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Kevin Pomerleau: 'Farewell to 26 Dunn Ave'

Etching and aquatint (Zea Mays Acrylic Aquatint and Stop Out) 

 Kevin is an Artist and Printmaker 
 located in Northampton Massachusetts

A quick guide to aquatinting with acrylics
The following is a quick guide to creating aquatint using sprayed acrylics.
For more details on the following go to the INTAGLIO MANUAL

     Aquatint in acrylic resist etching
     Creating a uniform aquatint
     Creating a modulated aquatint
     Scraped aquatint
     Aquatint and spit bite
     Printing an aquatint plate

Airbrush Aquatint
Aquatint is used to create areas of tone on etched plates. The method has been updated with the use of acrylic inks and airbrush equipment. Keith Howard recommends using a diluted solution of Speedball screenfiller (the filler is thinned with 20% to 30% water for spraying), to provide a very versatile medium. The granular makeup of the screenfiller suits the tonal nature of the aquatint process and the results, especially on copper, can be outstanding. Follow this link for Keith Howard's original aquatint process: BEGINNERS COMPENDIUM.

In 1994 I had the opportunity to collaborate with
Lydia Anastasevicz, an artist from the former Yugoslavia who was highly proficient in the use of traditional aquatint techniques. Together, we thoroughly tested the new type of aquatint at the Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop. Lydia's initial scepticism towards the new approach soon gave way to great enthusiasm about the enhanced creative possibilities afforded by using Speedball screenfiller. The Speedball is capable of greater subtlety than traditional rosin-based aquatint due to its semi-permeable nature; during etching the microscopic dots gradually diminish in size resulting in much smoother tonal effects and gradations than are possible with a rosin dot.

                              Lydia Anastasevicz, Speedball Spray Aquatint and etched Intaglio Type, 1995


Regular Acrylic Aquatint
Many other acrylic solutions such as the Badger aquatint solution developed by Keith Howard, the Lascaux Aquatint Solution, or ZAcryl's hard ground, also work as a spray aquatint. The Badger solution is based on a very tough polymer which is not semi-permeable like Speedball. As a consequence this aquatint solution perfectly mimics the solid dots typically found in a conventional aquatint.

Note: Care should be taken to print this aquatint with sufficient plate tone as the dots in the tonal areas can look too prominent; masterprinters call this effect sparklies.

Aquatint frequently involves the use of step etching. The plate is evenly covered in acrylic dots. The first marks are made with a resist (an oil crayon, for instance) - these will print white. Then the plate is etched, first lightly, for say just 30 seconds, taken out, and more marks applied. Further painting and etching stages will then result in a complex and layered tonal image. Aquatint is often applied in addition to an initial hard ground layer.

        Products and Equipment needed to make up and apply an aquatint:

  • Speedball Screenfiller
  • Koh-i-Noor India ink
  • airbrush aquatint solution (Badger, Lascaux or ZAcryl)
  • clean water to dilute the aquatint spray solution
  • airbrush compressor
  • spray gun / designer's airbrush
  • pin / needle / pipe cleaners (for cleaning spray gun blockages)
  • sheets of newsprint for test spraying
  • a bowl of soapy water
  • paper towels
  • degreased plate (not sanded)
  • face mask with organic vapor relief  (see below)

A simple but serviceable compressor with 1.5 horsepower can be purchased reasonably cheaply at most DIY stores. These tend to be quite noisy machines. Much better for a shared workshop is a compressor with integrated air reservoir. These machines run very quietly.

A designer's airbrush compressor (shown left) which is entirely silent, uses a different technology. A basic airbrush nozzle (also shown) is reliable, cheap and easier to clean than more velaborate models. Designer's compressors and nozzles can be purchased from most large art material suppliers.




Can acrylics be hazardous? The answer is : Y E S   read more here:

   Acrylics, Polymer Paints and Polymerization: 

       Toxicity and Safety Considerations


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 

        Make up your own aquatint spray as follows:


shown: (left) Mark Zaffron’s pioneering acrylic hard ground from the 1990s

   METHOD (updated)

Creating an Acrylic Spray Aquatint

Researchers: Audrey Blood and Jenny Gover

Aquatint is a method of creating tonal value in intaglio printmaking. An acrylic ground is applied in a fine particulate spray onto a degreased plate and then hardened. The acrylic spray acts as a resist, allowing acid to bite around the particles of ground that have adhered to the surface of the plate, creating a smooth, even tone.

