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Dear Mitra people
As a painter I’m very aware of the need to correctly size supports prior to painting in oils on them. I’m now getting back into printmaking and am puzzled as to how the paper copes with oil-based inks such as are used for lino printing. etching etc. I know there are water based inks available. However, I much prefer the oil based ones (and have already bought some). I’m wondering if the papers used for such prints (even the best quality printmaking papers) are doomed to eventual degradation due to the oil in the inks, which can, for example, in a link print, be used in considerable quantity. I do note the survival of many such prints over the centuries, such as Rembrandt’s etchings etc. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this question.
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The following is from Joan Irving, Head of Paper Conservation at Winterthur Museum: What a thoughtful question. Historically, printing papers for oil-based inks had very little to no size at all. This was particularly true for intaglio, where papers needed to be soft and pliant to conform to the cut lines of a copper plate. Printing papers remained like this, or "soft sized" (versus "hard sized" for writing with water-based media) for eons until the emergence of lithography. With planographic printing, papers were said to be "half sized" - not as hard-sized as writing papers but more than intaglio papers and just enough sizing to tolerate the very tacky, almost adhesive-like, lithographic inks.Occasionally, with these historic prints, we can see a bit of migration of the oil binder -- either sinking into the paper or creating light brownish discoloration on the verso. This may have more to do with the quality (type of nut oil, length of cooking, etc.) and less to do with sizing.I am not familiar with modern oil-based inks but I think the longevity of the print lies in the quality of the paper fibers and how balanced (pigment to binder) the ink formulation is. My colleagues who see more contemporary art may have other impressions -- pun intended!
I would also point out to the artist that oil paints differ in composition from traditional printing inks, even though they do both contain oil, often the same one. Nonetheless, heavily sized papers are usually recommended to use as supports for oil painting and lightly sized papers for printing. This apparent contradiction has, I believe, to do with the proportion of oil, its type, the presence of driers, the factors that Joan notes, etc, between the two media. Margaret Holbein Ellis
Thanks Joan, Kristin and Margaret. It’s very interesting and rather mysterious as I had thought that the acids in oil were corrosive to both paper and canvas. This is reassuring, despite being perplexing! I love the look of oil based ink on paper so am glad to hear that it generally holds up well, with quality paper.