Multiple deletions and additions on stone

A page from the original article published in Imprint autumn/winter 1986, Volume 21 Number 1–2.
Top l-r: drawing on the masked-out stone with gum nitric solution to burn out grease reservoirs, photography by Vicki Ripper; re-working the stone for third colour, photography by Steve Gray. Both images accompanied the original article.

‘This process is useful when there is a shortage of stones and time is limited, and also offers an interesting way of working for the lithographer who enjoys building up an image fairly quickly.’

Cover for Imprint autumn/winter 1986 Vol. 21 No. 1–2 featuring Joyce Allen’s Family at Work, 1973, linocut, 32 x 21 cm.

The following technical article was written by Kaye Green and published in the autumn/winter 1986 issue of Imprint Vol. 21 No. 1–2.

While working at Griffith University I used a technique of printing multi-colour lithographs from the same stone without graining between each new colour. This process is useful when there is a shortage of stones and time is limited, and also offers an interesting way of working for the lithographer who enjoys building up an image fairly quickly. I have used the process up to eleven times on a single stone without re-graining and find it an excellent method which suits my way of working. It is also helpful when introducing people to colour printing for the first time.

The process depends on successive printings with part or all of the image being eliminated after each printing and new work being added. The element of risk involved occurs because all impressions of the edition must be printed in the first colour before the image can be altered for the following colour. There is no possibility of retrieving the original drawing and so judgements regarding colour must be accurate.



The stone is grained thoroughly to ensure a good stable ‘tooth’. I use #80 to remove the previous image and the ghost image, and then #120, #180 and #220 or #240 three times each.

The drawing of the image for the first colour is made on the stone (normally the ‘key’ drawing) and it is processed and printed in the usual way in the required colour, making sure that the registration is accurate from the outset. I always take an extra print at this stage, onto a sheet of acetate, to help later with registration.


When all the prints in the first colour are complete, the image is rolled up fully, dried, rosin and talc applied and a layer of gum buffed in tightly. The ink is washed out thoroughly with turps, making absolutely sure that the stone is completely clean. Once a check has been made to ensure the stone is clean, then it is wiped down and fanned dry. At this stage the stone is lying with a gum film stencil on the negative areas and is open on the image areas.


The next step is to burn out the exposed grease reservoirs of the original image areas by painting out the parts of the drawing to be eliminated. This is achieved with a gum etch solution of twelve drops of nitric acid: 1 oz [30 ml] of gum arabic. Tests have shown that strong burn-out etches are of no greater efficiency than repeated mild etches. A good layer of the etch needs to be applied into the reservoirs as the grease reservoirs not completely destroyed by the burn-out etch will return as scummy images.


When the gummed out areas are thoroughly dry, a coat of asphaltum is applied, the gum is washed off with water, the stone is sponged down and the remaining image is rolled up fully in black roll-up ink. Rosin and talc is applied and a counter-etch solution applied to re-sensitise the stone for new drawing. I use a fairly weak solution of 6 oz [180 ml] of acetic acid: 1 gallon [3.79 l] of water, which, although effective in re-sensitising the stone, does not tend to greatly coarsen the grain of the stone. The counter-etch is applied three times, rinsing off with water each time and the stone is finally rinsed thoroughly, sponged down and dried.


New work may now be drawn onto the stone, adding to what remains of the first image. When the additions are completed, rosin and talc are applied, and gum is buffed in lightly. After thirty minutes, the stone is re-gummed and buffed down tightly. Although I usually wash out the drawing and roll up straight into the new colour and print, if large editions are intended, it is recommended that the image is first rolled up in black, etched with a mild etch, rested and then washed out and rolled up in the second colour for printing.

If the original drawing is excessively greasy, there is a possibility that deleted areas may re-appear. If this occurs at any stage, it is necessary to immediately clean the scummy areas and re-etch the stone.


Exactly the same process is then used to eliminate parts or all of this image and to add new drawing for the third colour and so on.


The constant counter-etching causes the ghost of the original drawing to fade until it often becomes difficult to see where to introduce new work accurately. This problem is easily rectified by taping the printed acetate sheet into position by using the registration marks and then tracing through a red oxide sheet.


It has been suggested that parts of each drawing be left and added to by each successive drawing; naturally, the entire image can be totally deleted by painting the burn-out etch over the whole stone.

There is a danger when printing in colour, in that the coloured inks available are usually extremely loose. I use a fairly stiff ‘lean’ ink modified with Magnesium Carbonate for maximum stability and desired print quality.

This process has certainly added enormous possibilities to the sorts of qualities I seek in my lithographs and has more than halved the processing time usually involved in printing a multi-colour lithograph.


Tamarind Technical Papers, No. 5 April 1976, pp. 60-61; No. 2 July 1974, pp. 14-20.