Hard and Soft Ground

old version


Rembrandt: ‘Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill’, 1639. 

The Met
The Orono Ground

All Topics: Etching Innovation
Hard and Soft Ground Etching

by Friedhard Kiekeben  |  

contributions by Donna Adams, Keith Howard, Liz Chalfin, Anne VanOppen, G. Ferstman, and Annie Day
©  2021

The unique qualities of traditional line etching can easily be obtained through contemporary methods and materials…without exposure to neurotoxic and carcinogenic fumes. 

In line etching a thin coating is applied to a metal plate. Once dry, the image is drawn into this corrosion resistant surface with a variety of tools, revealing the bare metal beneath.
The Etching Process cuts into the plate through chemical action ––increasingly electro-chemically, rather than through acid corrosion–– so that the incised intaglio plate can then be inked and printed as a crisp line etching.   
Line etching was Rembrandt’s preferred form of printing, and the vibrancy of his gestural line work remains unsurpassed. Many of the 17th century etching grounds are toxic, but new grounds finally allow for the medium to be mastered without exposing the artist or student to the health risks of old.

Innovative Hard Ground Solutions
After over twenty five years of development, 
testing, peer review and refinement, 
research into ‘nontoxic’ etching ground 
substitutions and alternatives 
is now more complete, 
and the method can be regarded 
as an established medium. 

It is hoped, likely, that within 
the next few years many more suppliers 
and manufacturers will offer their own range 
of less toxic products for the various 
applications in printmaking, 
due to ongoing interest in safer methods.

In addition to the various acrylic formulations,
some innovative wax – and soy 
based grounds behave more like traditional
materials, without the hazards
of tar, or solvents.

Curiously, some of the most practicable solutions are still put forward by private individuals who succeed in finding a specific printmaking purpose in products from other fields, rather than by the art materials industry. Perhaps, centuries of reliance on tar compositions for etching is hard to overcome? There is little doubt that the old resists and solvents carry high risks… evidence of sickness, nerve damage, and cancer in long term users is widely known in the profession, yet continues to be frequently ignored.

Keith Howard first pioneered what he called ‘nontoxic’ intaglio practice in the late 1980s when he started testing water based products from a hardware store as etching resists. Most recently, a safer waterproofing product from Australia (see below) became popular amongst printmakers as a near perfect hard ground; with less health risks and noxious fumes, giving great etched lines, and plate sanding is not a necessity.

There are / were several custom developed acrylic hard grounds on the market, for instance Mark Zaffron’s original: Z*ACRYL Hard Ground Solution (discontinued), and LASCAUX Hard Resist. The suppliers’ websites provide detailed specifications and usage instructions. Both products can be regarded as fairly safe to use, and deliver good results on all metals. These innovative acrylic grounds are recommended as a replacement for the traditional tar-based products (solutions and ball grounds) with their dizzying odors and carcinogenic potential. N o t e : Neither acrylic emulsions made by artists paint manufacturers, nor the ones made for domestic use as floor polish (KLEAR / SCJ Pledge / Future etc.) are completey ‘safe’ or risk free, and possibly require some respiratory protection, and require detailed process knowledge for safe use.
Can acrylics be hazardous? The answer is : Y E S   read more here:

   Acrylics, Polymer Paints and Polymerization:
       Toxicity and Safety Considerations

For many acrylic hard grounds, plates should be finely abraded with sandpaper or fine steel wool, either by hand or using an electric sander. The fine tooth on the plate then allows the acrylic to bond with the surface without chipping.

Note: highly polished plates can be prone to chipping with some acrylics. Keith Howard recommends using a kind of flow coating approach where the emulsion is poured rather than brushed onto the plate. See: BEGINNERS COMPENDIUM. A good ground may also be laid by brushing on a thin coating with a flat-headed sponge brush, or by airbrushing.

Liz Chalfin, acrylic hard ground etching.
Zea Mays Printmaking is a studio, workshop, gallery, educational facility and research center
dedicated to sustainable printmaking practices.
Etching Depth
For deep etching use the acrylic ground ‘as is’. For very fine, detailed work dilute the acrylic with 5% to 10% water to achieve a thin coating. The Lascaux Hard Ground Resist may be substituted with the cheaper Lascaux 2060 clear gloss varnish as a hard ground base. 2060 dries to a hard and mirror-like surface that accepts line work with great clarity and does not chip. Koh-i-Noor black ink is one of the best colourants to use to get a black hard ground. It can be added to any clear acrylic to make a black hard ground, aquatint, or stop out varnish.

brushing on an acrylic hard ground onto an etched zinc plate and its print. A variety of traditional etching and engraving tools: etching needle, scraper, burnisher, burin. Today, artists also use wire wool, sandpaper, Dremel tools, and power tool attachments as drawing and engraving implements for etching. See Intaglio Manual for details.

