Lesson #5: Printing the First Layer

Part of the unit: Creating a Portrait Print |


Why is it important to perfect a printing technique?
Students will be able to:
Make six first-layer prints.
Students will understand that:
Attention to technique is an important part of the artistic process.

Student printing blocks, 12"x16" drawing paper, trays, soft and hard brayers, speedball printing inks, newspaper to cover tables, drying racks



Display several first-layer prints of varying quality.

Explain that these prints were all made from the same block. 

  • What is the difference between them?
  • What caused these differences?
  • Why is it important to make several prints using the same color?

The teacher should demonstrate how to make the first print.  He/she should narrate each step:

  • Place a toothpaste-squeeze worth of ink onto a tray
  • Roll a soft brayer into the ink
  • Apply the inked brayer to the surface of the printing block
  • Centering a piece of 12"x16" drawing paper over the plate
  • Use a clean hard brayer to press the paper onto the plate
  • Carefully lift the paper from the plate
  • Use newsprint to blot the excess ink

Set up separate inking stations for each color.  Students will make six prints of their first-layer plate using their lightest color. 

Ten minutes before the end of the period students should wash the printing blocks, trays, and brayers, and return them to their designated bins. The printing blocks can be placed to dry in a crate near the sink.

Note to Teachers:  This lesson may require more than one period. 


  • What was the most challenging aspect of making the first-layer print?
  • How did you address the challenge?
  • Why is it a good idea to blot the excess ink?

Explain that printmaking on paper began in the 5th century in China. 

Write a paragraph answering the question:

  • Why has printmaking been a popular art form for centuries?