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Carborundum – A way of making collagraphs
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Carborundum – A way of making collagraphs

Carborundum – One way of making collagraph

by Elly Prestegård

Nothing beats printmaking when it comes to exploring the visual language. The process can be built on drawing, painting, photography, papermaking, digital processes, cutting, and collage, just to mention the most obvious. Surely there are many more doors into this fabulous universe.

I always need a question to get started. Mainly the question is quite simple, starting with “what if…”, and from there I start investigating in the possibilities. In my mind, I am the researcher and the child. Well, children are the best researchers, considering how much they (we) are able to explore and learn in a short time. And vice versa: the researcher will have to keep the fresh curiosity of a child alive, standing up to resistance and complicated tasks, and to keep it fun. Children love repetitions. They can listen to the same story over and over again, always discovering something new. That´s how it works for printmakers too. We have a plate or a set of plates, and we explore the possibilities over and over again, to trespass our own references, discovering a new landscape.


Collagraph can involve all the techniques I mentioned initially. One way of making collagraphs is by use of carborundum glued to a plastic plate.

The first step; degrease the plate to prevent the carborundum from peeling off. The glue/acrylic medium can be painted on, and carborundum sprinkled on top, or you can mix glue and carborundum in beforehand. Different mixes to achieve the strength you want. While still wet the mix of carborundum and glue can be drawn into with different tools. It can be scraped away, or wiped off with a Q-tip or a rag, or just use the back of your brush. Very detailed reduction drawings to achieve white lines will not work, as the ink will fill in the lines when printing.

Testing tonality of the mix of carborundum and glues, and different methods and applications.

I enjoy painting the carborundum mix on freely with a wide brush, letting the action influence the finished work. Sometimes I draw with glue directly from the bottle, sprinkling the carborundum on afterward. Do not wait long, as the surface of the glue must be open to let the carborundum powder sink in. You can also leave the glue as it is, without any carborundum. The ink will then stick along the edges. I like the freedom and the unpredictable things happening on the surface, making signs and textures I could not achieve with other means.

Print on washi made for use as chine collé

To contrast the carborundum I will normally add drawings with drypoint or electrical engraving tools. The drypoint is giving the soft, feathery line mixing in with the carborundum. The engraving tool adds more clear lines. Picture showing detail from “Nature spirit”.

Plastic plates are ideal for both carborundum, drypoint, and chine collé. The material is lightweight, it is cheap, and the transparency makes it easy to plan your collage. If you work on fairly thin plates they can even be cut to shape by use of scissors. For large size plates either choose a thicker plastic, or you will have to handle it with care so it does not bend, resulting in the carborundum cracking off.

The finished print can be based on one single plate containing the image, or it is built up by use of several cut outs, assembled and printed together.

To the left, I have placed my plates on chine collé papers for planning. Then I place the dampened chine collé papers with glue on the clean printing table. When working in series with separate plates it is practical to make marks on the printing board, to make sure you get the plates and the papers right. On the right the finished print.

Detail from one of the pictures from the same series as above

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Akua Carborundum Platemaking Gel was developed to be used in collagraph printmaking plates.

The plate making gel is made from grit (Carborundum) and acrylic medium, that once dried holds fine details and textures.

The plate can be inked intaglio or relief and printed with an intaglio press.

You can find this product in several online stores. Just follow the links and choose the most suitable for you.




Try it and show us the results! 😉


One great advantage with working on plastic is that you can actually see what you get when collaging your chine collé.

It makes it easy to try out different colors and shapes, moving them around.

When working in several layers it is easy to lose track. Keep your mobile phone close to help to remember. I mostly use Japanese washi. Some papers look very delicate and fragile, but they are stronger than you might think. I spray the cutouts with water and leave them between newsprint. When I am ready, I just dust on dry rice glue powder. Very easy to handle, and layered towards the damp base paper they will stick perfectly.

Another version of “Playground” on Arches velin noir.

Same process – new image “Dreamcatcher”.

The solid linework is carborundum, and the bigger black areas are sandpaper glued to the plastic. It works like a smooth aquatint. 


Inking up the carborundum plate is different from inking and wiping an etching. Sometimes the surface is coarse, and you need a softer ink to make sure you do not leave out uninked areas. I normally add the ink with a thick, round and pretty stiff brush. Those made for stenciling are good, but you can also cut back an ordinary painting brush.

Wiping: For the wiping, I go over the plate with tarlatan, and then finish with newsprint and silk tissue. Some areas will need to be cleaned by a Q-tip, depending on the roughness of the surface. Do not overdo the wiping. Especially if you have marks of glue without carborundum, they will be very delicate. If you experience that the glue sticks to the paper when printed, you probably have wiped it too much. A thin, oily film of the ink left on the surface will prevent sticking and tearing.

PAPER: For carborundum, I will normally use a sturdy western paper. Especially when adding large areas with chine colé I need a strong backing paper. For chine collé washi is definitely the best. It is strong and thin and melts into the base paper.


This paper is crafted from long-fibered kozo making it an exceptionally strong yet pliable paper. Kozo Natural Selects’ suppleness makes it suitable for a wide variety of applications.

Carborundum can be printed either black (or any color you like) on white or pale paper, or with white inks on a dark paper.

The picture showing the print “Core of life” being lifted off the plate.

The strength of Carborundum really stands out in black and white.

Adding colors by use of chine collé will change the mood of your image. You start a journey exploring the possibilities.

Artwork “Seeding” (70 x 100) cm.

I hope this has inspired you to give it a go. You can see more on my website.

There you will also find my blog where I write about the process and my experiences with printing techniques and paper. Some based on work from my own studio in Bergen, Norway, and others from travels and residencies.

This article was written by Elly Prestegård and all images copyright © ellyprestegard 2019

You can get to know her on her Facebook page or Instagram.

You can also leave comments below, she will respond as soon as possible.

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  • Aine Scannell August 21, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    As I was reading this article I got to a point and I thought I know who this is – its Elly Prestegard – I scrolled to the bottom and hey I was right. Probably the best article on here so far. Good on yeh Elly !!!!



    • TOP Team August 22, 2018 at 10:27 am

      Hi Aine. Thanks for your comment and visit.
      If you liked the article, share it with your contacts. It is a great help to us. 😉

  • Anna August 23, 2018 at 4:07 am

    Thank you Elly for your great article. I am new to printmaking and have dabbled in collagraphs and carborundum. Can you recommend good reference books? I have the Coolagraphs and Print medium handbook mentioned above.

    • TOP Team August 23, 2018 at 8:28 am

      Hi Anna. Thanks for your comment.
      This comprehensive beautifully photographed book is a must for anyone interested in collagraph and all aspects of relief printing. We recommend it!

  • Maja August 25, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you Elly for a really informative and inspiring article!

    • TOP Team September 5, 2018 at 11:14 am

      Thanks for your comment and visit. 😉

  • Janet Webber September 19, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you Elly. This is such a helpful article. I had tried carborundum printing only once, and didn’t have good instruction ( or good luck) Now I’m inspired to try it again. If I’m happy with the results, I promise to post a few images to you. I love your writings and generous spirit. Thanks again!
    Janet Webber
    Evanston IL

    • TOP Team September 19, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you for your feedback Janet.
      You have to try it again and show us the results. If there is any doubt, you know where to find us. 😉


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