‘Big’ Etching Ground        highly detailed line work, a versatile, ‘traditional’ feeling ground, now used by many printmakers,

          ‘nontoxic’ if used with precautions, caution when heating the product

“Did you know that a traditional etching ground contains arsenic, lead, mercury to name but a few toxic elements which can not only be breathed  in through your air ways but also absorbed through your skin.”
BIG has been used at the School of Art at the University of Aberystwyth since 2002 and has been adopted in many other private and educational print workshops around the world. “

Trefeglwys Print Studios


Marnix Everaert, untitled etching, 1/1

The print was made on copper with BIG as a hard ground. 
Etched in ferric. Inked with traditional Charbonnel oil-based ink 
and a viscosity roll up to get the gradient. 
Printed on Zerkall etching paper 





Cross hatching and loops drawn into an acrylic hard ground on copper, step-etched in Edinburgh Etch for 20 and 40 minutes, and printed using Charbonnel etching ink. Make sure you use a sharp etching tool to draw into the acrylic ground. Steel needles require frequent sharpening. Ideally use a hardened needle such as Blick’s Carbide Point Scribe (left) or a diamond tip needle. For use in large printmaking classes a sharp chipboard screw with tape wrapped around the shank makes a surprisingly good etching and dry-pointing tool.
Acrylic hard grounds give crisp line reproduction and, unlike traditional grounds, are not prone to foul-biting or pitting. The tough acrylic surface can also act as the actual printing surface, allowing a white plate tone to be printed with ease.
The Lascaux Hard Resist can also be used on a previously etched plate for re-etching. For best results start by de-greasing and slightly roughening the plate surface – this helps the acrylic bond with the metal and actually aids the etching process. Previously etched copper plates require treatment with a salt and vinegar de-oxidizing solution. For fine detail to etch faithfully, apply the ground thinly and then dry the plate in warm air. Once dry, use a sharp etching needle or other ‘improvised’ implements such as wire brushes or coarse sand paper strips for drawing into the ground.
For more on drawing into a hard ground see Section 4 of the INTAGLIO MANUAL 

The world’s oldest makers of etching ink Charbonnel / Lefranc have recently introduced their own line of water-miscible oil based etching inks (comparable to ‘Caligo Safe Wash’) which they call ‘Aqua Wash’. Great news for lovers of traditional etching, using oil based inks. These inks and mediums promise the same aesthetic quality and richness of tone and line as the existing oil based products. Many art school print programs use both oil based inks and water based inks such as Akua Intaglio; both offer certain benefits and unique aesthetic qualities. There no longer is the need for solvent use other than water and detergents.

Friedhard Kiekeben: ‘Shatter’, etched intaglio print, 2004
I prefer using a mixture of 50% Akua ink
and 50% Charbonnel oil based ink

Acrylic Hard Ground made from
Acrylic Floor Finish

Many Printmakers and Studios use acrylic floor finish as a hard ground solution (Howard Ground). The product made by Johnson sells as SC Johnson ‘Future/ now Pledge’ in the US, ‘Super Shine’ in Australia, and ‘Pronto Wax’, ‘Carefree’, ‘Klir’, or ‘KLEAR’ in Europe. It is also very popular with model makers as a durable clear varnish, and I use it as a finishing coat on metal sculptures.
If ‘KLEAR (SCJ) is locally unavailable (Europe), use alternative acrylic floor finish products, such as Diversey ‘Carefree’, or ‘Bona Tech’ gloss polish. During a recent course in Germany an acrylic floor care product by ?Melerud? gave great results: use two thin coats in succession, applied with a sponge brush, for the best hard ground. A single coat gives great ?permeable? effects. 


 new: (Europe)
‘Bona Tech’ – Parkett Polish Glänzend
”nicht als gefährlich eingestuft”