Our task was to create a formula to replace our existing acrylic spray aquatint mixture, which was no longer in production. We began by researching several different formulas and assessing them for quality and durability. We based our mixtures on recipes from the Edinburgh Printmakers (, Friedhard Kiekeben of, and the experiments of Tracy Hill and Emma Gregory ( Links to all of our tests appear below.

Universal Aquatint Solution

Simply add some Koh-i-Noor 3080-4 ink to Z*Acryl hard ground emulsion (unavailable) to obtain a black aquatint spray ink. Today, you may substitute this product with one of the many updated acrylic floor finish products listed on the page :

    Hard and Soft Ground

The solution is liquid enough to be sprayed without further dilution, does not tend to clog the airbrush nozzle, and yields good results with all metal salt etching methods. The black dots are clearly visible, making spraying more reliable. Most other acrylics that are typically used for aquatint applications require dilution prior to use.

The following are examples of aquatint solutions you might use:

Example 1: Lascaux Aquatint Spray Resist (shown left)

Example 2: Mix Speedball with 20% to 30% water - this yields the most velvety tones; works best on copper.

Example 3: Mix some India Ink (ideally Koh-i-Noor) into an acrylic aquatint solution - use enough ink to get a black; test on paper.

Example 4: Mix one of the following binders--Lascaux 2060 OR Golden GAC 100-- with Koh-i-Noor, then with 20% to 30% water; excellent corrosion resistance and easy to strip.

Example 5: Use ready-mixed Badger Aquatint Solution for the best corrosion resistance on any metal and a traditional "dotty" look; available from Polymetaal.


Emma Gregory recently tested a range of possible aquatint solutions and published the results in Printmaking Today (2011)

De-oxidizing plates 
Copper plates frequently build up a brownish-looking tarnish. Shiny copper surfaces become tarnished over time due to contact with air and moisture, or through contamination with acidic grease from handling. Plates that have been etched in ferric-based etching solutions quickly build up a layer of tarnish, once they are lifted out of the bath. This is due to the fact that electrolytic action continues outside of the bath, in contact with air. 
It is recommended to de-oxidize etched plates before additional resists are applied, such as hard or soft ground. 
De-oxidizing is particularly important before the application of aquatint, to ensure the fine resist particles adhere
to the plate surface.

Making up a de-oxidizing solution
Mix half a cup of white vinegar with 1/3rd cup of cooking salt and dissolve this in one cup of hot water.
Rub this solution on the copper plate with a clean soft cloth or paper towel, and all tarnishing
will be removed. Follow up with a mild detergent solution and a dry cloth to remove any saline deposits,
and the plate is ready for further work. 

Making up a de-oxidizing solution / Asia
Vinegar is not always available in Asian countries. Simply, replace the vinegar component of the above recipe with light soy sauce, for similar results. 

        Apply an aquatint spray as follows:

  1. Attach the airbrush to the compressor and turn on the machine
  2. Make sure the facility's ventilation is running
  3. Put on gloves and goggles
  4. Fill the airbrush's detachable ink container with ink and re-attach
  5. Test spray density on white paper (about 40% to 50% dots) you are looking for a FINE MIST of black dots. Once satisfied with the result on paper, spray onto your plate 
  6. Spray in even passes. Do not overspray as the plate will not etch if covered too thickly with dots

For a base aquatint, aim for a density of dots that will cover between 40% to 50% (not more than 50%) of the plate surface. (Aim for a FINE MIST OF DOTS not a total covering).

Create marks on top of the aquatinted plate with Crisco, oil crayon, Scotch tape or acrylics; during etching these marks will remain lighter in tone. You may create successive layers of tone all the way from white via various layers of grey to black according to how long you etch the plate. You can create a whole tonal range in one etching stage simply by varying the density of the sprayed dots. You can also make blends, graffiti marks and stencil effects this way.

Or try dissolving some of the sprayed plate surface with water; you will get amazing random wash effects. After etching, any fatty deposits (Crisco or oil crayon) need to be washed off with soapy water. Acrylics can be stripped using soda ash or a citrus-based solvent (see below), or left on the plate for printing.

