Collagraphy is a low impact printmaking technique that uses a wide range of inexpensive and non-toxic materials to produce prints. In fact, a rummage through the scrap box can result in some amazing prints.

collagraph print of dog with collagraph plate

You need the pressure of an etching press to make good collagraph prints but a low cost alternative is to use a die cutting machine. We’ve used a mini die cutting machine with great success, though the downside is that we can only make small prints with it.

As with most printmaking techniques, it’s good to start with a test plate. Instead of getting bogged down with composition, experiment with materials and techniques to see how everything works and use this information when you’re designing subsequent collagraphs.

Make your collagraph plate

Mountboard is a good base to use for your collagraph plate and can easily be cut to size. A4 is a good size for an experimental plate but you may need to make a series of smaller plates if you’re using a die cutting machine as your press.

Cut and glue

Cut simple shapes from a variety of plain and textured papers, card, plastic, craft foam, aluminium foil, cling film etc and use PVA glue to attach them securely to the mountboard. Use them flat or scrunched.

Glue textured items such as dried leaves and seeds, yarn and twine, ribbon and fabric to the board but don’t use anything sharp or thicker than about 5mm.

Add a strip of sticky tape.

Brush on a line of gesso or decorator’s filler. Leave brushmarks and make patterns in the surface.

Stab the mountboard with a knitting needle or other sharp object.

Score lines in the mountboard with a craft knife and peel off small areas of the top layer.

Seal

Leave everything to thoroughly dry and then varnish both sides of the plate with shellac, yacht varnish or PVA glue. This seals and protects the plate.

Ink and print

When it’s completely dry, ink your test plate using the intaglio method, which will print the cuts and grooves that hold the ink. Rough surfaces retain the ink and make strong prints while the shiny surfaces can be wiped clean and barely print at all.

collagraph test plate textures
Test plate printed with a mini die cutting machine

Place your plate on the flat bed of your press, cover with damp paper and run through the press.

When you’ve experimented with intaglio, wipe your plate clean and roll ink over the plate to print the areas that stand out (relief printing).

Make a print that combines intaglio and relief.

Experiment by overprinting with different colours or by rotating the plate.

Three hens collagraph
The original test plate was cut into three hen shapes to make a new collagraph print

Finally, cut your test plate into shapes and make more prints, perhaps using a little Chine Collé for a splash of colour.

Your collagraph plate will be affected by the pressure of the printing press and you might find that seeds crack or dried leaves break up and lift off. Depending on the composition of your plate, it may become deformed, though of course this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.