 The Contemporary Printmaker Keith Howard

This widely available acrylic makes a very effective hard ground using a flow-coating approach. We would suggest also adding Koh-i-Noor drawing ink to get a good black, unless a clear ground is required. Donna Adams explains the application of this ground in her Beginners Compendium – click here for details. Like many domestic products that are sold in supermarkets and hardware stores floor varnish may contain glycol ether, sometimes in significant quantities. Although the industry downplays this hidden solvent, it would seem sensible to always check the product’s msds sheet and usage instructions before use. Long term exposure to glycol ether may lead to kidney damage and there is new evidence of reproductive toxicity, see: The Toxicity of Solvents. To be on the safe side, ensure good local ventilation and wear a mask during the use of these cheap and popular acrylic emulsions. Recent research carried out in the UK (house painter study) confirms that the kind of low-level glycol ether exposure produced by drying domestic floor polish carries significant health risks, and reproductive hazards.
MSDS comparison in pdf format:          generic floor finish        Johnson floor finish 
this comparison showed that only the Z Acryl product was free from any harmful glycol ether additions, the other products contained up to 5%.

Protection against low level VOC exposure

Today there are many paint products that are marketed as ?safe?, yet there may still be harmful low-level VOC emissions, such as glycol ether. Examples: many water-based paints, acrylic floor finish, some artist acrylics, low odor, low VOC solvents, and printmaking resists.

Although a full organic respirator may be impractical for a day?s work we would recommend wearing a disposable light weight mask that offers some organic vapor protection. Dispose of the mask after a day?s work (about $ 5 per mask).

Product example:

3M? Particulate Respirator 8514, N95, with Nuisance Level Organic Vapor Relief

Safe Stripping with Orange Zest Solvents – sample

An acrylic hard ground can be stripped off in a strong soda ash solution (1 part crystals to 3 parts warm water). Or use one of the excellent citrus-based solvents now on the market (such as ‘D*Solve’, ‘CitraSolv’, or ‘De-Solv-it’) which remove acrylics, etching grounds and hardened ink and paint with great ease.
‘This truly revolutionary solvent was formulated as an alternative to petroleum-based turpentines and thinners. It is made from 100% renewable agricultural resources of soy, corn, and citrus, and is non-polluting, non-carcinogenic, and bio-degradable. Less than a teaspoon will thoroughly clean a large plate. DSolve will even strip dried ink from etched lines.’

There is a growing number of such citrus-based solvents on the market. The key ingredient, D-Limonene, also known as orange oil, the safe and innovative solvent extracted from orange peel, can be purchased directly from the citrus industry. For example, see http://www.citrusdepot.net. This solvent is more powerful than mineral spirits, strong enough to dissolve hardened acrylics, oil paint, printing ink, (and even some plastics) with ease, yet medical studies have found no carcinogenic or neurotoxin hazards comparable to the petrochemical solvents. Users should, nevertheless, still handle the solvent with care: ensure good ventilation/use vapor mask and take fire precautions when using the new orange oil solvents, and avoid prolonged direct inhalation. Unlike oil-based products, orange oil is considered biodegradable.
Some big brand ‘orange’ or ‘citrus’ solvents are mixed with traditional solvents, such as Naphtha or Glycol Ether, and cannot be considered a ‘safer alternative’.
For more information click on our Safe Solvents page

(this includes both petroleum products, but also bio-based solvents,
such as ethyl alcolhol, soy/ethyl/methyl lactate, orange oil, 
and many others)

below, a recent product, made for artist use:   ‘NaturalEarthPaint’ (https://www.naturalearthpaint.com)
“Does not irritate the skin
Does not emit harmful vapors.
Soy-based” (company quote).

Traditional Etching Grounds and their Health Hazards
‘Breathing high vapor concentrations of this product may result in mild depression, convulsions, loss of consciousness, or lung damage.’ (extract from  MSDS). Traditional hard ground solutions often contain Naptha and Asphaltum. Such products may also contain PAH, known carcinogens. Solid hard and soft ground compositions (‘ball ground’) for roll-on contain asphaltum and coal tar pitch. The cancer risk is exacerbated by heating on hot plates, by smoking with ‘tapers’ and by the use of mineral spirits for clean up.

(Left) A typical hard ground solution containing Naphtha and Asphaltum. (Right) A hard ground roller.

