Substrates: Plastic


questions          fun facts

Plastic as a printing substrate is relatively inexpensive, easy to cut to size, comes in large sheets, works well through a printing press, and can be printed either face up or down on the paper. The transparency of plastic plates allows for ease of registration.

Plastic plates lend themselves to the monotype processes of rolling ink onto the smooth surface or painting ink on with brushes and wiping ink away in painterly gestures with rags or textured materials and making a very even release of ink to paper either by hand or with the pressure of a printing press.

There are a wide variety of plastics that lend themselves to use as a printing plate. Some are rigid and work well as a hard surface on which to roll ink and use brushes, others are more pliable and work well for drypoint combined with monoprint, others carve easily and can function for relief printmaking. They all come in a variety of thicknesses.

  • Plexiglas (Polymethyl methacrylate). Plexiglas is a trademark name and is also known as Lucite and Perspex. This is harder plastic used for monotype methods.
  • Petg (polyethylene terephtalate glycol). Softer plastic used for monotype or intaglio methods. It is well suited for drypoint intaglio lines, using traditional etching tools.
  • Sintra PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Sintra is an opaque plastic that is easily carved or incised with linoleum or wood carving tools, or etching tools. It is an inexpensive substrate for relief printing and combines well with Petg or Plexiglas for images using multiple plates and layers of information in a monoprint.


When does plastic become harmful to use? During the process of altering the surface or edges of the plate by sanding, carving or incising, creating dust or odor.

Lynn Petefreund, B-Jewels, monotype (PETG).

Lynn Petefreund, B-Jewels, monotype (PETG).
[click to view larger]

Plastics are made up of combined chemical compounds for specific properties, like strength, flexibility. As lay people we can investigate each of the plastics we use, and know more about how they are made. But we can’t absolutely know what properties those chemicals will have after the process of polymerization. We can look for dust and smell the gas that is released when we work and rework the surface of our plates and take precautions appropriate for some of the component chemicals that make up the substrate.

This site explains what chemicals are in PVC, where PVC is commonly found, and how it impacts health:

This site tells us that Petg is made from polyethylene glycol, and the uses and health effects of that chemical is described here:

Do all plastics off gas at the same rate? No different plastics offgas at different rates.

Polyvinyl chloridePVClow

From: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Office of Technical Assistance and Technology
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Is what they off gas harmful to my health?

This site describes what the health effects of chemical offgassing, particularly as it relates to PVC:

Methyl methacrylate exposure info: Then type Methyl methacrylate into search box.

Ethylene glycol exposure info: Then type Ethylene glycol into search box.

PVC health exposure info: Then type polyvinyl chloride into search box.

How can I protect myself? Good ventilation, handwashing, respirator, and gloves. See our Protections page.

Fun Facts:

In Art:

Joyce Silverstone, falling for this, Relief print, with monotype additions, substrates are Sintra and Petg.

Joyce Silverstone, falling for this, Relief print, with monotype additions, substrates are Sintra and Petg.
[click to view larger]

  • Monotypes have an historic relationship to etching. The first surface used was the metal plate, such as the type of copperplate used by Castiglione. The process used in the earliest monotypes corresponded in nearly every way to the process of printing traditional intaglio prints with the major exception that there was no fixed image – all the ink lay on the surface of the plate.
  • Monotypes can be press-printed from wood blocks or litho stones, as well as a variety of metal plates used today by printmakers. Lightweight metals and plastics make sense with the increased size of plates. Monotypes can be hand-printed from many surfaces, though glass has frequently been used (see the prints of Degas and Klee). Gauguin’s monotypes show the use of paper as a transfer material, either for use as an offset or, with a stencil, as a porous surface through which wet watercolor could be applied. (from Michael Mazur’s essay “Monotype: An Artist’s View”)

In Industry:

  • Sintra / PVC foam board is used for graphic signs and advertising.
  • Sintra is a lightweight yet rigid board of moderately expanded closed-cell polyvinyl chloride (PVC) extruded in a homogenous sheet with a low gloss matte finish. It is suitable for printing, painting and lacquering and can be easily worked with conventional tools. It can be drilled and screwed without splitting.
  • Sintra comes in a variety of colors and is a lightweight material used in building trade show and manufacturing display booths, and signs. (
  • Petg is a transparent, thermoplastic sheet used widely in the point of purchase industry.
  • VIVAK is the brand name for Petg products. It is strong, easily die-cut and holds precise molded-in details when put through the thermoforming process. It is easy to fabricate, form, bond and decorate.
  • Typical applications include greeting card displays, evolving merchandise racks, indoor signs, menu displays, photo frames and slat wall inventory displays. (