Adventures in Digital Printmaking

Garden Muse, 2001

I think we can all agree that the digital  age has ushered in an era of unparalleled  access to image making. There is a Photoshop plug in for nearly every look that Hollywood and pop culture has thrown at us. I do have to admit, though I like the “Thermopylae” setting in OnOne Software’s Photo Tools plug in for Photoshop.



Digital imaging has made available to the masses whole worlds that were previously the domain of only a select few. Almost anybody these days can go out and make a Baraka, or shoot models and have them look like they where shot by David LaChapelle. It’s incredible

Sometimes though, I feel like I’m cheating. I feel that at some point I lose the connection with my work. I know some of you out there feel the same way. You feel like there is a lack of process. There is no darkroom. There is no light sensitive emulsion or concoction of chemicals with  fussy temperatures and rituals of submersion and agitation. At some point it’s just an automated parade of 1’s and 0’s.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, you’ve come to the right place. There are several movements afoot that put process back in the hands of the digital image maker. Pioneers of Alternative Photo Process such as Dan Burkholder and Christopher James have written tomes about coating substrates with various light sensitive emulsions and exposing them through digital negatives.

There are others, such as myself, who’s approach lends itself more towards the printmaking end of the spectrum. Class, this shall be the main point of our discussion today.

I’m sure there are a few of you out there who did Polaroid Transfers back in the day. There are probably even a few that have experimented with various transfer techniques using inkjet media, transferring with acetone or gel medium. So, how many of you have heard of using Purell Hand Sanitizing Gel to facilitate  image transfer? I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I’m absolutely serious. See Exhibit A.

Purell transfer on to Rives BFK paper

So, I guess your wondering how its done. Well, it goes something like this.

1. You need to print the image (reversed or rotated horizontally) on to some kind of clear film. I typically print on HP Clear Film. If you don’t have a printer that accepts rolls, your options shrink substantially, but don’t despair. InkPress recently introduced a Clear Film (not to be confused with Transparency Media, Transparency Media will not work for these kinds of transfer processes) that is available in sheets and rolls.

Purell Transfer on Rives BFK. Image transferred from Inkpress Clear Film

2. You need to pick a substrate. I find that printmaking papers such as Arches 88 or Rives BFK work the best. However, I do like to experiment with various fine art papers.

Purell Transfer on Fine Art Paper

For this exercise I’ll assume you have chosen a print making paper such as Rives BFK. You will need a few more items, also.

A. Purell hand Gel

B. 11×14 piece of glass, lexan, or plexi

C. a Brayer (Speedball Hard Rubber works the best for me)

3. Place your paper on your piece of glass, lexan, or plexi.

4. Pump a few squirts of Purell Hand Gel onto the paper. Use the brayer to spread it around, eventually coating that entire side.

5. Flip the paper, if you have excess Purell on the edges use the brayer to work the excess back onto the paper. Pump a couple more squirts on to the paper and work it evenly with the brayer.

6. Flip the paper over again. Make sure the paper is evenly coated with Purell, but not to wet. At this point you are are ready to apply the image, usually I start at the edge, (printed side facing the paper) bowing the image away from my body. Slowly roll the image out to ensure there is even contact between the image and the paper. Then take the brayer, applying a moderate amount of force, roll it back and forth across all areas of the image.  You can stop and lift a corner to see how the transfer is progressing. If your having a problem spot, you can use the backside of a spoon to burnish that area. It shouldn’t take more then 3 minutes to obtain a decent transfer. This is all about practice and developing technique.

This is pretty cool right? But wait, there’s more! This is all pretty simple, and cool because it is a legitimate process that ensures a unique result.  For me though, it’s not always enough. Sometimes I like to take something sharp and scratch the hell out of the image before I transfer it. You get the idea here, the image can be modified, degraded, etc. numerous ways prior to transfer.

Purell Transfer, with scratches applied prior to transfer.

