Soap Ground Intaglio Printmaking Process

In this post, I would like to show you

how I got from A to B in my Soap Ground Intaglio Printmaking Experience.
Printmaking is a traditional way to make hand inked print.

At 55 limited intaglio printmaking residency,
I created Soap Ground Intaglio Etchings for the majority of the residency work.
for infos on the residency, click here.

Read on and discover Soap Ground Intaglio!
Here is how I went from this A (a normal sheet of copper) to B (a hand inked Intaglio Print)
soap ground, soap, intaglio, process, hand inked print, copper

This particular piece took about 12 hours to make, working non-stop.

In order to understand the process, i took pictures every step of the way.

First of all, copper plates do not come smooth. The plate must be sanded.
here is a look at the copper when it is bought.



The copper plate is first sanded using sandpaper:



then a Micro Metal Sponge is used in circular motion.



and lastly, polish:



Why does the surface of the copper plate need to be sanded? Answer: For the overall plate tone.


next comes degreasing, in order to prepare for Soft Grounding, before Soap Grounding and Aquatint. I will explain what these are with each step.


Degreasing: a mixture of chalk powder, ammonia, and water is used to wash the copper plate.
Why Degrease? so the soft ground, hard ground, and aquatint rosin will adhere better.
What is soft ground, hard ground, and aquatint rosin? Will explain later.


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Now apply a Soft Ground.

What is a Soft Ground? it is a mainly used for tracing a pattern on the copper plate and then etching it with Ferrid Acid afterwards.
the reason why i do this is before I like a pattern before starting the Soap Ground. Soft Grounding creates softer yet rougher lines, almost like a charcoal effect.
Soft Ground is a mixture of rosin, beeswax, tallow, and asphaltum.

What is Hard Ground? same rolling method as Soft Ground, different product and effect. lines are crisper and the product is harder. It is a mixture of rosin, beeswax, and asphaltum.
We will stick to Soft Ground on this project because this is the look I desire, rough yet soft, like the look of Charcoal.

Soft Ground application on copper plate:

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Now that the Soft Ground is ready, it is ready to be drawn on top, using a thin piece of see through paper.
Once the pencil presses on it, the pressure of the soft ground sticks to the back of the paper. Here is how it looks:

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Now comes the Ferrid Acid Bath soaking for about 10 minutes to etch a light outline of the motif:



then clean the soft ground up with Terpentine.



here we have it cleaned. as you can see the Ferric Acid etched (bite) to see the lines.
Etching is a word used in Printmaking when the Ferric Acid eats, or “bites”, into the copper plates.
Now I have a base on where to add the Soap Ground.
Again I will Degrease the plate, to prepare for the Soap Ground and Aquatint.



Now the Soap Ground begins. This process took me about 5 hours. one may take shorter time, longer time. It really depends on personal preference on which the imagery is to be achieved.

What is Soap Ground?
Soap ground is a mixture of linseed oil, titanium white dry pigment, soap, and water.
it is used to create textures.
when applied to copper, the thicker and whiter the soap ground, the lighter it will become when printed. The more copper showing, the more darker this becomes in the print.

Here is when I started to paint the Soap Ground.



close up after some hours.


here is how my layers of Soap Ground after 5 hours working on a hot plate.



Now comes the Aquatint.

What is Aquatint?
they are little tiny marks so the plate is able to hold ink.
Ground up Rosin is used and distributed from a cloth sack.

Now comes the firing to melt the aquatint (rosin) on the copper plate.




seen under a magnifying glass, this is how the aquatint should look like after melted.




Aquatint is a rosin powder put on after the soap ground to make the copper plate grab ink, after the acid etches it.

What is Etching?
Etching is when an Acid like Ferric Acid in which bites into the copper.
“Bite” is a term that means that the Acid is eating through the copper, dissolving, melting, etc.

There are many methods (terms( to create printmaking pieces. spit bite, sugar lift, and i have tried a couple of them. The one that I feel closer to are Soap Ground, and Aquatint, because the effects are very dramatic, and takes layers and hours to create.

The next step is to put the Copper plate with the Soap Ground and Aquatint into a Ferrid Acid bath for 45 minutes. This is the time i prefer.


this is the guideline I made to see how the aquatint look like at at every minutes listed,
after each Ferric Acid Bath.


clean up the Soap Ground and Rosin using Turpentine or hardcore chemicals.

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this is how it looks like cleaned up, and now it is ready to be inked for printing. Finally!!!






next use a Large net sponge to push inks in grooves, in circular motion:


then use paper to take off extra ink from top surface only.


tissue paper to take extra traces of ink off from surface.

a small soft net sponge to lightly make sure the ink on the surface is even.



now comes the chalk wipe,
just go lightly above the surface, and along the edge of the copper plate, carefully not to disturb the ink.

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Ready to print, finally!!!

This is an Etching press, very old school.
the inked plate is layed upside.


then comes the paper on top.


Roll the machine.


here is a video clip i made to see a demonstration of how the intaglio press works and rolls at 55 limited.

after rolling, the other side, the paper may be lifted to reveal the printed ink.

The original print, drying.


so thats it!

all this totalled 12 hours!

it was sooo worth it! 🙂


Prints from Intaglio Printmaking are original prints, and are usually numbered with Editions. Mine editions are stricted limited to 7.

Go back to Intaglio Page