Printing

January 7, 2009

Okidokie–the final stage of the project (other than installation of course) is the print transfer process.  Little did I know how unpleasant this would be…  Transferring a couple test prints was totally reasonable, why I thought this would be a good idea for nearly 300 tiles, I don’t know…

I’m making use of a photocopy transfer process that is fairly common in the graphic arts.  You take a nice fresh black and white photocopy, flip it upside down onto whatever surface you want to transfer the content onto and rub the back of it with some sort of solvent that breaks down the binder in the ink, allowing the toner to move onto the new surface.  You can do this with blending markers from your local art store, wintergreen oil (significantly harder to find) or acetone from any hardware store.  I’m sure there are other substances that will do this for you, but these are the ones I know will work.  Pretty simple, pretty straightforward–a little experimenting will quickly show you how easy it is.

For this project, I’m using acetone because I need a lot of it and blending markers are insanely expensive (and uber toxic) as is wintergreen oil.  It was also recommended by another artist who is much more experienced in this process than myself as a cheap and easy tool to get the job done, and I like cheap and easy.  Especially when I have to do it 300 times.

Photo essay style.  I apologize for the bad lighting, these were taken at some ungodly hour of night and I was probably shaky with sleep-deprivation:

padding, tile, documents (printed backwards on a photocopier), acetone, cotton rag (old socks), nitrile gloves, tacky cloth

The setup: padding, tile, documents, acetone, cotton rag (old socks), nitrile gloves, tacky cloth

First I clean the tile with this tacky cloth, which is exacty what it sounds like.  Sticky fabric that's perfect for finishing as it picks up all the little particles you've just sanded and can't seem to clean up any other way

First I clean the tile with this tacky cloth, which is exactly what it sounds like. Sticky fabric that's perfect for finishing as it picks up all the little particles you've just sanded and can't seem to clean up any other way

Place the document face-down on the tile and attack with acetone

Place the document face-down on the tile and attack with acetone

I've found the best way to do this is pour some acetone out in a disposable container, dunk the rag (old sock) in the acetone so it's basically dripping wet and then rub the back of the paper with it--the paper MUST be soaked with acetone for an effective transfer to happen

I've found the best way to do this is pour some acetone out in a disposable container, dunk the rag (old sock) in the acetone so it's basically dripping wet and then rub the back of the paper with it--the paper MUST be soaked with acetone for an effective transfer to happen

And hopefully, if all goes well, you magically have a print on your tile

And hopefully, if all goes well, you magically have a print on your tile

All seems easy enough, but wow has it been a nightmare.  First there’s the simple fact that acetone is nasty with a capital “N”.  I’ve got my scary respirator, a bottomless box of nitrile gloves, windows open and a fan behind me blowing toward the window, but it’s not really enough to counter the fumes.  Not to mention the fact that whoever designed these containers did not have pouring in mind.  Thanks Acetone Can designer, I now have acetone spills in my living room.  And because it evaporates so fast, I need a lot of it…

I'm hoping I'll be able to take one or two of these back, but who knows, I might need more by the morning!

I'm hoping I'll be able to take one or two of these back, but who knows, I might need more by the morning!

(Non-sequiter, but I just realized I designed a booth at work today with this exact same blue and orange color scheme…)

So the acetone in the house is horrific–the sooner I can be done with it the better.  The second unpleasantly disastrous issue is the fact that I’m trying to print on porcelain…  Transfers onto paper are really easy–the surface is super consistent so you don’t have to worry about any texture or defects disrupting how the print transfers.  This is not a liquid printing process so the toner can’t fill any divots or dips in the surface like a liquid ink would.  This means a perfectly smooth surface is essential to getting a legible print in the end and I’m finding I just don’t have any good surfaces.  Some of the tiles that I managed to sand really early on are working well, but those all have holes in them from back when I thought I was going to be hanging everything, so those are no longer perfect samples.  I also break nearly half (if not actually) of the tiles due to the pressure of applying the acetone.  In the rare instance when I actually get a good print, the tile is broken before I can mount it to a frame…  It’s all very frustrating.  I knew tiles would break, and in fact, they’ll break when I install them if they’re not broken ahead of time, but I was really hoping to get at least a few “perfect” specimens for the frames and I just don’t see that happening.  I’m OK with mounting one of the broken ones as long as the print is legible, but I’m still holding out, hoping the perfect set of tiles will come along.  As of 10pm, I have about 100 tiles printed and I still haven’t come across one perfect tile, much less 15.  Sad.

There’s also the whole issue that the adhesive for gluing the tile to the frame has to cure for 24 hours and I seriously have to install this thing tomorrow.  If I was doing it right and giving the adhesive its proper cure time, I should have mounted them all this morning… Obviously hasn’t happened and I’m not sure when it will!  But I really do not want to wait until Friday to install.  Something unexpected always comes up during install and I just know if I wait until Friday, something will go wrong and I won’t have any time to come up with  a solution.  On the other hand, if tiles are falling off the walls during the show, that would probably be worse than any installation disaster I can think of…

I just don’t know.  I’m pretty skeptical of this whole project at this point, and whether or not it’s actually going to come together.  I think if I had a fortune cookie right now, it would tell me that disappointment is looming on my horizon…

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One Response to “Printing”

  1. Lee Says:

    I think it turned out great and I like the fact that there was no perfect specimen – added to the beauty and concept of the installation. (in my humble computer science opinion)


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