Drink Can Tinwork Printing


My page on making little decorative boxes out of recycled drink cans was enormously popular - but what else can we do using these techniques? - I've been experimenting with printing.

tinworkprinting1.jpgI prepared my can in much the same way as last time - carefully cutting around the ends with strong, sharp scissors, then cutting the resulting cylinder down one side and flattening it out.

As before, the edges of the thin metal are sharp and jagged - it's worth trimming them again once the metal is flattened out - they'll still be sharp, but this will remove the snaggy little spikes.

I used steel wire wool to remove the paint from the printed side of the metal - this isn't strictly necessary, but it does help to make your work visible as it develops.

tinworkprinting2.jpgI taped the metal flat to a cork-backed placemat and traced out my design on it.

My plan was to try to create something that looked a bit like an old-fashioned handbill.

- Although I did rush it a bit, and it ended up looking a bit more casual and sloppy than I would have liked - no matter...

To emboss the metal, I used a strong ballpoint pen and the same triple-pass technique as I did for the metal box, and as shown in the diagram below:

  • First, inscribe your basic design (the blue line)
  • Next, turn over the metal and inscribe a line around the inside and outside edges of the raised marks created by the first step (the red lines)
  • Finally, turn the metal back over and retrace the original inscribed marks (the thick blue line)


If that doesn't make sense, perhaps this will help - here's a diagram of the same three stages - showing what it's trying to do, as if viewed from the edge of the metal:


This three-stage process creates a deeper and more sharply defined embossed pattern.

Anyway, that's the process of making the printing plate - now, on with the printing - and here's where it all got a bit (too) experimental...

tinworkprinting5.jpgI taped the printing plate to a flat board.

Ideally, the next step would be to apply proper printing ink with something like a rubber roller or a firm chamois-covered sponge, but I had none of these supplies, so I just dabbed on some acrylic poster paint using a wad of kitchen paper.

tinworkprinting6.jpgI placed a sheet of paper on the inked plate, covered it with a sheet of felt, then pressed it down with the cork-backed board.

Care must be taken here to prevent the paper from shifting until it is peeled off the plate.

The results were really not quite as good as I had hoped - let's take a closer look...

The End Result


What Happened?

OK, analysis time...

Despite an initially less-than-brilliant result, however, I still think this method has promise:

  • The indistinct and uneven printing will probably improve with the use of proper printing inks and the proper method of applying it only to the raised embossed pattern
  • The blobs of unwanted print between some of the letters can probably be avoided by embossing negative dots into any large spaces, to keep them flat and away from the paper.
  • The approach in general will probably work better with smaller prints - maybe only an inch or two square - these could be affixed to individual wooden squares and used for ordinary block printing.

So I haven't completely written this idea off - maybe I'll do something similar in future when I can work out the kinks...


1. On Thursday, February 4, 2010, 19:04 by Jim

Strange,after reading about your first tin caexperiment,it struck me that using stencils with cans would be an interesting idea my results were similar to yours but I never thought of using them for printing!A more porous material might work better.;

2. On Thursday, August 19, 2010, 04:18 by Leszek Cyfer

I'd firstly use very fine sandpaper to matt the lines, and then wash the surface with white spirit to get rid of any trace of fat from fingers.

3. On Thursday, January 20, 2011, 15:51 by crewtondix

if you've ever done etchings, it might be better to carve your design, completely ink and then wipe off raised surfaces. Using porous printers paper, press(roller) over and the ink will come out of the etched groves. Like a pen and ink drawing....love

4. On Friday, January 21, 2011, 02:50 by Allen

This raised relief printing might work really well if you tried placing paper over the raised portion and rubbing a crayon over the entire apparatus. It isn't a 'print' but a relief rubbing. I love the idea of recycling the cans into useful things. Tha

5. On Monday, January 24, 2011, 22:43 by rigel

try rubbing the paper with the back of a wooden spoon instead of pressing with the board... maybe the board distributed the pressure over too large of a surface area? If your paper was too hard or dry that might have impeded the transfer... you could t

6. On Saturday, January 21, 2012, 21:09 by Ingrid the Crafty

You might try using them as rubbing plates rather than printing plates. Fewer steps, less mess. Make your raised lines the positive of your design. Lay paper on top. rub with a crayon.

7. On Saturday, November 28, 2015, 17:04 by tokoritsi

Perhaps it's not the best for printing, but I read this post just after the one of the Roman dodecahedron replica and it made me think of trying to make a Roman inscription out of a recycled can.

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