Jelly print on fabric

Making Printmaking Greener

  • How we’re making our printing classes greener
  • Ideas for greener printmaking
  • Looking at printmaking from a greener perspective
making printmaking greener text on green ink

The issues around climate change and the environment are complex and trying to find the right way to be greener can be overwhelming, especially when there’s a niggling doubt that diligently sorting the rubbish into the correct bin is but a drop in the ocean.

For many of us, it’s unrealistic to aim to be plastic free or produce no landfill waste and instead, we do what we can, in a way that works for us, to minimise our environmental impact.


Prompted by the Slamseys Creative Challenge in the summer, we looked at how green our printmaking classes are in The Barley Barn and how we can improve. As we suspected, we were doing better in some areas than others.

Using second hand relief press for printmaking
  • We use second-hand furniture and equipment whenever possible and pass it on to other printmakers when we no longer need it.
  • If you’ve been to a class here, you’ll know that the heating hovers only just the right side of comfortable.
  • We positively embrace re-using tins and other containers for storage of equipment, inks and tools.
  • Our toilet rolls and hand towels are made from recycled paper.
  • The printing inks are mostly water-based or water-soluble, which means that they wash out with soap and water.
  • We share our printing space and equipment with other printmakers through Print Club and Open Access Days
  • For screen printing, we use hand-cut stencils rather than polymer emulsions.
  • The home-made cakes and biscuits baked for classes are made with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible.


However, we weren’t so good at dealing with the waste generated in the classes. There’s always going to be a certain amount of waste when people are learning new skills and experimenting with different techniques, inks and papers or just getting carried away with the printing process but we were doing little more than putting it in the recycling bin or stuffing in a drawer.

The challenge was to take a more creative approach to the 5Rs, so we looked at the waste produced in classes to see if we could come up with some ideas. It proved to be a thought-provoking exercise.

Here are a few ideas for greener printmaking.

Cup and saucer print on teabag

RETHINK how you define waste. We did a bit of skip and bin delving, dried out used teabags and sorted through long forgotten boxes of “things that might become useful” to find things to print with and on.

REPURPOSE imperfect prints and total failures to make artist’s books, cards and collages.

REUSE old printing plates. We changed the image with new cuts, chopped up plates to print them in different formations and experimented with colour, layers and texture.

REDEFINE your limits. Use what you have before you buy new supplies, only buy things that you have a use for and don’t save inks and paper for ‘best’ only to find they’ve deteriorated and are unusable when you want them.

REPAIR clothes with patches made from fabric scraps. We used small samples from the Fabric Printing class to patch holes in several pairs of trousers and made a patchwork cushion cover.

RECYCLE larger pieces of fabric as everlasting gift wrapping. Wrap your gifts in fabric and fasten with ribbon, badges, safety pins, buttons or tie furoshiki style. Make fabric gift bags if you’re nifty with a sewing machine. You don’t need perfectly printed fabric, as you can see in this post about Give Wraps, so it’s a good use for practice prints and Give Wraps can be used time and time again, unlike wrapping paper.

Fabric Give Wraps


We were so inspired by the Challenge that we’ve introduced two new courses for the spring to encourage anyone interested in printmaking to develop their skills and perhaps look at printmaking from a slightly greener perspective.

Waste Matters sketchbook for printmaking course

The next Printing in Progress short course gives students the chance to develop a theme. These are interesting classes as people spin off in so many directions depending on their choice of theme and how they develop it. The theme used for the sketchbook above was Waste Matters.

The second class  Upcycle Fabric with Print is more of a Make Do and Mend style, using Indian woodblocks to print fabric for patches and to customise or upcycle clothes.


Of course, there’s always more to do but for now we’re focussing on the achievable  changes we can make. Small steps.

You might also like to read:

Ten Creative Ways to Recycle your Scrap Paper

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