J. Butler Haviland
Every printer, publisher and large advertiser knows that good illustrations are not only necessary but expensive, especially when they are made by an engraver. But by the simple etching and transferring process herewith described, anyone with ordinary intelligence can, with but little practice and a very simple outfit, make first-class cuts from prints and pencil or ink drawings at trifling cost.
Lithotint cuts are the easiest and quickest made, and the operation is as follows:
For the surface of the plates common sheet zinc is used, about 1-16 in. thick, but a thicker gauge may be used. Engravers' zioc can be purchased in most of the larger cities at but little higher cost than for common zinc, and is well worth the extra cost, as it has a much smoother surface.
Cut the zinc into strips of different widths, and with tinner's shear cut these strips into proper lengths as needed, always cutting the pieces a little larger than the size required for the sketch or transfer. Scour one side well with pulverized pumice stone or flour emery and a wet rag; rinse and dry and be careful to avoid grease spots.
Ordinary magazine prints, pencil or india ink drawings are thus transferred to the polished surface: Saturate the paper in a solution of 1 part nitric acid to 8 parts water in an etching vessel, which may be an ordinary glass developing tray, such as is used in pho-tograpby; then lay the saturated sheet between other sheets of soft paper, and by rubbing lightly with the hand over the top sheet, absorb the surplus fluid, but avoid getting the print too dry. Before getting the drawing or print ready for transfer, have an electrotype of sufficient size, with level wood base, locked in center of printing press chase, with wood side up; take impression on tympan to get location, and set pins close to lower edge of impression. There should be 18 or 20 sheets of newspaper under the tympan, and the heavier the impression the better the transfer.
In the absence of a press a workable impression may be taken by placing the sheet of zinc on a smooth table top, with the drawing face downwards on it, and press the two into close contact with a hard rubber roller, such as is used for mounting photos. In taking a hard press transfer, place the wet sheet on the tym-pan in the desired location, after which the zinc is placed over it, bright side down, supported at the lower edge by the gauge pins. Now take a heavy impression, allowing the pressure to remain on for a few seconds. The fiber adhering to the zinc is rubbed off with soft paper; rubbing a pencil transfer improves it, but don't rub a transfer from a print much. In transferring cuts printed with the finer inks saturate in caustic potash dissolved in two to four times its weight of alcohol, pour a few drops on the print and flow it over the whole surface, then wash the paper in weak acid solution, as before directed, blot and quickly apply to zinc with pressure. Pressure can also-be obtained under clamp of paper cutter, in an ordina-ry copying press; lay zinc on a level block and place 20 sheets of newspaper over all.
A drawing ink with which you may make a sketch on zinc, or trace the lines of a transfer from a dry print, pencil or india ink drawing, is made by thinning black printing ink with oil of wintergreen or oil of sassafras to a consistency that will barely flow from a smooth pointed Spencerian pen. Mix in a small tin box and take the ink only on the point of the pen, each time touching another piece of zinc with the pen before continuing the tracing, which prevents an overflow of ink when the pen comes in contact with the work.
In ruling lines, elevate the rule slightly when crossing lines. When you desire to erase, first dust the whole plate with dragon's blood - as hereafter described - then erase with the point of a penknife. When the tracing is done the next operation is powdering the plate.
In a cigar or other tight box have two or three ounces of finely powdered dragon's blood. Shove one end of the plate under the powder and manipulate so that the powder will slide over the plate two or three times, that the lines may catch and take up all they will hold. Now jar off the loose powder and sweep well across the plate in all directions with a soft camel's hair brush, which leaves the lines as clear cut as before the powder was applied.
Next comes the tinted ground. This is made by rosin dust settling evenly on the plate. You can do this with a box, as shown in the cut. Make a tight box about 24 in. high, 6 in. wide and 8 in. deep. Hinge a 2 in. door across the front 4 to 6 in. from the bottom and flush with the bottom of the door, stretch three or four light wires through the box from front to rear. Next make a wooden slide that will slip into the box loosely; the wires are to support this slide, on which the zinc lies while the rosin dust is settling. Have three or four ounces of rosin well powdered in a mortar so there will be considerable dust in the mass, mix well in this three or four tablespoonfuls of lamp-black, then put the mixture in the box. Have the plate ready on the slide outside the box, and with the door closed, turn the box so as to let the rosin mass fall suddenly from one side to the other. Then open the door, insert the slide and close it again; in ten or fifteen seconds draw out the slide and notice the deposit of dust on the plate.
If you think there is not a sufficient deposit, repeat the operation. If the dust depos it is too heavy, blow it off entirely, shake up the box and try it over again. A comparatively heavy deposit will admit of much deeper etching than a light one, but you can get it too heavy or too light, and it will require some experimenting to determine the deposit a plate should have. With a suitable deposit of dust, carefully and evenly heat the plate, back down, till the red lines of the sketch turn black and the fuzzy looking deposit seemingly disappears. The heat fuses the ink and the powder together and melts the particles of rosin.
Next spread a coat of thin asphaltum varnish on the back of the plate and varnish a quarter of an inch around the face edge of the plate; hold plate close to heat a few moments, and as it cools it will dry rapidly. Thin the varnish, when too thick, with turpentine. Shellac varnish is good substitute, but it takes alcohol to cut it off the plate.
Next comes the etching. In the glass developing tray pour enough of a mixture of about nine parts wate and 1 part nitric acid to flow over the plate, when the vessel is raised and lowered at one end. Then lay the plate in, face up, and wash the solution back and forth, as indicated. After operating this a few minutes, take cut out and rinse in clean water and examine the groundwork; an ordinary magnifying glass will assist the examination. As long as the little elevations are not beginning to thin out in little patches, you can continue the etching. The etching exhausts the acid, and by adding to the bath a little full strength acid after a few minutes etching, the work may be hastened. When a slight simmering cannnot be heard on the plate when the ear is held close, it is safe to add a little more acid, but never quite as much as it originally contained.
Take the cut out when adding more acid and thoroughly mix before replacing the plate. If the bath is too strong, creating a froth, it is liable to ruin the plate unless it is instantly removed and more water added. The character of the tinted ground depends on the amount of rosin deposit and the depth of the etch-ing. When the etching is finished pour a few drops of alcohol on the line work and rub it with the fingers, which removes the composition; then clean both sides of the plate with benzine, after which cut the plate to size required, removing all traces of grease from back with lye, saw a block base from 7/8 in. wood to size of cut and level the face of it with a sand paper block. The plate is then fastened to the wood base with small brads, first punching holes for same in the plate with a sharp pointed punch in places where the plate has been etched. The best impressions of lithotint cuts are on smooth finished paper.