Monday, August 31, 2009

Paper Lithography/Gum Arabic Transfers

Gum Arabic transfer which is also know as paper lithography or xerox lithography is a quick way to make prints. Your paper photocopy actually becomes your plate when the gum arabic interacts with the toner and raises it slightly off the paper. You can get two or three transfers from one photocopy if you are careful in your plate preparations. If you want several copies of the same print it is a good idea to have more than one photocopy ready.

The following instructions are a combination of what I learned from my recent workshop and research on the topic. There is always more than one way to accomplish what you want. Experimentation is key in finding your own way.


black and white photocopy of an image (heat set type)
oil based printing ink
gum arabic in a small plastic container
several disposable sponges for water and gum arabic
paper towel to blot up excess water
soft brayer to roll on ink
light weight paper to print on
plexiglas plate that is at least 3-4 inches bigger than the image
printing press, barren or wooden spoon
newsprint to absorb ink when printing

Step 1
Prepare your ink. Squirt out a small amount and work it with the brayer until it is well blended. The ink should roll smoothly and not be too tacky. You may need to add Miracle Gel or Easy Wipe to get ink to the right consistency. Mix only enough ink for one print at a time because it gets contaminated with paper fibres and gum arabic.

Step 2
Coat an area of the plexiglas plate with gum arabic and place the photocopy on top of this area with image facing up. If you have difficulty with wrinkling, lift up the photocopy and re-apply a small amount of gum arabic to plexiglas and lay the paper down in sections wiping it on the top with a sponge dipped in gum arabic to smooth out wrinkles . When the paper is fully adhered give it one final light coat of gum arabic.

Step 3
Gently roll a layer of ink over the photocopy that is attached to the plexiglas. It is not necessary to use a large amount of ink. Roll it gently being sure to cover all the darkest areas. Each time you reload the brayer, roll it on newsprint to remove any gum arabic that might be picked up from the photocopy.

I like to give the plate one consistent coat of ink and then remove the ink with a sponge and water. Some artists prefer to apply several very light coats of ink using water and a sponge to remove the ink between each coat. You will have to see what works best for you. Be aware that too many applications of ink followed by water to remove it will eventually break down the photocopy paper which is serving as your plate.

It is a good idea to photocopy on good quality paper, 20 or 24 pound weight. I am planning to try a transfer where I coat the back of the photocopy with gel medium and let it dry. I think this will help strengthen the paper. Working quickly is also important. Don't scrub the paper too vigorously when wiping off the ink because the paper can easily disintegrate. When the ink is removed from the light areas, blot extra water off the inked photocopy plate with paper towel or a dry sponge.

Step 4
Place a sheet of paper over the photocopy and either use a wooden spoon or baren to burnish it to transfer the image to the paper or use a printing press. I had the best results when using the press.

Step 5
If you want to start a new print, clean the roller and ink area and any additional ink that might have transferred to your work area or plexiglas plate. Start a new batch of ink. Baby oil or vegetable oil works well to clean up equipment and work areas.

Additional Suggestions:
High contrast images work best. Stay away for images that have a lot of mid tones.

This did not work at all because I didn't have enough ink on the plate and there were too many mid tones in the phot0.

While this was a fairly successful attempt, you can see that the mid section is lacking in contrast.

This print was not successful because there were too many dark tones and the rocks almost disappear. Of course, I can tear sections of it to use in mixed media work.

I considered this to be a successful print. It had good contrast and interesting lines. I later used it in an encaustic work. Stay tuned to see the final result.

This is my best attempt.


Nancy Natale said...

Hi Margaret,
I have used this technique quite a bit in the past and always enjoyed it. I did it mainly with old photos of people and then added color afterwards with water media. It's pretty amazing to get so much from copies. Good luck with it.

Margaret Ryall said...

Thanks for the tip. It would be a good way to subtly enhance these prints. I did them to use in encaustic and the water media (water colour) would work well.

Carol Wiebe said...

Fantastic tutorial, Margaret! I am now raring to try this technique!

Xerox 8500 ink said...

I am fascinated by this post. I never thought about doing this to my prints. As an artist it is a whole new way to look at your prints and a very creative way of acquiring them in different states and styles. This is perfect of photographs and personal drawings or designs. I can't wait to try this out, and see the different lines and styles that I can make on my own. This will also be great for my mother in her ceramic designs and paintings. Wonderful addition.

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Rebecca said...

I remember using this technique in my intaglio classes/undergraduate program. Can you remind me as to why the ink needs to be oil based as opposed to water based?

Rebecca said...

Oh- and also, can this be done with color copies, or just b&w?

Anonymous said...

Great post! I have found that instead of using gel medium for the back of the photocopy, a couple of good coats of Bull's Eye shellac works great. I do two light coats letting dry completely between coats.

Anonymous said...

That's spray shellac by the way...

pai said...

Where and what kind of gum arabic did you use? I'm getting my supplies ready to do my own prints.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to list the steps. I did this years back, and couldn't remember. Hope you are having a happy holiday!

Judith Reidy said...

I am interested in this process as well. I want to use the process to print on glass and drop powdwe glass on the inked area and clear off any particles where the gum arabic would have been. Then fuse the glass powder print to the glass in a kiln. GUM ARABIC COMES IN VARIETY. there seems to be gum arabic for making watercolor paints and gum arabic for lithographic printers. What kind was used here? Is rhere a significant difference between the two?