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Collagraphs – An explanation on how to.


COLLAGRAPHS, is one of the print media with which I work consistently.

You will find the collagraph basics here but below is collagraphs according to Carol Nunan, i.e. Me! Other printmakers may disagree with some of what I’ve written below – we all have our individual approaches to the medium. This is an overview, nothing replaces the workshop situation where you can see the nuance of the processes, hints and tips.

Floral CollagraphWhat is a collagraph?

A collagraph plates are created by sticking, gluing and painting materials onto the plate using things such as textured paper or fabric onto the plate or gesso or carborundum to make a relief plate with an interesting surface of different levels and textures.

Once the collaged elements (which can be a combination of different textures and substances) are dry – a process that can several hours depending on what kind of wet materials have been used – the plate is sealed with a varnish or acrylic medium.
  • Shellac; it dries quickly; it can be made up as thick or as thin as you need it to control the light and dark areas on the plate
  • Pledge floor wax (which replaced J&J Klear)
  • Water based yacht varnish

The sealant’s function is:

  • To extend the life of the plate
  • To protect the surface and prevent ink from simply soaking into the substrate
  • To act as a means of controlling the levels of tone in the image If necessary
  • When finished the plate is ready to be proofed.

What does the term ‘Intaglio’ mean?

A plate printed ‘Intaglio‘ means ink is pushed into the grooves on the plate using card or a brush; excess ink is wiped away using scrim. I use polyester cotton sheeting. It is smoother yet absorbent and has less of a tendency to get caught in the rough surface of the plate or to leave fluff behind.

What about relief printmaking?

A collagraph plate can also be inked up for relief printing. Ink is applied to the surfaces that stand proud on the plate. Interesting results can be achieved when both intaglio and relief inking methods are employed together and even more interesting results come from working with inks of differing viscosities.

Printing the plate

  • The plate is placed on a flat bed intaglio press, covered in damp paper and run through the press.
  • The number of impressions (prints) achieved from a collagraph plate depend on the materials used.
  • Multiple plates can be overprinted, one on top of the other, one colour at a time.
  • The effect can give the print a lot of depth, especially if you use a lot of transparency in the ink.
  • Since each plate has a different design, the colour from the last plate will come through and you end up with a multi-coloured result.

The Collagraph Plate Construction:

The DOs

You can use:

  • .8mm wood ply. The advantages are not only the robust nature of woodpile but prints get the benefit of the wood grain texture.
  • Mountboard. Your local framer may let you have their offcuts for nothing since they tend to get chucked out in the skip otherwise. Mount board comes with a smooth or textured surfaces that print beautifully.
  • Myla. Mylar like steel or aluminium polish back for great smooth surfaces that you can also scratch into (dry point).
  • Sheet metal like steel or aluminium.

Depending on the ‘matrix’ used (mount board, wood ply or metal for example) you can also cut, carve and scratch into the surface of the plate.

The DON’Ts

  • Don’t use the coloured side of mount board – if you don’t want to create difficulties for yourself  when inking up; the coloured surface will stop you from being able to see what you are doing.
  • Card or wood ply that is more than 5mm could cause problems especially once you have added to that thickness with your textured materials.
  • Even more important – avoid applying the collaged materials too thickly to the surface, or sharp materials with high edges. You could damage the paper and/or press blankets which could be costly, especially if the press isn’t yours!
  • The variety of different effects and variation in texture is infinite depending entirely on how you use a host of different materials such as paint, glue, gesso, texture paste, impasto medium, leaves, fabric and almost anything with texture that are flat enough to not rip the paper when you print with it. The materials you apply to the plate will determine the tone and strengths of the ink.
Absorbent materials might have to be inked up and printed a couple of times before the the full impression comes through. The sealant you use and the number of coats you apply can also determine the tone and strength of the ink. In fact sometimes by adding more than one coat of sealant selectively you can bring out more of the contrast in texture and tone that resides on the plate.

Textured material examples:

  • Tissue, crepe paper, Japanese paper. Paper can be ripped, cut, scrunched, glued or pressed into materials like texture paste.
  • Mount board can be incised, lifting off the top layer (don’t cut too deep). For a rough edge nick the surface and pull off a layer.
  • Lace, cotton, canvas, or any textured fabric or wallpaper can be glued to the surface. The trick is not to leave folds that can move and allow ink to get trapped underneath. Everything must end up in contact with the surface of the plate or splodges will result.
  • Acrylic paints and acrylic textures. Glosspaint and varnish. Different brush strokes will create a variation of texture. Also palette knifes and sponges can be used.
  • Texture paste, tile grout, etc hold the marks of brushes or palette knives, etc very well. You can also press leaves or grasses or fabric into them. Experiment by either leaving them there or lifting them to see what kind of impression is left behind. I’ve recently been experimenting with how to leave textured impressions that hold their shape once you lift off the item you’re using. I found wetting the item in advance or using a damp sponge so the item doesn’t stick to the surface very successful). Texture paste is really good for this. There are cheaper alternatives but they all have their own characteristics and therefore you will get some variation in the way things print.
  • Carborundum is also a good choice if you would like to print something completely black (or any other ink colour).
  • Other interesting materials can be string, tread, leaves, masking tape, parcel tape.
  • Finally … and this comes with a health & safety warning … I sometimes take a blow torch (like the small kitchen ones you use for burning the sugar on top of creme caramel) to burn the plate edges and surfaces. Please take great care if you are going to do this. I work outdoors with fire bricks to support the plate; heavy duty gloves to hold it; a mask to avoid breathing in any potentially harmful fumes. You can get fantastic textures from burning things like texture paste and PVA glue whilst they are still wet because they bubble up and do strange things.


  1. I saw your collagraphs at the biscuit factory. Very beautiful and inspiring for me.
    I wonder what glue can be use to stick the different textures on the plate.
    I would have liked to see you last Friday at the preview to ask you so many questions I ask myself.
    Hope to see again.
    Carry on producing ravishing pieces of art!


    • Carol Nunan March 8, 2017 Reply


      Steph told me you had been asking after me. I’m sorry I missed you. I’m pleased you liked the work. I use PVA to stick the textures to the plate. Ideally you can use water proof exterior wood glue which should mean you won’t necessarily need to seal the plate. Thanks again.


    • Carol Nunan May 10, 2017 Reply

      Thank you Marie-Claude. You are very kind.

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