Scratch Foam Printmaking, Step by Step


As an introduction to Printmaking, the foam-sheet type is very safe – great for younger children! – because there are no sharp tools to use (as in linoleum block printing, which was the printmaking introduction I had when I was a teenager in the ’80s).  Also it’s a good way to introduce the concepts and some of the tools before starting with linoleum blocks and cutters, for older children.

The Innovart foam sheets are available at Dick Blick.  They are basically flat pieces of styrofoam.  Unlike most disposable plates, these sheets are perfectly flat and fairly thin, making them perfect for this exercise.  The other items (black printing ink, soft brayer/roller, flat sturdy paper like bristol or hot press watercolor paper) are available at your local art supply store or Dick Blick.  The printing supplies are made by Speedball.  The paper I used was Arches hot press watercolor paper, but there are other brands available – Arches just happens to be my favorite.  To make an impression, I prefer a ball-ended burnisher, but you could just as easily use a ball point pen or a dull pencil.

*I used watercolor paper already painted on, in washes, to provide an interesting look to the print, as opposed to just leaving it white.  This is a project that can be done directly after the kids have completed a watercolor unit, to make use of their watercolor practice sheets or experimental treatments such as wet-on-wet, vinegar, lemon juice, marbling etc.  Alternately, you can use paper that has been colored in another way, as long as it’s smooth and sturdy enough.  Don’t use rice paper, tissue paper, newsprint, textured paper, or construction paper.

Step 1: Using soft charcoal and a kneaded eraser, softly sketch your design WITHOUT pressing into the foam.  You can trace a simple outline using a light table or holding your picture up to a window or patio door and placing the foam over the top of the picture.  The key here is to keep it very simple – outlines only!   Subjects to try:  A small animal, totem, outline a photo of yourself, your zodiac sign, chinese zodiac sign, etc.  Even though your design is simple, keeping it personal keeps it interesting.

Step 2: Draw over your lines with the pen or tool, pressing hard.  If you hold the foam up to the light, you should be able to see the line impressions.  The deeper the outlines, the better the results.

Step 3: Using a soft brayer (roller), squeeze a little black printing ink out in the tray* and roll the brayer back and forth in both directions until the roller surface is evenly coated.  *This is a great time to use up old (clean) meat trays or leftover paper plates – the foam ones work best.


Step 4. Carefully roll the brayer over your design surface.  Because you are using black ink, you should be able to see right away how good your design looks!  (and if you didn’t make the lines deep enough – you can see if you need to try again with a new foam sheet.)

Step 5. Press the design face down on top of your paper.   Rub with a spoon or your fingers, or if you have extra brayers, you can use those to roll over the back of the foam to make sure the ink gets on the paper everywhere.

Step 6. Slowly lift the foam to reveal your design!  Be careful not to jiggle or slide the foam as you pick it up.  The ink is wet now – you’ll need to wait several minutes.


Step 7. Admire.  Above is the image on a light blue wash.  Below you can see the same imprint I made on a darker wash.  *PRO TIP:* if you want to write a word or make any symbols, be sure to draw them in reverse!  As you can see here, my musical note got printed backwards…..oops!  You can avoid this problem by flipping the original reference word over before tracing.  Checking your original drawing in a mirror is another good step, if you have a mirror.

CLEAN UP: The ink, once dry, is fairly permanent and can take additional media.  It doesn’t come up on your hands, and doesn’t need to be covered or varnished.  It also can be washed off the foam sheet and the brayer using regular soap and water.

BONUS ROUND: After cleaning the foam off, you can make a second, or even third, print using the same piece of foam… long as you’re careful!  Be sure to rinse the foam before the ink has dried if you want to use it again.

Here is a slightly more complex print I made using this technique.
Test Print

4 thoughts on “Scratch Foam Printmaking, Step by Step

  1. Thanks–will be trying this technique again. Have only used the Inktense block sticks so far. Wondering if printing ink would be produce a better result.

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