Involuntary exposure to the vapors of a naphta based hard ground solution gave me a headache, dizzyness, and asthma. Amongst German etchers such solutions are known as Abdecklack; the British Brunswick Black is similar. The inhalation risk of traditional stop-out is often underestimated. Direct and indirect exposure to toxic vapors is of serious concern in art schools, especially when spray aerosols and solvent fumes are emitted in the studios. Extraction systems are often insufficient, and often there is a reluctance to use safer products as an alternative.

 For more information on solvent hazards click on the page The Toxicity of Solvents

Tar Products, Cancer, and Safeguards

There is overwhelming evidence that tar products cause cancer. See the following pdf fact sheet by the US National Toxicology Program.
‘As a pollutant tar compounds have been identified as carcinogenic (causing cancer), mutagenic and teratogenic (causing birth defects)’ Wikipedia.
Perhaps the prevalence of solvent based tar products represents the largest individual cause of cancer in the traditional print studio. This might go some way towards explaining why so many traditional print professionals contract cancer at some stage in their careers.

Can Tar or Bitumen be nontoxic?
Tar products are traditionally utilized for their excellent water proofing (and etching resistant) properties. Through clever research, the Australian company Gripset recently developed a nontoxic kind of bitumen that may have many applications in printmaking, as a substitute for traditional grounds in etching or as a lithotine substitute in stone lithography. It is virtually free from harmful VOC’s.
At the bottom of this page, the Australian printmaker Annie Day reports about the exciting mark-making possibilities of nontoxic bitumen.
GRIPSET BITUMEN as an etching ground (click).

petroleum-derived solvents when used indoors require the use of effective ventilation / local extraction and a personal respirator with organic vapor cartridge

back to top

 Soft Ground Etching 

soft ground etching: Keith Howard ‘The Contemporary Printmaker’ (left). Anne VanOppen (right)

Lascaux Soft Ground Solution

Lascaux Soft Resist developed by Carol Robertson and Barbara Diethelm, soft ground impressions

Lascaux Hard resist 
’A ready-to-use clear hard resist (or ground) which is applied to the etching plate by brush. When it is dry it is highly acid-resistant. Lascaux Hard Resist can be drawn into with an etching needle, roulette, scraper, steel wool etc. It has a soft, waxy feel, allowing the needle to glide. It can be used on copper, zinc, and steel.’

Lascaux Soft resist
’This slower drying resist is designed to offset easily and is used to make soft crayon- or pencil-like drawings, textures from collages and direct broad line drawings’. Available in the US from Graphic Chemical Co, in Europe from Joop and other suppliers. The ground is applied thinly by brush. For detailed usage instructions see:

Using a Soft Ground: Donna Adams –

Justin Staller: detail of soft ground etching (RIT). Donna Adams preparing soft ground impressions (University of Indianapolis). Note: if using the ‘Orono Ground’ recipe substitute Graphic Chemical water based relief ink with the comparable product from Daniel Smith. 

Mad Deer Press
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Applying BIG Hardground to a Plate


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Nontoxic Wax Hard and Soft Ground
& Greasy Resists

Many traditional hard ground compositions contain beeswax – a very safe ingredient – but are rendered harmful through the addition of coal tar and solvents. 

It is easy to make a very good hard ground from pure beeswax (use a clean leather roller for application, not nitrile) but application requires heating and due to the low flash point of beeswax this presents a significant fire hazard.

It would seem a relatively straightforward task to develop a safe wax ground from beeswax or carnauba wax that is suitable for cold roll-up as a hard (and soft) ground. In many ways this ground would be like car wax. Wax grounds facilitate extremely detailed work and prefer a polished metal surface. Safe removal is easy with D-Solve or another citrus derived solvent.

Greasy marks made directly with Crisco vegetable fat, Vaseline, or Oil Crayons on a plate will register very faithfully as a ‘negative mark’ in an intaglio print (direct mark-making). All fats also yield great results if used very thinly or in a streaky fashion as a ‘permeable’ resist that breaks down gradually during etching. All greasy media can be drawn into with a hard ground needle or other implements, giving faithful line reproduction. Nontoxic Oil or Wax Crayons make an ideal tool for touching up or stopping out acrylic etching grounds without any additional drying time before re-etching.

The print on the left  was made by painting with Crisco Lift and etching into copper using the Edinburgh Etch process. The textures at the top of the print are the result of thin Crisco smears acting as a permeable resist. | (right) The Three Trees, Rembrandt, Etching, engraving, and drypoint, 1634, Grace J. Hitchcock Collection. The Three Trees is  Rembrandt�s largest landscape print. The delicate and varied line effects were achieved by drawing into a traditional wax-based hard ground (step-etching on copper). This is accompanied by more vigorous work in drypoint.

