Graphic Chemical & Ink Company is a world leader in the fine art field of printmaking. We manufacture our own time-tested inks for etching, litho and relief printing, as well as sell screen print inks, papers, tools, chemistry, plates and supplies for all of a printmaker's needs

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Location: Villa Park, Illinois, United States

I have worked for Graphic Chemical & Ink Company since 1968 - with a brief hiatus(almost 4 years) to travel the World courtesy of my uncle. Sadly it turns out it was my Uncle Sam, and I wasn't too thrilled about the places that he chose to send me. My wife and I have run Graphic Chemical for many years, and have enjoyed the travel that comes with the position. We get to meet our customers (and the occasional vendor) from all over the World

Friday, August 29, 2008

COLLOTYPE INKS - The Mystery Revealed

I have prevailed upon my friend Michael Craine, managing director of the company that makes, among other products, the Caligo Safe Wash inks, to enlighten printmakers about the Collotype process. I appreciate his efforts to help all of us understand the medium a little better.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I have added Caligo's Collotype Inks to the selection offered by Graphic Chemical & Ink. We have a small but loyal following of collotype artists using our Senefelder's Crayon Black Litho Ink, but now the possibilities are significantly expanded. Enjoy....

The one thing I can’t claim for collotype printing is that it is easy, cheap or ready to become the next big thing in printmaking! If truth be told, it’s laboriously slow, extremely complex, technically demanding, specialized and expensive… but it can produce the most staggeringly beautiful, fine and accurate prints imaginable.

The underlying theory is similar to the same mad idea behind lithography: Oil and water don’t mix! With collotype, the science is pushed to a higher plane. Rather than having areas on the printing plate that are simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in that they either print or don’t print, collotype has found a way of printing the in-betweens! Ink does not simply print or not print, it is applied to the paper in varying film thickness, to give a genuine continuous tone. Historically the process has understandably been interwoven with photography and is normally used with this kind of original.

The way it works in practice is like this: A glass plate is coated with sensitized gelatin solution which is ‘oven cooked’ to leave a wrinkled or ‘reticulated’ surface. The plate is then exposed under a reversed photographic negative. Light passes through the negative to harden the gelatin on the glass plate. However the areas of gelatin that are unexposed, remain soft and will later absorb water when washed. It is the hardened exposed areas that will repel the water and remain dry and become the ‘image areas’.

The differing hardness of the gelatin controls the water absorbency of the various tones across the plate. The washed glass plate can then be ‘inked’ with an oil based ink that will adhere in varying film weight commensurate with how soggy the gelatin is underfoot… so to speak.

Having gone through this amount of stress simply to get ink onto the plate, the printer then needs to take care on whatever press is available, providing sufficient pressure to ‘bottom the paper’ without breaking the glass!

The current state of collotype is that it is loved, admired and cherished, but rarely undertaken by individual printmakers. Often the preserve of universities or historic organizations with access to the required plant; collotype printers are a mutually supportive bunch. A recent collotype conference at the University of the West of England in Bristol gave encouragement by bringing together both active and interested printers from the USA, the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Where no alternative inks are available, lithographic inks act as a first reserve, however they are commonly too weak and too soft. A genuine collotype ink has greatly increased pigment content and as a consequence is of far higher viscosity. It is our understanding that a sizeable proportion of Caligo Collotype Inks may not in fact be used by collotype printers, but by lithographers and other printmakers who simply want to experiment or use a very viscous ink!

Collotype is a temperamental process requiring great patience and skill. Results appear to differ dependent on temperature, humidity, the number of Thursdays in the month and the price of fish in Lapland.

Even a collotype enthusiast admitted that ‘it is hard work considering sometimes you get a print and maybe sometimes you don’t’!


Anonymous Conrad said...

Dean, When I was a Printer-Fellow at Tamarind, I wrote a technical paper on the collotype process in the litho studio. Instead of a glass plate which will break in the press, I opted for a ball-grained litho plate. I increased the humidity around the press with an air brush and used litho inks with the tack reduced. This, so that the gelatin was not picked off the plate during roll up. After some trial and error I was able to print over 100 impressions from a plate. I used very smooth Rives for the best impressions. The prints are beautiful! Conrad A. Schwable,

12:47 PM  
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9:03 PM  

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