10 Everyday Items to Help Manage the Mess of Printmaking

As art teachers, we have certain art processes we love to teach and others that make us think twice. For many of us, printmaking falls into that latter category. It’s just so messy. In fact, it’s enough to give some art teachers so much anxiety they skip printmaking all together!

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Sure, printmaking can be a messy process, but it becomes a whole lot more manageable with the right supplies.

Here are 10 everyday items to help manage the mess of printmaking.

1. Newspaper

Newspaper has so many uses in the art room, but have you ever thought of using it for printmaking? One idea is to cover your tables with newspaper before printing starts. It’s an easy way to cut down on the mess because students won’t need to wash the tables.

You can also use newspaper for inking. Instead of an inking tray, have students load their brayers on a section of newspaper. When finished, simply throw it away, no washing required!.

2. Aluminum Trays

Similar to newspaper, you can find shallow aluminum trays at your local grocery store or dollar store to use instead of more expensive inking trays. The only thing to keep in mind is that the bottom must be flat. You may even want to ask your cafeteria manager if they have something similar you could have for free! Technically, these are a disposable option as well, but you can wipe them out and re-use them.

aluminum tray

3. Baby Wipes

Baby wipes are a great cleanup tool for printmaking. They can be used for cleaning brayers, foam plates, Gelli plates, and tables if you choose not to cover them. Baby wipes can get expensive, however, so look for deals or ask for donations to cut down on the cost.

4. Spray Bottle and Paper Towels

If baby wipes are outside of your budget, purchase a few spray bottles and use the paper towels provided by your school for the same purpose.

This method works well to empower your students in helping to care for the art room and the materials they’re using. Make sure you model how to use the spray bottle, so you are left with clean items instead of extra messes.

5. Construction Paper

Another great way to manage the mess with printing is to have your students wipe their brayers onto 12″ x 18″ sheets of construction paper. This is a great way to use up old paper you have laying around. Butcher paper also works well. At the end of the class period, the brayers will be much easier to wash.

brayer on craft paper

This cleaning tip not only removes the majority of ink or paint from the brayer, but the textures and colors turn the construction paper into painted paper for future collages! Simply have students put the full sheets on the drying rack at the end of the class period.

If you’re looking for even more tips and tricks about teaching printmaking in the art room, be sure to check out the course Studio: Printmaking. The course breaks down various printmaking processes you can use with your students at any age level without fancy equipment and with all of the safety and developmentally appropriate information you need!

6. Old Magazines

We always think of magazines as being great for collage, but they also work well for printmaking. The pages make a great foundation for inking. Students just have to flip the page when they are done, and another student can begin inking on a clean page.

7. Large Plastic Containers

Check your local big box stores or dollar stores for large plastic containers. You can sometimes find these for as little as a dollar a piece. These containers are great for storing your printing supplies but can also be filled with a little soap and water to soak stencils, stamps, plates, brayers, and more. If you work with very young students or find yourself with inadequate cleanup time, have students place their items in the tubs to soak and rinse everything when you have time.

8. Disposable Plates

Whether you use styrofoam or paper, disposable plates are a simple and cost-effective supply to use during printmaking. Many stores have large packages of styrofoam plates for a great price. These are another great idea for inking trays (simply toss them when finished), but can also be carved into to create simple relief blocks or be cut up and used for collagraphs.

9/10. Aluminum Foil and Wax Paper

Teachers use various methods to teach monoprinting. Some of those processes include using a a variety of printing plates. However, you can also use aluminum foil or waxed paper taped to the table. Apply some tempera paint and have students roll the paint evenly on the surface with a brayer. Then, allow students to draw on the surface with Q-tips and place a paper on top to make monoprints.

When they are done, just lift up the painted surface and toss it.

waxed paper

No matter which materials you use, make sure you share the cleanup responsibilities with your students by designating jobs. I know art teachers are super heroes and try to do it all, but there is nothing wrong with getting a little help! Find a system that works for you and your students, and stick to it.

What tips and tricks do you have to help reduce the mess with printmaking?

How do you plan ahead before beginning a printmaking unit?

Wynita Harmon is an elementary art teacher in Plano, TX. She enjoys providing authentic learning experiences for her students that promote innovation and critical thinking skills.


  • anna nichols

    I love this list! I am adding your article to one of my resource pages on my blog; thank you! One note; my school had leftover floor tile of the linoleum variety and we used these to ink our brayers. They worked great and were easy to wash! https://artteachershelpal.blogspot.com/2016/05/tips-for-managing-printmaking.html

    • Wynita Harmon

      Thanks! I’m glad you found the article helpful and appreciate you taking the time to read it! Thanks for the additional note! That’s a helpful tip! I could go to Lowe’s and even purchase one to use! Appreciate the tip!

      • Shelly Sharp

        you could maybe also get discontinued samples…. free is my favourite price.

  • Therese Moncelle

    I am so excited to have the idea of the wax paper and tempera. I used to do monoprints with students with rolled out fingerpaint on the table or a tray. The finger paint thickness added a great linear quality and we were able to pull two prints from one drawing (they turn out very different from one another). We would scrape the extra paint from the table with old gift cards so there would be less paint to clean up. My students always loved the unit and exploration. We haven’t been able to use that process for a few years as the finger paint has been too loose in consistency. Glad to have a replacement idea!

    • Wynita Harmon

      Glad this could help give you another idea! Thanks for checking out the article!

  • Julie Pyle

    I always hated the clean up with printmaking until I read about this trick. I use 8 x 8″ plastic ink trays (or you can use styrofoam trays donated by a meat department) and gallon size ziplock bags purchased from the dollar store. We slide an inked brayer and tray into baggie to reuse day to day. These stay moist for up to four days of printmaking and saves on clean up time each day/each class.

    • Wynita Harmon

      That is a great idea! Thanks for sharing! I will be trying this out soon.

  • Amy

    I like the idea of reusing items. The buy and toss to make clean-up easier is harder to accept. I feel it is important to teach the students to think about the environmental impacts of all our garbage, especially the styrofoam! Cleanup takes longer and it’s more work; but, it’s a little less in the landfill.

  • Erin Cas Key

    Great ideas.
    I never thought about rolling the extra ink on a big paper. It reminds of how some clay artists have a pot that they wipe their brushes on before washing them.

    Could be done with paint brushes too, I Guess.


  • Kristen Swank

    I laminated a bunch of card stock to use for printing plates when mono-printing. I use tempera paint as well. The laminated card stock cleans easily and has lasted for 4 semesters so far. I am going to try wipes to clean the plates next time.

  • Judy Krueger

    I collected probably 20 boxes of clear overhead transparency sheets when the overhead projectors went out of vogue. This year it finally dawned on me that these would be great taped down to the table for a printmaking ink plate. They made the process so much easier for clean up! I love the idea of rolling the brayers on old construction paper to use up the extra ink. These papers would be great to print on later as well.