Pronto Plate Lithography Tutorial

pull printI put this tutorial together for an upcoming workshop with high school art teachers. I often use this exciting process in my own work, but have not yet worked out how to bring it into my elementary art room. You can click this link to download a pdf or continue reading below. Pronto Plate Workshop Handout

PREPARING YOUR IMAGE: Images may be printed from a laser printer, drawn by hand, or a combination of the two. Possible drawing tools include: Sharpie, ballpoint pen, china marker, litho crayon, india ink, or other waterproof materials.

If using a laser printer: Line drawings or high contrast, gritty images work best. You can use a copy machine to transfer an image to a plate (this will add a bit of contrast), or print directly from a computer. I usually begin with the following formula in Adobe Photoshop and adjust to fit the needs of the image. The following is just a place to start. Experiment and see what works for you. Note: this process will not work with inkjet printers.

1) Start with the correct image size.

          Image-Image Size I suggest 8 x 10in @ 120 pixels/in for an 8.5 x 11 plate.

2) Change image to grayscale.

         Image-Mode-Grayscale OR Image-Adjustments-Black and White

3) Increase contrast.


4) Add a bit of “grit”.

Try: Filter-Artistic-Dry Brush

Note: Large, solid black areas can be tricky to print because the ink won’t have anything to hold on to. If you are concerned, you can select those areas and click: Filter-Noise-Add Noise

5) Change image to Bitmap. Printing ink can only read black and white (not grayscale), so you should change your image to bitmap before printing.

          Image-Mode-Bitmap Try: Output = 120 pixels/in., Method = diffusion dither.

You can also experiment with halftone screens in bitmap. I do not recommend 50% threshold because it will yield large, solid black areas that are tricky to print.

6) Important: warm up your printer before you print. In order for the toner to fuse to your plate, you need a warm printer. Open a blank document in MS Word and print 5 blank pages before printing your image.

7) Print your image emulsion down. When you run your plate through the etching press, the image will be reversed. This can be corrected by telling your laser printer to print the image “emulsion down”. Load your plate into the bypass tray, then click

          File-Print (⌘P).

Under the output menu, check box next to Emulsion Down. (See below)

pronto print

8) Heat set your image. Immediately run your plate through the printer again to heat set it. Use your blank MS Word page and press print. (Alternately, you can bake your plate in the oven at 250° for 10 minutes).




Pronto Plates

Printmaking paper (Stonehenge, Rives BFK, Kozo)


Oil-based etching ink (Gamblin, Charbonnel, and Graphic Chemical work well. Some people prefer litho ink)

Magnesium Carbonate (to stiffen ink if necessary)

Gum Arabic Solution

Medium size bowl (metal is easiest to clean)



Straight blade putty knife

Paper towels

Rubbing alcohol and vegetable oil for clean up

Inking surface (18×24 acrylic works well)

Spray bottle filled with water

Press or wooden spoon

Rubber gloves


Fantastik or 409

pronto set up


  • Cut paper to size. We will be using 9×12.paper
  • Use the spray bottle to dampen both sides of each paper. Stack the papers to keep them moist. The top layer may need occasional misting.
  • Put on a pair of gloves.
  • Prepare your ink. Many etching inks need to be stiffened with a small amount of Magnesium Carbonate. If the ink makes your plate scummy, it may not be stiff enough.
  • Fill the bowl with water and add a splash of gum Arabic (1/2 oz-1oz.).
  • Use the sponge and gum/water solution to dampen both sided of your pronto plate. The damp back will help to keep your plate from moving, and the damp front will keep ink from building up on the white parts of your plate.


  • Load your brayer with a thin layer of ink and roll it back and forth on your wet plate. Roll up and down as well as side to side. Be careful not to let the plate wrap around the brayer.
  • Use the sponge and gum/water solution to gently wipe the plate between layers of ink.
  • Load your brayer with more ink and repeat.
  • Build up 4-5 layers of ink. Wipe your plate with the sponge between each layer and at the end before you print.

ink n wipe

PRINTING YOUR IMAGE:press sandwich

  • Lay your plate facing up on the press bed.
  • Remove your gloves and use clean fingers to place a clean, damp paper over your plate.
  • Layer two sheets of newsprint over the damp paper.pull print
  • Cover with blanket and run through the press.
  • Pull your print, return to the inking station and try again. The second print is often better than the first.



  • Plate: Run your plate through the press with a few sheets of newsprint to remove most of the ink. You can use water with a dab of toothpaste to remove the rest of it. Rinse and store plate between sheets of newsprint for later use. DO NOT use rubbing alcohol to clean your pronto plate.
  • Brayer and inking station: Put on gloves. Use vegetable oil and a paper towel to thin ink on brayer and inking surface. Then use rubbing alcohol to clean up vegetable oil. A final wipe with Fantastik or 409 is often helpful.

SUPPLIES: best source for gum Arabic solution and other printing supplies. Shipping can be slow. for ink, pronto plates, paper, teacher discount in store large brayers at a reasonable price, paper, ink, teacher discount in store “school etching press” is a great deal for $180




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4 Responses to Pronto Plate Lithography Tutorial

  1. Joanna says:

    Great tutorial… I’ve got a question I can’t find the answer to though…
    When using litho crayons what process do you follow???
    Do you draw your image then heat set? Do you clean the marked image off the plate before inking?
    I’m new to lithography AND pronto plates and want to try the crayons.
    Thanks so much!!!

  2. Sally says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tutorial. Unfortunately I am unable to save and print the tutorial PDF. Would you mind emailing me a copy please. It is only for my use.
    Thanks Sally

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