If you are a student of etching, and you proof on newsprint, because it’s free or really cheap please believe me that you are not saving anything. You must buy good paper, both for proofs and final prints, even if it hurts you to do so. Let me tell you why.
I was invited to teach two different levels of etching classes at a reputable state college. I introduced drypoint to the beginning students and soft ground etching to the intermediate students. The fact that I am using these students as an example of why one shouldn’t proof on newsprint and make final prints on horrible student grade paper is not a reflection on the school or the excellent teacher’s leadership. Everybody in college proofs on newsprint and prints on student paper; I did it too. I am just here to talk you out of it.
Here is why you should NEVER proof on newsprint:
If you spend 20 minutes inking a plate and then make your proof on newsprint, your proof does not reveal what’s on the plate at all. The paper is too thin to show you anything. Your work is gone, or more precisely, invisible. If you are becoming a better printer because of all the time and money you are spending on taking printmaking classes, and the earnest efforts of your teachers, you will have no indication of this looking at a proof on newsprint. Also remember that ink costs money, and on newsprint the beautiful ink that someone (or some expensive, carefully designed machine) compounded and packaged for you is going to waste.
I think that everyone should assign their time a dollar value. This is something that Kathan Brown helped me understand. Let’s say your time is worth fifty dollars an hour. If you proof on newsprint, you can’t see what your 20+ minutes worth of inking work has actually put on the plate. You have just wasted about 17 dollars. If you prefer you can pretend to bill yourself at a lower hourly rate, but at minimum wage proofing on newsprint obliterates your work. Spend $6.00 on a sheet of Somerset paper instead of newsprint to make your proof, and even invoicing yourself at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour you will have a return on your investment, as opposed to nothing at all to show for it. To reiterate, a proof on newsprint is nothing.
What kind of paper do I have to buy, you ask?
Rives BFK is an inexpensive French printmaking paper that I believe is only made for students, because I certainly didn’t use it when I was apprenticing as a printmaker in France. It is not good enough. It is really thin paper, and there’s a pattern to the pulp which shows up in every print. The pattern is like little tiny clouds. The awful puffy pattern causes a grey vibration in every single print. It is impossible to get a smooth aquatint printing on this paper. The excellent and hardworking students at the unnamed State College use Rives BFK for their final prints, as well as the three states they are required to turn in for their projects.
We print on Somerset paper:
We can also recommend:
Copperplate etching paper
German etching paper
If I can convince you that you should spend more money on paper I will have earned my lunch. We at Crown Point Press are not trying to be snobs. You have a choice between (time + materials) and (time – materials). If you have been working hard to learn the craft of etching (especially if you’ve been following this site and reading the Magical Secrets books) there will be progress in your technique that will only show up on decent quality paper. This is all about economy.
By Catherine Brooks, former Crown Point Master Printer