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Copper etching query?

Here’s a tricky question about etching on copper:

“I would like to research my whole practice, including environmental impact of the paper I use, inks, and especially the metals, mostly copper. I would like to use ethically produced copper, if such a thing exists, and recycled copper, and recycle old plates when I have finally finished with them.”

Making printmaking more environmentally friendly has been the aim of many artists and print studios for more than the last of decades. For example, an artist working at Edinburgh Printmakers, Friedhard Kiekeben, devised the ‘Edinburgh Etch’ in 1997. In this process, he used Ferric Chloride and Citric Acid as a catalyst, instead of Nitric Acid.

In fact, Edinburgh Printmakers spear-headed the use of non-toxic methods for printmaking, developing acrylic-resist etching systems which removed the need for any fume-extracting ventilation systems. They were also the first open access studio in Britain to convert to using a water-based screenprinting ink system, now used as standard in most studios.

‘Safe’ inks and paper that considers the environment can be purchased so much easier nowadays. A bit of searching on the internet can find a variety of options, depending on your needs.

However, this still leaves unanswered the questions about the metal etching plate used: is it possible to find ethically produced copper? Can used copper plates be recycled and reused?

We’ve not yet found an answer to this. One artist used metal cut-offs sourced from an industrial copper producer. She acknowledged that the metal was probably mined in a less than ethical way, but felt she was at least recycling their scraps.

Another artist makes something out of the used plate, once they’re finished with printing from it – upcycling it.

If you have something to add to the conversation, please drop us an email and we’ll add the information here!