Tip: If you don't have a spray booth like the one shown here, improvise by filling a spray mist bottle with thinned Z*Acryl hard ground and simply spritz the plate. The effect will be more speckled, but it works!

CLICK for Henrik Boegh's instructions on how to make your own AQUATINT SPRAY BOOTH

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 safe 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. Note: some cheap prodcuts are mixed with mineral spirits, and do not offer improved safety.

'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.' 


Etching an Aquatint

Typical etching times are as follows: -

         Zinc etched in Saline Sulfate Etch

lightest grey......................1 second
grey................................... another 5 seconds
darker grey....................... another 20 seconds
and so on up to black..... about 10 to 15 minutes
Copper etched in Edinburgh Etch
lightest grey..................... 5 seconds
grey.................................. another 20 seconds
darker grey...................... another 60 seconds
even darker gray............. another 5 minutes
and so on up to black..... about 30 to 45 minutes

Friedhard Kiekeben
Loop, Series of 16 Etchings with aquatint

Lift Ground, Aquatint, 
and The Crisco Lift                
Aquatint and Positive Marks: The Crisco Lift
The usually inverted quality of intaglio marks does not suit every pictorial idea. Sometimes, artists simply wish to paint onto the plate i.e. they want the mark they make on the plate to be the mark they get on the print. 
In traditional etching sugar lift serves as a means by which images can be established on the plate as positive marks. The process involves a number of steps. Firstly, the artist paints an image onto the plate using a lift medium. Next, the image is covered with a uniform coating of mordant resist. Once this coating is dry, the lift marks can be removed, exposing the bare metal underneath. After applying aquatint dots the plate then etches as a positive image, where all painted marks print as a tone or a black. 

The traditional sugar lift process works well in acrylic resist etching, with acrylic varnish being used as the top coat instead of an oil-based varnish. However, the following Crisco Lift developed in the University of Maine print studio is much more straightforward and reliable, and yields by far the most detailed marks.

The print opposite 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.


Using The Crisco Lift
The key ingredient of this process is vegetable shortening, a product normally used in baking. CRISCO is ideal and can be found in most supermarkets. Place about one inch of this ingredient inside a small glass jar, then place the jar inside a jug filled with hot water. You may also mix in some pigment powder to color the lift medium. Once the medium is liquid, use it to paint marks directly onto a degreased metal plate, as though you were using black ink on paper. A variety of brushes will broaden your mark making range, and even strokes made with a very fine-tipped brush will be faithfully recorded. The painted marks dry on contact with the plate; so no further drying is required.

Once the positive image has been painted the plate is evenly coated with acrylic hard ground solution. This is done in the same manner as the acrylic HARD GROUND flow-coating technique outlined in the BEGINNERS COMPENDIUM. The plate is then allowed to dry without the application of heat. Once the acrylic varnish is dry take a soft cloth and simply wipe away the greasy Crisco marks. The original painting will be fully revealed in the form of the bare metal surface, which should now be gently degreased using a clean cloth and a mild detergent. After spray aquatinting, the plate can then be etched. An intaglio print taken from this plate will faithfully reveal all painted marks from the broadest to the most delicate detail.

Health and Safety Note: 
Hazards of Traditional Rosin Aquatint

Traditional aquatint rosin is explosive; several fires in art schools were reported as being due to Aquatint box explosions. The fire hazard is often exacerbated by metal bearings in the rosin box, and the use of a naked flame for melting the rosin dust particles onto a plate. Rosin dust is allergenic, i.e. it is known to cause asthma (see PRINCETON UNIVERSITY / CAR/UIC), and is suspected of permanently clogging lung tissue. Heated rosin is also used as solder flux in the electronics industry. The fumes generated may cause bronchial inflammation. Following lawsuits, the Australian electronics industry introduced tight regulations and safety measures for the use of rosin, which is now used in fully contained working environments such as ventilated glove cabinets. Yet many art schools and print shops still practice traditional rosin based aquatint with minimal precautions. 

        excerpt from 
        Printsafe: A Guide to Safe, Healthy and Green Printmaking

        Tim Challis
        London: Estamp, 1990

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