Sometimes this still isn’t enough. That is why I’ve saved the best for last.  How many of you have heard of a little company called InkAid? InkAid makes inkjet precoats. This means that you buy a jar of this stuff and it will allow you to coat almost anything you can fit into your printer. I’ve coated aluminum, canvas, and hand made fine art papers with this stuff and then run it through my printer (Canon iPF6200) with amazing results (which will be the topic of a coming blog entry). Anyway, turns out you can coat acetate or in this case Duralar with it. Specifically InkAid Clear Gloss Type II.  All you do is paint on a couple of coats as per the instructions, and then print on it like any other clear film. The results are interesting, and as you become more proficient, you can achieve more interesting effects based on how you paint the precoat on. Not to mention the Duralar can be re-used. Below is my example.

Purell Transfer from Duralar coated with Ink Aid Clear Gloss Type II

As you can see there is a whole world of possibilities that exist when you combine digital imaging with basic print making techniques. I can assure you that this is just the tip of the ice berg. It is possible not only to re-connect with your photography, but to take it to levels you never knew existed.


20 thoughts on “Adventures in Digital Printmaking

  1. Hi, do you know if it matters what kind of ink you use? my inkjet uses dye based ink instead of pigment. I heard that pigment may work better for this process. Thanks.

    • Pigmented Inks, in my experience seem to work better. However, the transfer on hand coated Duralar and on the Inkpress Clear Film where both run through a Canon ip3600 which is dye based. Both images transferred just fine. The only issue I had, and I’m sure its just a matter of tweaking the print driver was a slight color cast.

  2. I am going to definitely give this a try. Thanks for taking the time to post this and share your experience. One question I have is do you have any idea if the Purell is going to degrade pigment inks and or something like arches paper? I would hate to create a great piece and discover the paper falling apart or the pigment inks fading or changing color. I like to also distress images (scratching, etc…) but would rather not have the inks have a crazy color shift or the paper breakdown.

    I look forward to hearing what your experience has been with the prints you’ve made.


    • I have yet to experience any color shifts or fading due to the inclusion of the Purell. I generally use this process in concert with other process. That being said, once the transfer is dry, I usually run the print under the water tap very briefly to get the residue of the Purell out. If you are worried about how archival the process is, you can always spray coat the image with a UV resistant protective spray like Krylon Clear Gloss.

    • I generally don’t seal the transfers on paper. If I was too, however, I would use Krylon Clear Gloss Protective Spray. There are numerous products that are similar and work just as well.

  3. Pingback: Purell Image Transfers »

    • Transparency media has a micro porous coating that encapsulates the ink as soon its printed. It’s very difficult to get the coating to release the ink, you usually have to use a strong solvent such as acetone to get the ink to release. Clear film does not have a that coating, the ink sits on top and takes much longer to dry.

  4. Have you tried making a photo gel transparency with the Ink Aid and the Dura-lar? Meaning you print on the precoat then peel it of the polyester sheet to use as a “gel transparency”?

      • Typically, I make a gel transparency by taking a copy of an image and coating it with gel gloss medium 3 times letting it dry between coats. Once dry, you soak the gel/paper to soften the paper then rub the paper off to leave just the dried gel medium with an image on it. Works great but rubbing the paper off is tedious and very time consuming. So, I’d like to do the same thing where I can just peel off the gel/image.

  5. Forgive my ignorance but are the transfer results radically different from pigment printing directly onto the various substrates and omitting the transfer process?

  6. Pingback: Purell Image Transfers| Trina Baker Photography | Gallery32 Photography

  7. Michael I’m keen to try the method where you used InkAid Clear Gloss Type II for the Purell transfer, the only problem being that it can’t be bought for love nor money here in the UK. However we can readily obtain Golden Digital Ground Clear Gloss and wondered if you had any experience in using this as it sounds like it might be a similar product.

    • Richard,

      The Golden Digital Ground works as well as the InkAid. Keep in mind also that if you can get your hands on Clear Film (not transparency media) you can print directly on that and use that print for Purell transfers as well. InkPress makes some real nice Clear Film, and is available in various sheet sizes.

  8. Thanks Michael.
    I’d love to get hold of InkPress Clear Film but it isn’t available in the UK or Europe and shipping costs from the states are quite prohibitive. I know you advice not to use transparency media but I have had some reasonable results with Staples inkjet transparency media. I water dampened the Fabriano Artistico paper first before applying the Purell gel and used a combination of brayer and metal spoon to encourage the lift. A slight trace of image was left on the film mainly faint red/orange tints.
    An example can be found here – it is the last image of seven:


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