Toledo Museum

Acrylic Soft and Hard Ground: New Solutions 2012

Over the past two years several printmakers worked on developing
improved recipes for water based hard and soft ground solutions.
These are similar in approach to the ‘Orono Ground’,
but are using materials that are all currently available,
and both give excellent and reliable results. 

Water-based Soft and Hard Ground 
(Van Oppen Studio)

When I read on the Non-Toxic website the formula for soft ground I was thrilled. Then I got to the part that some of the products had been discontinued. I set out with the information at hand and began to experiment with alternative materials. The first efforts were disappointing and frustrating. Somewhere along the way I decided that adding liquid car wax to the mix might make it more stable and workable. The garage was empty of car wax and so I turned to the cleaning supply cabinet and landed on Glass Wax. It was what the mix needed! Great! 

Fast forward to writing this article. The can of Glass Wax I have is from 1969. The company stopped making this product around 2003. There are a few cans around on eBay and the product does last a long time! I decided to test a few other additives and see how they compare and lucked out with Blue Magic Liquid Metal Polish. You can find it everywhere. This is a link to Ace Hardware.

Soft and Hard Ground Etching
1/3 Cup Daniel Smith Water-base Relief Ink
1/3 Cup Speedball Transparent Extender Base
1/3 Cup Golden Gel Medium “Regular Gel (Gloss)”

Blue Magic Liquid Metal Polish

Mix these three ingredients together well and place into a clean container. Cover with waxed paper or plastic to keep air out. This will stay workable for quite some time. When ready to make a soft ground plate, onto a pallet place a scoop of the above mixture. Add to this the same amount of Blue Magic Liquid Metal Polish and mix well. The drying agents in the Blue Magic Liquid Metal Polish help to stabilize the ground. The mixture will be slippery. Let it sit for a bit to start drying. You can use a hair dryer to speed this up if you wish. 
Roll the ground out and onto a prepared plate. As the mixture is exposed to air it dries and builds up on the plate. When the ground is dark and none of the plate is visible you are ready to do your soft ground. NOTE: scroll down on this page for instructions on the creative use of soft ground for impressions or crayon-type mark making.

If you allow the plate to dry completely ( over night, in the sun or a dry cabinet) it can be used for Hard ground. The examples provided were etched onto a copper plate in a copper sulfate solution of 1 Cup copper sulfate to 1 liter of water at 5 volts for 20 minutes. The sample is printed on BFK with Charbonnel ink. (Anne VanOppen)

rolled up plate with soft ground impressions and finished intaglio print

A Simple Approach to Galvanic Etching
(Anne Van Oppen)

a basic power source for eletro-etching can be purchased online (shown: ‘TekPower’, Amazon)

The prints shown above were created using a simple electro etching method using a copper sulfate electrolyte solution and a variable electric power source. This new approach to etching is very safe and creates hardly any polluting residues. The method is currently becoming a popular alternative to chemical etching.     Electro Etching

Supplies: Copper Sulfate: available online, the solution mixture is 1 Cup Copper Sulfate to 1 Liter of Water | Variable Power Source with Alligator Cables (I got mine from Amazon.com). Container with Lid (I use a plastic oval shaped Pitcher by Sterilite) | Copper Plates (22 Gauge is fine) | Clear Packing Tape | Sandpaper | Whiteout | Soft/Hard-Ground (see other article) | Brayer (used to apply the Soft/Hard-Ground) | Copper Flashing (23 Gauge, to make hooks for tank, can be found at scrap metal sites) | Vinegar | Salt | Timer | Green Scrubby (like Scotch Brite) | Clear Contact Paper (optional)

Setup: If using a ‘Sterilite’ Pitcher, slowly dissolve 3 Cups of Copper Sulfate into 3 Liters of water.  This solution will never weaken.  Keep covered with a lid to minimize evaporation.  If water does evaporate just add more up to the 3-liter level. Plug in your variable power source, turn it on and set it to five volts.  Then turn it off. Form two hooks with the 23 Gauge copper.  I made the hook that will be attracting the copper off the plate larger and longer than the second hook.  The second hook must be long enough to ensure that the plate will be completely submerged into the copper sulfate and that there is enough area to connect with the plate.

