Printing cardboard

The very first project to come via our newly opened studio was an interesting one. It began with a question I get asked all the time as a print maker, ‘can you print on cardboard?’

After all, the idea of taking something you recycle on a daily basis and turning it into a collectable art edition, is pretty attractive! However the structural integrity of the cardboard usually destined for the trash just isn’t great, so it’s pretty impossible to silk screen a detailed & multi-layered print on it. To print on cardboard you’d need something very thick and strong, something that can take the pressure needed by the squeegee to push the ink on to the surface. And it would need to be really flat, the corrugated aspect of card leaves gaps where the ink just can’t reach the surface. I was delighted when my client’s follow up question was ‘ ok, can you print cardboard on paper?’


The reason I was delighted was because I knew it would be a bit of challenge and that I’d have to use some tricks to pull it off. Hours upon hours of photoshop editing later… 7 layers was looking great on screen. I’d decided to go with a palette sequence that is not the usual for silk screen (light to dark). In this case I began with a mid-tone and from there printed up into the highlights, then mid down to dark after. See how the printing went in the video below.

If you watched the video you’ll have noticed that I forgot to film every layer, so I don’t show them all. And if you’re really watching the video you’ll notice I added another layer towards the end. This is because I felt like the overall tone was wrong, it was missing something. The matt opaque colours felt a bit dull and it seemed to lack a certain vibrancy. As I was playing with bits of card and thinking about what to do, I realised that card board is actually coated with something slightly glossy, I presume a waterproofing measure. When you tare the top layer off, underneath it’s very matt, just like my print at the time. It hit me in a light bulb moment that what I need to do is actually add a waterproofing layer to my cardboard print, that’s what’ll make it look complete, it needed something to define the torn areas over the coated areas. I added very subtle amounts of transparent yellow, red and black to a milky gloss and tested it until the levels were perfect to add just a dash of colour intensity to the end result. It really worked to create an extra depth to the cardboard that wasn’t there before. Overall a satisfying finish.