Bronzing Disaster (Learn from my bad choice)

I wanted to post a bit of a warning and share my stupidity with the community.

Today I wanted to give bronzing (with mica powder) a shot as I have been really unhappy with the way gold ink prints. I have a sort of broken hot foiler that never really works (it won’t keep heat or goes ballistically hot) so until I can afford a huge foiling machine or find a way to add one to my C&P this seemed like the only option.

I tried to take precautions by keeping eye protection and a dust mask on the entire time I was working in the shop, but when I left the room and removed my mask (after four hours of agonizingly unsatisfying bronzing) I saw my nose completely gold and my lungs have been hurting ever since. I’m definitely distressed about it and worried that my lungs won’t clear it out.

Not only was the bronzing not great (wouldn’t stick well to the gold ink - I didn’t have varnish and wasn’t sure what else to try), but I wasted four hours possibly scarring my lungs UGH! The culprit is probably that I used an airbrush to blast off the dust. The cotton paper could not be reliably cleared with a brush and the airbrush was the only way to get it off the paper.

Is there ANYTHING other than bronzing I can try? The bronzing ended up being really blotchy when I brushed it off because the ink was drying so fast. Unless I were to dust them ONE BY ONE after each print, it didn’t seem like it was going to work. I suspect a different paper would work better than a cotton one. Is there a way to do it better/faster? Obviously if I ever thought to try again I’d get a respirator, but I didn’t realize a medical mask wouldn’t be enough.

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Try engraving the image. I have great success with gold, copper or silver. All are metallic and can hold very fine detail. Large coverage area are not so great - sometimes a screen helps here.

When you say engrave, do you mean have an engraving plate made and hand print each one? For commercial jobs that seems untenable. I’m needing to complete 100-200 for a job. I have no experience engraving or etching myself. How does it print more “metallic”? Is it just the different ink? I’m not sure I understand the suggestion.

I tried it once, and it was enough to never want to do it again, I did the same as you I blasted it off with an air compressor and it got literally everywhere in the shop, you could find the gold dust even years after.
I don’t think I even used a mask or respirator.

I’ve had good results, but only on smooth stock. I’ve never seen any mica compounds for this, always metallic powders. Bronzing can certainly be a viable method if done with care.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

At the begining of your post it sounded like you thought that the job could or should have been hot foil stamped and that you have a hot stamping unit but it won’t hold the temperature. If that’s the case then you might try fixing that unit. If you haven’t the ability yourself then you may have to seek out help but if the unit won’t keep the temperature constant then you could check the continuity of the thermocouple wire and also see if the thermostat is functioning properly. Some thermostats have a reset. My point is that it might be fixable and then you could hot stamp jobs that you deem need it instead of trying other methods, (not that experiencing different printing methods is a bad thing). It’s always going to be a good thing to have all your equipment functioning as well as possible so that you have options.

Really well calendered stock would help, not actually coated, but really smooth. I have used a stiff-ish yellow ink, and
powdered bronze powder on. Two days later. when rock hard dry, large handfulls of cotton wool reliably removed the excess. But of mess here and there, but not a great problem.

Thanks all. About the hot foiler - if I could get it to work that would be amazing. It’s such a weird looking machine I’ve never seen one like it, honestly. The other problem is it only has a small print area, and this job needed a much larger area of gold text. I had a custom plate base made for it which may be the issue. Not sure who I could get to look at it.

Briar press refuses to let me upload a picture for some reason. But I asked about it years ago here:

Briar press refuses to let me upload a picture for some reason no matter how I adjust it or rename it. But I asked about it years ago here:

Engraving uses an etched plate. The plate is completely inked, the top surface is wiped off. The paper is then pressed or embossed into the etched image removing the ink. The ink is a glue and bronze powder solution. Power press operation is in the 2,000 to 3,000 impression per hour range.
How large is your image area?

Sorry to hear about your trouble!

Not sure this is that different from what you used, or necessarily how it would work for a bigger job like you need..but a suggestion anyway:

I’ve had good luck with rubber based ink (takes longer to dry) and powder like this..

It is super shiny and has stuck well for me..though come to think of it, I was doing larger areas on an art print and afterwards I sprayed them with a sealant to keep them from smearing.

It’s not going to be the solid gold of a foil but I think they are pretty beautiful!

Here’s a laborious way that I have had success with.
Make a pounce bag - put some powder in a shop rag or old sock and tie it closed with string or rubber band.
Have a large flat tray next to the press for applying powder.
Print about five (I used black ink).
Pounce each print.
Make a second impression on top of the fresh powder.
Brush the excess powder off with a drafting brush or other soft brush. You could probably use a vacuum with a brush attachment.
It’s not the same as foil but it looks pretty good. I used this method on Lettra.