Preparing the Plate: Rough up the surface of the plate with the sandpaper so that the face of the plate is covered with fine lines.  This gives a surface for the soft/hard-ground to hang onto.  Then degrease the plate in a solution of vinegar and salt.  I pour some vinegar into a glass dish and add a teaspoon or so of salt.  Rinse the plate with water and do not touch the surface with your fingers.  

Applying the Ground: See the Soft/Hard-Ground article for the recipe.  Roll out the ground with a brayer and apply to the plate.  Proceed as you would for traditional Soft-Ground.  If the ground is allowed to dry onto the plate, proceed as you would with Hard-Ground

***The Ground can also be painted onto the plate to protect or block areas from etching.
***I use Whiteout along the edges to protect them from the etch.

make sure contact surfaces between the cathode / anode hooks and the back of the plate are well sanded and de-greased. Do not exceed the recommended current setting of 5V.

Etching the Plate: When you are ready to etch the plate place the larger hook into the tank holding the Copper Sulfate solution and attach the Cathode-Black-Negative wire to the hook.  Attach the plate to the second hook using the clear package tape and cover the back completely.  I always sandpaper the hook to clear off any oxidation that may interfere with the connection.  The connection must be clean and tight for good etching.  If the connection is not so great you may get a halo effect that is uneven.  Sometimes it works out well but it is difficult to control.  Place the second hook opposite the first larger hook and attach the Anode-Red-Positive wire.  Set the timer, turn on the power and start timing.

I have found that about 20 Minutes at 5 volts gives a good result.  It is a good idea to do some tests at this point to get the results you are looking to achieve. The action of the electricity may loosen the ground, so it is not easy to pull the plate out of the etch and block out areas for lighter and darker effects.  At the end of 20 minutes the ground may be loose on the plate and may fall off under running water.  I have carefully pulled the plate out at 5 minute intervals and blocked areas so it is possible.  You will have to try this on your own.

Once the plate has been etched the appropriate time, turn off the power and lift it out of the solution.  Remove the plate from the solution and clean under water with green scrubby.  All of the ground comes off easily.  The whiteout comes off as well with a bit more work. I put Clear Contact Paper on the list as an optional supply.  This serves as a great block to protect already etched areas if you want to continue working on the plate.  Just cut away any areas to be etched with an Exacto blade.  For more information see:  http://www.nontoxicprint.com/electroetching.htm

Caution:  Do not breath the dust of the copper sulfate; wear a mask when mixing up the solution.

Contact email: Anne Van Oppen, annevo5@hotmail.com

D&S   BioLaq

The new company D&S offer nontoxic lithography and etching products
‘BioLaq: Superior Replacement for Asphaltum and Plate Lacquers.
Excellent hard ground for etching’ (‘no hazmat’: Graphic Chemical Co)

Superior Etching Grounds
Gerald Ferstman, University of Kentucky

click on image to link to ‘Superior Etching Grounds’

‘As an artist I expect that all new safer etching grounds should be just as good or better as the old traditional more toxic grounds. There is no good reason to except inferior results at the expense of safety. The old renaissance materials can be replaced with better and safer modern ingredients.’

Nontoxic Bitumen Rubber
as a Ground and Stopout

by Annie Day


Gripset Betta Bitumen Rubber (product code MGB0011) is a product used in industry as a waterproofing agent for roofs etc. As a stopout it is a preferable alternative to the turps based traditional bitumen paint. It is not classified as hazardous according to criteria of Worksafe Australia.
There is no discernable odour when using the paint unlike the traditional counterpart and it is water mixable for ease of use. It can be applied as a ground (painted on with a soft brush) and also as a stop out. Water needs to be added so that it is not too thick – where it was very thick it resisted the etching needle and where too thin it was foul bitten. A little practice will determine the best thickness.
To remove soak in a bath of VCA – Vegetable Cleaning Agent, a safe solvent. A wipe over with acetone will remove the paint also.
Altogether it is far more pleasant to use than bitumen paint, no discernable fumes, easier to apply and dries quickly with the help of a hairdryer or a minute or two on the hotplate.

‘Blossom’ Annie Day, etching on aluminium using Gripset Bitumen Rubber paint as a ground and stopout

Preparing the plate

Aluminium or any other metal plate can be used. Depending on the thickness and condition of the plate first sand with wet and dry sandpaper and prepare edges.


