Cool Stuff / Letterpress / Printing

The Scratch Negative

Who knew that the Scratch Negative Process would be so freakin’ awesome. This is one of the greatest’s things I learned while at Penland for the past two weeks. The Scratch Neg. How I love you!

What is it you ask?

You are not going to find too much about it online. Steve Miller teaches it at University of Alabama, and I am sure there are other places where it’s taught as well. We at PRESS would love, love, love to have a platemaker so we could do it here. (A great naming/gift opportunity, don’t you think!)

The scratchneg is a fabulously direct process for creating relief plates that looks a lot like an etching but without the toxic process. Essentially, you draw/scratch old negative material with your image, expose it to a polymer plate and then print it. Simple, right?

What you need:

  • already exposed negative material that you get from a big printing company, if you can
  • sponge with water
  • drypoint needle, awl, pin tool, some sort of sharp and sturdy metal tool

Scratching tool and negative


  1. Determine which is the emulsion side, may need to test with your tool to see which side allows you to scratch
  2. Wet the negative using a sponge
  3. Work on a flat hard surface. Flat negative=flat plate
  4. Scratch right-reading as you make your negative. You can flip it in the plate-making process. Keep design within a quarter inch of edge of negative.
  5. Once drawing completed, blot dry then let dry completely before making plate.

At this point, if you are lucky enough to have a polymer platemaker you would make your plate. If you don’t, you have a couple of options, try to DIY the exposure and development process, or send your negatives to a place like Boxcar Press and see if they can make you a plate. Once you have your plates back, set up your base, adhere your plate and print!

The printed negative, looks A LOT like an etching, right? But without the crazy prep, the acid, etc, but printed relief. Incredible.

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