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Drypoint How to – A Safer Alternative to Etching

Drypoint How to – A Safer Alternative to Etching

Drypoint How to – A Safer Alternative to Etching

by Mel Kolstad

Drypoint, like etching, mezzotint, or solar plate printing, is an intaglio method of printmaking; it is the opposite of those methods done in relief.
There are many ways of utilizing the drypoint method, and those methods will be discussed here.

But first, here is a list of items used during the process:

  • Plexiglass (Perspex) or soft metal, such as copper
  • Mark-making items (sandpaper, carborundum, engravers’ tools, acetone)
  • Intaglio ink, such as Akua or Charbonnel
  • Good quality paper, like Rives BFK or Arches
  • Tarlatan
  • Printing Press

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Acrylic Clear Sheets

Acrylic Clear Sheets

Acrylic sheets are a great alternative to fragile glass. These pre-cut, ideally sized sheets of .06″ thick acrylic have a non-glare finish on one side.
Great for Drypoint and other printmaking techniques.

Akua Intaglio Inks

Akua Intaglio Inks

Akua Intaglio soy-based permanent inks are a non-toxic, environmentally safe way to do printmaking.
Formatted for intaglio, they can also be applied with a brayer for relief, monotype, and collagraph printmaking techniques.

Akua ink has a rich, thick consistency with minimal dryer and cleans up easily with soap and water.
Print from plastic, wood, linoleum, or metal plates. You don’t need any special ventilation, toxic solvents, or fireproof containers.

Blick Econo Etch Model II Press

Blick Econo Etch Model II Press

Dick Blick’s Econo Etch Model II is an excellent choice for the beginning printmaker or for the professional who needs an auxiliary press for demonstrations, art fairs, and workshops.
The press is easy to work and is suitable for etching, collagraphy, paper plate lithography, unmounted linoleum block printing, and embossing.

It’s perfect for smaller prints and greeting cards.


Getting started:

Plexiglass or other surface is cut to size. The edges of the matrix are sanded and beveled to give a smooth edge when printing. The surface must be completely clean and smooth, free of any scratches (even the most minute scratch will show up during printing).

As with nearly all printmaking techniques (save serigraphy), the image used to create the plate must be drawn or printed backward, to print “correctly”. Some people draw right on the Plexiglass and then flip the piece over and scratch, but some use a drawing or computer-generated photo or image.
That image is then reversed, printed out, and placed directly underneath the Plexiglass for the printmaker to use as a guide while creating the plate.

There are many ways to get good shading when creating your image – sandpaper and acetone are two good ones. These are readily available and cost very little. Acetone can be found in any nail polish remover and a bottle will last a good long time. Fine grit sandpaper works beautifully.

One of the biggest “plusses” to drypoint vs. other intaglio methods is that it uses no harsh or toxic chemicals! If the printmaking studio is small or there is no access to proper ventilation, drypoint isn’t only preferable; it’s downright necessary.

Intaglio Etching Sets

Intaglio Etching Sets

4 Piece Roulette Set

This includes a scraper/burnisher, roulette dot #85, a twisted double point scribe, and a burin square medium.

6 Piece Etching Set

This set includes a small 6¾” long carving burnisher, a twisted double point scribe, a small scraper, an elliptic tint medium, a 4¾” long burin square medium, and a small burin lozenge.

“Etching” into your plate:

Once the image is where it should be on the copper or Plexiglass, the “etching” begins. One should not confuse drypoint with the etching process, as an etching uses chemicals to “etch” the image into the surface. Printmakers seem to use many verbs to describe the process of creating the drypoint image on the plate – “etching”, scratching, engraving – and there are as many disagreements about these terms. Whatever the “correct” term is, “scratching” will be used here.

It is a good idea to invest in some good ergonomic tools, as the “scratching” process can take a toll on one’s hands. Many websites have these tools available.

One of the advantages of drypoint is the instant gratification of seeing the image appear on your plate. It is a perfect technique for fine line drawings and illustrations.
The plate is soft enough so that you can scratch fairly easily – even the lightest scratch will show up. You can vary line widths with different engraving tools – some even use potters’ tools or dental tools for this effect. This is where you will also see sandpaper or acetone work on your plate – the plate will appear cloudy where these tools are applied, and those surfaces will show up as colored, but not as dark as the lines.