1   To degrease scrub the plate with a scouring pad, finish with a cream cleanser
2   Dry with a clean towel or a hairdryer
3   Cover the back of the plate with contact film to protect during etching
4   Keep fingers off the surface until the ground is brushed on
5   Always wear protective gloves to minimize skin exposure

Ground painted on too thinly      optimal thickness      drawing with etching needle      etching as usual

Bitumen rubber as a ground

Don’t use the paint too thinly, see picture above left, a thin coat like this will foul bite. Conversely, a coat painted on too thickly may resist the etching needle. A little practice will determine the best thickness.

1 Use water to thin bitumen rubber paint down to a thin creamy consistency and brush two thin coats evenly all over with a soft brush. Dry between coats. See second picture above for optimal thickness.
2 Dry the plate on a hotplate for 1or 2 minutes or dry with a hairdryer then apply an image with the etching needle.
3 The plate is now ready to be immersed in the etching bath.
4 After plate has been etched remove ground by soaking in a bath of VCA. Or with acetone (caution)
5 Thoroughly degrease using cream cleanser applied with a soft sponge rinse, dry.

VCA used to remove ground    stopping out        drying on hotplate              etching                  further stopping out

Bitumen rubber as a stopout

For copper, zinc or steel apply a safer aquatint before stopping out. Expect perfect results without foul biting but make sure each application is dried thoroughly before re-immersing in the etching bath

1 Apply the paint the same as regular stopout and dry thoroughly.
2 Immerse in the etching bath to etch – stopping out to gain various tones
3 After plate has been etched remove the ground by soaking in a bath of VCA or with acetone
4 Thoroughly degrease using cream cleanser applied with a soft sponge rinse, dry.
5 Sand edges smooth, ink and print.

Stopping out                final plate ready to ink              sanding the edges smooth             the print

Left: notice where the ground was thickly applied it resisted the etching needle. Right: final print

•   VCA removes the paint perfectly. After removal rinse the VCA off the plate and degrease with cream cleanser on a soft sponge.
•   If VCA is not available Acetone can be used to remove the bitumen rubber paint. Use mask or fume cupboard or do this outside.
•   Keeping a small amount of the paint in a jar may be the best way to use this product - if the lid is left off the tin it will dry out.

Warringah Printmakers already make extensive use of the method: ‘With the right consistency of the medium, beautifully fine lines may be etched into aluminium, zinc or copper. Also nice for painting a positive directly onto the plate for white lines.’

Safe and innovative etching with:    BITUMEN RUBBER

Quote: ‘Not classified as hazardous according to criteria of Worksafe Australia.
The product has a very low VOC content of 0.065grams per litre, ‘an extremely low rating for any coating’.


Annie Day

Warringah Printmakers, Sidney


Hidden Exposures from Acrylic Paint Products

  Acrylics, Polymerization, and Safety
SAFETY NOTE: in the USA a number of acrylics now carry a note warning of a possible cancer hazard.
this may be related to a number factors, such as formaldehyde content, or other factors such as:

low-cost acrylic paint products may also contain styrene, vinyl chloride, or benzene compounds.
(an addition to the cancer risks of all of the above, vinyl chloride is known to cause liver damage,
even from small exposures).
Other common, but frequently undeclared, chemicals found in acrylics include glycol ether,
ammonia, hydroquinone or MEHQ, various low-level solvents and copolymers (NMP, NEP, etc.),
or the polymerization catalyst Triethylamine (TEA)
which is known to cause eye damage in long exposures.
The two most common polymerization initiators in monomer solutions
are benzoyl peroxide (BPO) and 2,2′-azo-bis-isobutyrylnitrile (AIBN).
Most of the compounds listed here have known adverse effects
on the human DNA system.

Our advice
always ensure airflow, (use fans and open windows), and wear lightweight organic vapor mask
with active carbon filter / acrylics also cure more fully – and safely – in a dry warm environment.
Acrylics, for instance when damp, may emit vapors of reactive mist
–– SVOCs / free monomer radicals –– that may be damaging to health.
(respiratory, dermatological, reproductive).

Avoid working with styrene or vinyl chloride based products:
use ‘100% pure acrylic’ paints whenever possible.

In poorly designed ‘polymers’ some of the base compounds
will still be present after curing, while ‘well performing’
polymers consume and use up most of the compounds present
in finely tuned successive chemical reactions,
resulting in a solid hard wearing substance (paint film) that is
then considered inert and ‘nontoxic’.

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