TOP source of information about PRINTMAKING

Tetra Pak Printmaking – A Remarkable Paperboard Matrix
Artists, Techniques

Tetra Pak Printmaking – A Remarkable Paperboard Matrix

Photograph by Vinícius Cruz

Tetra Pak Printmaking – A Remarkable Paperboard Matrix

by Natália Gregorini

My name is Natália Gregorini, I study in the master’s program in visual arts at the State University of Campinas and my research is directed to the creative process of an illustrated book using a carton pack printing technique, known as Tetra Pak printmaking.

In 2013, I had the opportunity to attend a period of my graduation at the University of Porto, in Portugal, where I saw, for the first time, a box of milk being used as a matrix for printmaking.

Often seen as an experimental technique born of metal printmaking, since the principles of engraving, inking, and printing are the same, printing with carton packaging (Tetra Pak) has immense qualities unique to its materiality, such as bending and shape marks of the boxes, the possibility of cutting and overlapping matrices and the stains that their unpolished surface generate.

To understand this better, I will write about the process of creation and printing using Tetra Pak; but in order to compare this process with metal printmaking, we need to have a sense of what metal printmaking is. For this, I use the wonderful and concise text of Orlando da Costa Ferreira, in his book Image and Letter, Introduction to the Brazilian Bibliography:

“The metal printmaking consists of carving, tearing or corroding lines representative of the drawing itself on a metal plate. The inking spreads vigorously and evenly to the entire face of this plate, which is then scraped with a cloth (tarlatan) so that the paint is just inside the cuts. As the printing must be obtained by means of strong pressure, a special press of cylinders is used, between which it is passed, in a single block, the table, the inked plate covered by the paper, and a piece of felt (the blanket) designed to give a certain plasticity to this set. During the pressure, the ink adheres to the paper and forms on its surface a more or less sensitive relief, according to the greater or lesser depth of the notches in which it was stored.”

The Tetra Pak printmaking uses the same principle explained by Ferreira. However, in this technique we don’t use acids to engrave, only pointed tools such as drypoints, sharp needles, and nails as well as other materials that generate grooves, such as sandpaper.

Sandpapers create grooves that may be subtler or coarser, depending on the strength used. You can use them to generate subtle halftones and smudges.

In addition to sandpaper to generate stains, it is also possible to remove the aluminum part from the matrix in an established area, this way only the paperboard will remain; absorbing the ink and not allowing us to clean the surface, leaving a different stain area. Another possibility, which I consider the most special feature of this technique, is to cut and overlap matrices in the same print, using various colors or ink viscosities.

The process of inking and cleaning is also the same as in metal; Because Tetra Pak boxes have layers of aluminum and polyethylene that make them impermeable, it is possible that the ink deposited throughout the matrix is then removed and held only in the engraved designs. As the matrix is not completely polished, the ink also accumulates in small grooves of the material and therefore the impressions of printmaking in Tetra Pak have very characteristic stains.

The ink is also the same as that used for metal engraving. Inking is done by passing the ink across the matrix. To pass the ink, you can use a very hard piece of paper or old bank cards (I prefer these) that are used as spatulas. It is important that this material has hardness so that the ink is well spread and enters the grooves. It is also possible to use dolls (tarlatan bundles) for a more delicate inking.

After inking, we have to wipe the surface of the matrix. For this, we use tarlatan, a fabric of very open wefts. This process is achieved by making circular movements from the inside out, in order to push the paint off the surface and leave only the paint from the grooves.

TOP Printmaking is an affiliate of several programs, meaning that if you purchase something through our links, the project may get a small percentage cut of the overall sale. For more information check our Affiliate disclosure.  

Akua Wiping Fabric is ideal for wiping excess ink from your printmaking plate.

Made from long-lasting and lint-free polyester that is smoother and softer than tarlatan.
Your ink will never dry and harden on this fabric! Single piece measures 19 inches wide by 10 yards in length.

I like to use the cleaning moment also as a possibility of creating textures, leaving more or less paint on some matrices, as well as monoprints. In fact, when we use many overlapping matrices we can not escape it, because we can hardly duplicate exactly the same composition.

As in the vast majority of printmaking techniques, the paper must be previously soaked in a tray of water for at least 20 minutes for its fibers to soften before printing. After removing it from the water, the excess must be dried with clean cloths or papers.

I often use Canson Edition or Hunnemuller paper.