Once you have completed scratching your plate, the inking process can begin.

Inking process:

Because the ink will be filling the fine lines and shaded areas that have just been scratched into the plate, the ink needs to be “pushed” into these areas. One easy way to do this is to take a small bit of mat board or cardboard, dip it into the intaglio ink, and scrape it across the surface of the plate, thereby ensuring the ink will fill the spaces.

It is important to make sure all lines are filled in this manner. Some people use a soft rubber brayer, but more pressure is needed to apply the ink.

The next step is to use a tarlatan, which is a piece of mesh-like cloth, to wipe the surface of the plate. It may seem counter-intuitive to wipe the surface since the ink had just been pushed into the line work. But the step keeps the ink off the unscratched, clean surfaces – those which will show up “clear” (i.e., the same color as the paper) when printing. (Note that this is completely opposite of what happens when relief printing is done.) The tarlatan is held, bunched up but flat, in between the index finger and the thumb, to form and is used in a clockwise motion.

Some printmakers utilize tissue paper, cotton swabs, or paper towels as extra security that the clear areas are perfectly clear. It is also helpful, when using Plexiglass (as opposed to copper, which isn’t transparent), to hold it up to the light to see if it is indeed “clean”. It is also very important to wipe the sides and back of the plate – the inking process with drypoint can be very messy indeed and ink will quite often wind up on the sides and back of the plate. If left, the ink will show up as a border of sorts and may ruin the quality of the print. (Other times, the ink is purposely left on
the sides for a “border” effect.)

Once the ink is where it needs to be on the plate, carefully, with very clean hands, place the plate on the press. It also a good idea to make sure the press bed is completely clean, too.


Paper Preparation:

When creating drypoint prints, it is imperative that the paper being used is soaked beforehand. Unless the print is unusually large, five to twenty minutes is sufficient. A good, thick paper, like Rives BFK or Arches, is preferable, and a border of a half-inch to an inch is typical. Therefore, if the plate is 6X6 inches, the paper should be torn (not cut) to a 7×7 or even 8×8” size.

BFK Rives Printmaking Papers

BFK Rives Printmaking Papers

This very popular, fine printmaking paper is mouldmade in France and has a smooth, absorbent surface. Rives Papers, made of 100% cotton, is acid-free, soft-sized, and buffered.

And if you’re in Europe …

Once the paper has been soaked for the desired time, it is taken out of its water bath and placed on a clean towel. The towel is then folded over and excess water is removed from the paper until just damp. Dampening the paper opens up its fibers and allows more ink to be released. It also creates a very pleasing embossing from the plate itself, making the image appear “matted” in a frame.

Once the paper has been dried to its desired effect, it is placed atop the plate on the press, making sure registration is correct.



Proper registration is important when making prints – it allows the finished print to be straight on the paper. Having a crooked print on paper, especially when there is not much border allowance, can all but ruin its chances to be framed.

There are many ways to register the plate with the paper – creating masking tape borders for both the plate and the paper is one. Another easy one is to leave a self-healing mat with a grid right on the press, which ensures proper registration without extra marks on the press. Just make sure to adjust the press to accommodate the mat.



Once the paper is properly registered on the plate, it is time to print. Throughout the process, it is extremely important to have clean hands, but the printing process is the most important. It only takes one smudge to ruin a print. A good linseed oil soap is an indispensable tool in a printmaking studio.

After the paper is placed atop the plate, a barrier paper should be applied on top of the printing paper. Good papers for this use are deli papers, butcher paper, or parchment – something with a little bit of water resistance. It is also very important that this top paper be free of ANY wrinkles, as the wet printing paper will pick these up when going through the press.

Once the barrier paper is applied and free of wrinkles, slowly turn the wheel or crank so that the press blankets fall on the paper. Then, run through the press forward, then back, giving it two passes through the press. The extreme pressure of the press will ensure a strong print.

Once the print has passed through the press, slowly lift off the press blankets, carefully lift the barrier paper off the printing paper, and then very carefully, lift the printing paper from the plate.


Other “Finishing” Techniques:

After the print is dry, the printmaker may decide to incorporate other media into the print. Watercolor is a very popular medium, and so is chalk pastel. But crayon, markers, collage, embossing powders – all of these can enhance the print beautifully. It’s fun to experiment with various media with your drypoints!

