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Printmaking Safety



Printmaking involves various processes in which ink is transfered from one surface to another.  The hazards are generally those presented by exposure to organic solvents and acids used in the transfer process.  

Chemical Hazards

The primary hazard in printmaking and silkscreen printing is exposure to organic solvents during plate preparation and plate clean up.  Repeated or prolonged exposure of the skin to organic solvent dries out the skin by defatting the tissue.  Prolonged inhalation of solvent vapors in sufficient quantities can cause dizziness, nausea, loss of coordination and even unconsciousness.  Accidental ingestion, either from poor hygiene or unlabeled containers can cause long-term toxic effects and can be fatal if significant quantities are ingested.  There is also a fire risk with using solvents as they are flammable and are easily ignited!

Screen Washing Hazards
Screen washing presents a hazard of irritation to the lungs and skin and a severe hazard to the eyes.  Bleach and some soaps used in the process are corrosive depending on the concentration used.

Etching Hazards
Acids used in etching are severely corrosive to the body and are reactive with many other chemicals.  Nitric acid etching releases toxic nitrogen dioxide, which has poor odor warning properties.  Mixing hydrochloric acid with potassium chlorate to make Dutch mordant produces toxic chlorine gas!  Potassium chlorate is very reactive with organic compounds.  Resin and asphaltum dusts are combustible.

Safety guidelines to minimize exposure to hazardous chemicals:

  • Learn the specific hazards of what you are working with by reading the label and reviewing the Safety Data Sheet.
  • Substitute toxic chemicals with less hazardous alternative chemicals.
  • Always wear gloves and safety goggles when using acids, solvents, or bleach, and in any situation where there is a splash hazard or risk of flying materials.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area and always use the the chemical fume hood with volatile chemicals (i.e. solvents).
  • Engage the ventilation system whenever solvents are in use.
  • Be aware of the location of eye wash stations or other water source for drenching the skin and eyes.
  • Store acids below eye level and use secondary containers to prevent spills. 
  • Separate the storage of incompatible chemicals - do not store acids and bases together and keep flammables separate from oxidizers/combustibles.
  • When diluting acids always add the acid slowly into the water (not water into acid).  Remember AA – Add Acid to the water slowly.
  • Make sure all containers are properly labeled following GHS guidelines.

Darkroom Hazards

Light exposure unit emits strong UV light that is harmful to your eyes.  Do not look directly into the light.  Always wear gloves and goggles with mixing photographic chemicals.  

Machine Guarding

All mechanical equipment is to be equipped with guards that prevent access to electrical connections or moving parts, such as belts and pulleys of a vacuum pump.  Each worker should inspect equipment before using it to ensure that the guards are in place and functioning.  Careful design of guards is vital.  An ineffective guard can be worse than none at all, because it may give a false sense of security.  Emergency shutoff devices may be needed in addition to electrical and mechanical guarding.  Please reference the Machine Guarding Program for more information.

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