "how to do it" installment at a future date.

That's all for now.


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