I don’t know what you’re doing with your bronze powder, for you to have to wear a mask and to find it in your nose! I’ve been using bronze, silver and gold powder for decades now and never experienced any problems with it. Nor does it end up in my body. I use oil base inks, sometimes I add some transparent ink to my colors, to give it more tack. I print a sheet, or two, and use a small ‘tampon’ made of cotton wool and punch my prints. I put a slipsheet on my printed area and stack it like that. Next morning, I create a ‘dusting station’, using a vacuum cleaner that I hook up to the side of my worktop and with a soft flat brush, I brush off the powder in the direction of the mouth of the vacuum cleaner. No dust gets in the air… or in my lungs!

Metallic printing by letterpress has always been inferior to other methods but improvements can be made in various ways. Printing with gold ink is best started with a light sealer of pale yellow and then when dry overprint with a thin layer of gold and finishing with a heavier film to finish with. The only problem with this is keeping register and and putting the job through 3 times. Silver can be done in the same way starting with a light sealer of pale blue. I has to be said the only good results are printed by Silk Screen or Hot Foiling. There are a couple of alternatives. One is Thermograghy ie putting a base printing down and covering with the themography powder and applying heat to fuse the powder. I did that for my 2017 Christmas Cards by printing the Gold star images on my Windmill and then overprinting using a varnish on my Tabletop press and doing 10 at a time and then dusting with Gold sparkle Themography powder. A second alternative is to print the required image on a laser printer and using a special foil that adheres to the toner when put through a laminating machine.
The third option is to follow the suggestions offered by Thomas Gravemaker and have another try with the bronze powder, I am going to have a go, thanks Thomas.

I’ve actually tried the laser toner method and tested in probably 20 different papers but never had success with any paper people would want for wedding work. It works great if a bit slow for basic folding cards and well calendared papers. I did a whole personal post on it

I’m still not clear on the etching. When I’ve done dry points or anything like that it takes forever to wipe the plates. I’m not sure that would be a viable choice for me.

I love the idea of using a shop vac. I didn’t think of that. At a minimum if I’m brave enough to try that again (my lungs still feel a bit off….) I’ll do it OUTSIDE and with a respirator.

Another tip I have is lintless cloth catches the powder really well; Try Kimpwipes for wiping the residue off, and microfiber cloth as well. You can buy a 6 pack of Microfiber sponges on AMAZON, these also make pretty good applicators/pouncers.

I think others have mentioned the application being pretty tricky, but I never found this to work unless I was applying the powder to very fresh prints (less than 1-2 minutes after impression) which had 2-3 subsequent layers of ink applied. But I did get it to work fairly well.

You mentioned calendared paper in your blog post, it’s worth noting that rougher papers are more difficult to get the powder to come off for obvious enough reasons, but often you can get most of the dust off with these materials alone and have minimal compressed air work to do.

(Another note, I hope you were you wearing ADEQUATE eye protection? Like sealed up goggles for swimming, for example, or something along those lines? Mica in the eyes is not something to trifle with, in fact any fine airborne powder.)

Haven’t done this technique in decades, but did have good success in the past using bronzing powders. Always printed in fairly short batches so that the bronzing powder could be applied CAREFULLY to the ink while it was still fairly wet, then go back and print some more.


Must be applied in absolute calm air conditions and EXTREMELY CAREFULLY wiped-brushed off and collected into a vacuum cleaner WITH AN EXTREMELY EFFICIENT FILTER or collected back into the bronzing can.You can see these particulates glistening in the air if you shine a bright light in the area around where you are bronzing. I would NEVER in a million years use an airbrush to remove the powder. That would only serve to send all those particulates into the air and contaminate every nook and cranny in the room.

The bronzing powders should be extremely finely ground and therefore will mix into the air with the slightest turbulence.

Having heavy metal particulates in your lungs is not a good thing, but I apparently survived for decades now with no long-term problems so hopefully your lungs will eventually get rid of whatever you inhaled. The body is a resilient thing.


Re applying bronzing powders to part dry (tacky) yellow ink.
In London UK in the 1950-60s when the lady assistants were near the presses applying the powder with handfuls of cotton wool, it was a (I think legal) requirement that the management provided one third pint bottles of milk twice a day to the ladies doing this work. The reason given was that when bronze powder was being manufactured, being ground from brass bar, a lubricant was used in some way that was definitely carcinogenic. Thereafter special bronzing machines became available, particularly in firms in the classy label trade and no staff were involved any more.
It still went on the old way in small jobbing shops.

I buy my gold, silver and bronze powders from a a windmill – called Verfmolen De Kat – here in the Netherlands, where they’ve been grinding pigments since 1782 in the old-fashioned way. Whenever there is enough wind, they’ll grind between stones. As far as I know nothing is added in the process.

image: dekat.jpg