Hahnemühle Copperplate Paper

Available in two colors, Bright White and Warm White, Hahnemühle Copperplate Paper is ideal for a variety of printmaking techniques.
This 300 gsm, 100% alpha-cellulose paper has a vellum surface with a watermark.

After taking out excess water from the paper and finished the process of inking and cleaning the matrices, it is time to print.

For printing, we use the cylinder press, because with it we get more pressure, causing the paper to get into the grooves of the matrix.

When I use several matrices, I make the composition just overlapping the matrices already inked. It is always a surprise what will appear on the other side of the press. This is my favorite moment of the process: the discovery. After the discovery, we can make evaluations of composition, amount of ink, etc.

Tetra Pak matrices are paperboard matrices with aluminum and polyethylene, are therefore less durable than would be a metal matrix. For this reason, it is not the best technique for large print runs, because with each impression the matrix is changing, generating other stains and grooves, results of handling and use of the material.

From the work I have already developed with this technique, I realized that it is almost a monotype because, when I make a composition with several matrices and I use the inking also to generate textures, each impression turns out to be unique, being very difficult to reproduce it.

In my works and research as an illustrator, Tetra Pak printmaking enchanted me at first glance and with it, I found the bridge that linked printmaking and illustration in my creative process.

The illustrations, images that tell stories, associated with texts or not, presuppose a story. The stories assume characters and scenarios. It is natural, therefore, that the process of creating matrices in Tetra Pak occurred along with the process of creating stories because the ideas of characters and scenarios overlapped as well as matrices of Tetra Pak. In addition to being able to overlap, the agility with which I can work with this material is also of great importance in this creative process.

The fact that Tetra Pak matrices do not allow for large runs, in my process, is not a problem because eventually the prints will be digitized to be treated, diagrammed and printed as books.

It is curious to reflect on this process that retakes the principle of the means of reproduction of the image, re-signifying it; giving him new material to work on and the possibility of not stiffening with the obligation to reproduce “equal” images. Because of this, one can take advantage of this process in its more particular characteristics and enjoy the “accident”, have fun and learn from it, incorporating it often in the final result of the prints.

Photograph by Lívia Diniz

See me working an image from the beginning in this video:

This article was written by Natália Gregorini and  all images copyright © nataliagregorini 2019

You can get to know her better on her Instagram and Flickr.

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. 😉

If you don’t want to miss our next articles…


  • Juan Cano October 24, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Ya conocía algo de la técnica, pero este artículo aumento mi conocimiento…gracias!!.

    • TOP Team October 24, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Gracias por su visita y comentario Juan! Es bueno saber que estamos aumentando el conocimiento de nuestros lectores. 😉

  • Maria Santiago October 24, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for posting your experience…. I never used tetra boxes but with students used portions of any stiff shiny surfaced box to scratch cut etc and ink…. fun to use what image is on the box as the “drawing” and see what happens.😃… yes monoprint no chance of edition.

    • TOP Team October 25, 2018 at 9:57 am

      This is, without a doubt, an excellent technique for working with children.
      Thanks for your visit and comment. 😉

  • Beatriz October 24, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Conheço a artista Natália Gregorini. Trata-se realmente de uma profissional estudiosa e muito comprometida com a arte e sua diversidade técnica.
    Recentemente em uma entrevista com a artista, ela comentou sobre o poder da arte de QQ forma, sobre o desenvolvimento humano e sua sensibilidade… Parabéns pela escolha da profissional.

    • TOP Team October 25, 2018 at 10:00 am

      A Natália é TOP e por isso faz parte deste projecto. 🙂
      Muito obrigado pela sua visita e comentário. Ajude-nos partilhando este artigo com os seus contactos.

  • Ingrid Haubrich October 28, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    very clear explanation of the process. Wish it would work without a cylinder press! Thank you very much for posting.

    • TOP Team October 30, 2018 at 3:26 pm

      It is very similar to metal printmaking (like drypoint) and as such, you need to apply a lot of pressure to get good results.
      Thanks for your comment and visit. 😉

  • Ann Mackay January 14, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Very clear and informative article and it looks as if it would be fun to experiment with. Now I am wondering if we have any Tetra-Paks in the cupboard…

    • TOP Team January 14, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Hi Ann. Thanks for the visit and comment.
      You can use any juice or milk package. Try it and show us the result. 😉

  • Alan Levy February 22, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    What an great, detailed article about an amazing process. I can’t wait to try it out! Thanks.

    • TOP Team February 28, 2019 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks for the comment, dear Alan. Try it and share the results with us. 😉


    Leave a Reply to Beatriz Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.