F.W.'s picture
Color Craft Corner Print

Make Your Own Foam Tray Prints! 

You see that Craft Corner image above? I just made that with something most people would throw away! You know those foam trays you get in the supermarket, the ones with food shrink wrapped in them? I bet you never thought those would be the perfect thing to use for easy printmaking. Go get one and follow the instructions below and see for yourself. It is really easy and fun, and great for people who have never tried printmaking because of all the time and materials. All you'll need for this is are some basic items you probably already have around the house.


You'll Need:

  • A Foam Tray
  • Paper for drawing on
  • Paper for printing on (can be the same)
  • Pencil
  • Ball Point Pen
  • Permanent Marker
  • Acrylic Paint or Block Print Ink
  • Paint Brush
  • Cup of Water
  • Tape
  • Square of Cardboard or Poster Board



Foam Tray



1.First make sure you have a nice clean tray that doesn't have any gouges or scratches on the flat surface. We strongly recommend using trays from vegetables so that you don't have to worry about contamination from meats. Be careful when cleaning the tray they are easy to scratch.







2.Cut off the edges of the tray, leaving just a flat piece of foam.

Foam tray cut downCut sides off of foam tray













Pencilsketch for F.W.'s Craft Corner Print



3..Now trace the outline of the foam on to thin drawing paper (like newsprint or copy paper) and draw the image you want to print within that border. Use a pencil so you can make changes. I asked Ryan to draw me and some of my crafting tools! Don't draw small details they will get lost in printing.







Inking your print sketch. 


4.It's okay if your pencil sketch is messy because next you go over your pencil lines with the permanent marker. You should be using a paper that the marker will bleed through so put a piece of thick paper underneath so you don't accidentially draw on your table! When you are done you should see the image in reverse on the back of your paper.








5.Tape the foam tray onto the image. Make sure the smooth side is facing the image and it is lined up perfectly. When it is secure flip the paper over and you should be looking at the reverse image with the foam tray underneath.

Foam tray taped to imageReverse side of inked image





Pen tracing to foam tray



6.With the ballpoint pen trace all the the outlines of your drawing. Press hard enough to make an impression in the tray (which isn't very hard). Do this very carefully because any slip of the pen could show up on your final print. Just do the outlines.








Impression on foam tray

7.Lift half the paper from the tray and look to make sure you made impressions of your outlines in tray. If you did, remove the paper. If you didn't, carefully lay the paper back down and try it again a little harder.

NOTE: It is backwards on purpose. You want it that way because when you print an image it reverses and will look normal. 








Pen impressions on foam tray


8.Now make sure you have a good idea in your mind of exactly how you want your final print because everything you do now will show up. Take your ballpoint pen and color in (pressing down the foam) everywhere you want your final image to be BLANK. So, basically you are doing the opposite. You are drawing where you don't want ink on the final print. Be sure to press the foam down really well as you fill in the areas. Basically, when you're done, everything you want to show up on the final print should be raised and everything you dont want to show up should be pressed down. If you are having trouble getting it all with the pen you can use any not sharp tool to press the foam down (even the back of the pen).





9.You are ready to start printing! Just tape your foam print block down to a piece of cardboard or thick paper so it stays still and also doesn't make a mess of your table. Then put some of your paint or printing ink on a palette. I just use old CD cases for palettes (more recycling of materials!) they are a perfect size.

Tape foam print block to work surface.

Putting pain on brush











Apply paint to print block



10.Use your brush to spread a thin layer of ink everywhere there is a raised surface. Be careful not to get it in the large non-raised areas because it could get on your final print.









Puting paper down on your print block



11.Before the ink dries carefully lay a sheet of paper down on it and lightly smooth it with your hand. The first prints you make will be test prints, so don't use nice paper. 











DIY baren on print paper

12.The real pressing of the paper against the print block should be done with something very flat and smooth. Printmakers use what is called a "baren." I make my own baren with one the sides leftover from the tray, but you can use anything that is smooth flat and has a largish surface area (like the bottom of a glass). Use your baren to rub the back of the paper to really make sure it is making contact with every inked part of the surface. 





Taking paper off print block


13.Now it's time to carefully lift one side of your print to see if it's working. If it is looking okay lift the paper completely off. If the ink hasn't transferred in spots, gently lay it back down and rub those areas some more. When you take your first print off it is the best feeling, you'll love seeing it!

Now congratulate yourself, you've made a print! 





Final B&W print

This print was made on wet handmade paper. See below for details

More Tips and Tricks!

Your first couple prints will show you where you need to fix your block. If ink is showing where it's not supposed to, press the foam in that area down more. If you are losing some detail, make that detail bigger. If you are not getting a full image in an area, make sure you add more ink there and rub it with your baren more.



Printing on dry paper is fine, but sometimes you can get a more solid image when you print on wet paper.  If you want to try a wet paper print use a heavy paper so it doesn't tear. Brush water on your paper with a clean brush and let it dry until is is just damp. Then follow all the normal printing steps. When you are rubbing it against the print block you will see the ink through the paper more which is nice for seeing what is happening. Wet prints will be crinkly, so you can press them under books when they are dry. 

Wetting your paper for printing

Rub wet paper down on print block


If you don't feel like doing all these steps, try just drawing directly on the foam tray and make a print from that. You'll cut out a bunch of steps and you might get something unique out of it!



One last tip. When printmakers have multiple colors, each one is its own block! That's pretty hard, so when I want color I just use watercolors (see the image at the top). You can use whatever you like to color your print. Also you can try all kinds of different paints and inks to make the prints. Play with it and have fun! As usual, I would really like to see any prints you make!

Here's a print Ryan made this winter.

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