Relief Printing Ink for ceramics

Introduction

Here are instructions to base an investigation into lino printing onto clay.  Quite a few people have been doing this for a while, and there are good books on the subject, Including Ceramics and Print (3nd Edition) by Paul Scott ISBN10: 1408151499 and Image transfer on Clay by Paul Andrew Wandless ISBN10: 1454703326.  For my process, I’m not starting from the beginning, but rather adding to other peoples investigation.

NB: as always please use common sense when making this ink, an appropriate space, respirator, and gloves are a really good idea as you are dealing with powdered pure heavy metal oxide.  It’s not just going to give you a bit of a cough, it will kill you. For example, don’t mix it in your kitchen. 

Tools

Essential:

  • You really need a roller.  It is pretty essential to get an even coverage of ink onto your relief block.
  • A palette knife.  This is a life saver when mixing the ink and transferring it from surface to surface.
  • A sheet of glass (although you can almost get away with acrylic, dibond, etc).  This is crucial to mix against the palette knife to make sure all of the ingredients are combined thoroughly.
  • An accurate scale.  A cheap 0.1g graduated electronic scale is really necessary when weighing out oxides.

Ink

I use a linseed based ink, and have found that it gives me the best transfer of materials off the block.  As a byproduct of this, it also creates a mask or resist on the surface of the clay.  This could be exploited with other thin water based washes of slips or underglaze applied after the print as they would resist the printed areas.  One of the cons about using an oil based ink is the clean up.  Linseed oil in particular comes with serious risks of spontaneous combustion.  You can read about these risks and how to avoid them here.  You need to clean up with White spirits, or a citrus based solvent like Zest-it.  With these risks and downsides however, it does give you a tacky, sticky, and smooth coverage of ink on your block, and sticks the block to the clay a bit better than alternatives.  The alternative is to make the ink, as my girlfriend does, with glycerine.

Extender relief printing ink

This is the ink I purchase from Intaglio Printmakers. It is very good quality ink that I know professional Artist Printmakers use themselves. I use the one called extender, which is colourless ink as I am going to add ceramic pigments instead

How to mix your ink

I am going to focus on making a cobalt based ink, as it is the one I’ve had the most success with.  Cobalt is an incredibly powerful pigment in ceramics, and acts as a flux.  

The recipe is broken down into 2 parts:

The base:

Pigment: 5g of Cobalt Oxide

Binder: 15g of China Clay

The vehicle:

15g linseed oil

5g Relief Extender

 

The first thing is to mix the dry base ingredients together. Then dump them out onto a sheet of glass and add the 15g of linseed oil.  Methodically stir and slake down the powder into the linseed oil until you have a putty like consistency.  Take your time with this step as this initial mix will save time and frustration later on.  Then carefully weigh out the 5g of Relief ink extender and mix it into the putty against the glass with a putty knife.  You should then have a uniform, ceramic pigmented, relief ink.