VOILA! Your print is complete. I hope you had fun! Drypoint is a very satisfying printing technique – you can get so much detail from not a lot of work.

I hope these directions inspired you to give drypoint a try. If you do, I would love to see your work!
Email me at or visit my website,!

This article was written by Mel Kolstad and all images copyright © melkolstad 2019

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

Hope you enjoyed. If so, please leave a comment.
It’s a great help for the project and an easy way to give us a helping hand. 😉

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  • Sue Warren May 2, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Great post on drypoint…I did a day workshop and. Loved it..would like to to try more of that

    • TOP Team May 3, 2018 at 10:13 am

      I hope you have gained more will with reading! …
      If you decide to do it again, show us the results. 😉

    • Mel Kolstad May 9, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you found it useful! 🙂

  • Jillian Eastley May 2, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    I really enjoyed this tutorial in drypoint. Thank you for clear and useful information.

    • TOP Team May 3, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Thank you for visiting! 😉

      • Mel Kolstad May 9, 2018 at 3:25 pm

        Oh my gosh – thank YOU for your very lovely comment! 🙂

  • Ian Bertram May 3, 2018 at 11:29 am

    I have problems with my hand which makes applying pressure at the right angle to raise the typical drypoint ‘burr’ difficult. I’m experimenting with other ways of scribing into the plastic, including a Dremel. I’m still playing but looks promising. I haven’t used acetone yet. I suppose if you wanted to be picky, (I usually am to be honest!) acetone being a chemical reaction is etching rather than drypoint.
    I apply my ink with my finger inside a soft cloth. That way I can control the pressure and so don’t damage the ‘burr’ and I can also better control the areas to which it is applied, so avoiding contamination of the blank areas. I also often use the drypoint over prepared papers, whether by colour wash or another print. This makes any loss of line detail less critical I find.

    • TOP Team May 3, 2018 at 1:05 pm

      We appreciate your constructive comment.
      The “bur” is undoubtedly one of the main and most beautiful features of this technique, but each artist uses the technique differently, creating their own language (one of the fantastic things about printmaking).
      Often the names of the techniques mix each other and it is difficult to give a name to what is being done.
      We’d like to know more about the results you’re getting with Dremel. If you would like to share, please email us at
      Thank you for your visit and come back soon. 😉

  • George Rogers May 3, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks! Been seeing drypoint with increasing interest. This article is my tipping gonna try. What fun.

    • TOP Team May 4, 2018 at 9:28 am

      Thanks for the visit and comment.
      Show us the result when you try it! 😉

  • Chandan Bez baruah July 28, 2018 at 3:37 am

    I am an artist printmaker from India northeast Assam.

  • Anna Beveridge August 5, 2018 at 6:51 am

    A great article to refresh methods of drypoint, which I’ve done a little of. Thankyou.

    • TOP Team August 5, 2018 at 4:35 pm

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

  • Roberto January 3, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you very much.
    The explanation is very clear.
    I tried etching with nitric acid (acquafort) but I realized that it was really toxic! So shifted to non toxic printing ,working zinc plates with galvanic etching although, in my opinion, drypoint is the best technique.

    • TOP Team January 3, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Roberto.
      Many thanks for the visit and comment. 😉

  • Angela kelly March 29, 2019 at 2:20 am

    Great Article Team.
    Firstly how do I know the “wetting “time of the paper ? Is this related to the quality / weight of the paper or time based . Any tell tale hints for too dry or too wet?

    Secondly, when dry pointing either on plexus or copper how do I get very strong wide dark lines ? Recommended tool / tools

    Finally, can a line be too wide when etching copper plate to prevent too deep a bite? What suggestion for line work or processes can you recommended ?
    Thanks Ange Australia

    • TOP Team March 29, 2019 at 11:19 am

      Hi Ange.
      Beautiful comment. We will not be able to leave an answer for everything here but we will leave links to the information requested.
      Information about Dampening of paper here.
      The best tools for Drypoint are Etching needles, Roulette wheels, Scraper and Burnisher. You can also use a Mezzotint rocker or even an electric machine like the Dremel. Being a direct intervention method on the plate, you can practically use anything that hurts the plate.
      For more controlled line work, we recommend reading this article.
      We hope the answer has helped you and we want to see your results soon. 😉


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