Sugarlift is the process of painting some kind of sugar solution onto an etching plate. A hard ground is applied to the plate. The plate is then submerged into hot water, allowing the sugar to dissolve and break up through the hard ground, leaving a stencil like effect. The plate can then be dusted with rosin, and etched.

I've used both of these recipes for Lift Ground or Sugarlift. They both work quite well. The biggest difference is the usage of either grated soap or liquid dish washing detergent.

According to Rhea Fontaine at Paulson Press this is the formula used in making their prints with Margaret Kilgallen.

Paulson Press Formula

  • 5oz Karo Syrup
  • 4oz India Ink
  • 3/4oz Grated Ivory soap
  • 1/4oz gum arabic

Alternate Recipe

  • 5oz Karo Syrup
  • 1oz Dish washing Detergent
  • 1oz Gum Arabic
  • 1oz Water Soluble Ink


Pour Karo Syrup into the measuring cup. Add 4oz of India Ink, then sprinkle the Ivory Soap in. Finally add a pinch of Gum Arabic bringing the mixture to 10oz. Stir until the Gum Arabic and Ivory Soap are mixed in. Pour into a jar and label.

  1. Clean and degrease your plate thoroughly. Any contamination or grease (even fingerprints) can interfere with the lift.
  2. Paint (I use a watercolor brush) the sugarlift on. Remember that it will lift evenly. If you want different values of contrast, perform multiple lifts, or stage bite the resulting aquatint.
  3. Allow the sugarlift to dry.
  4. Coat the entire plate with a thin coating of liquid hard ground. I've had good results with Graphic Chemical's Universal Etching Ground Part Number 12390. Avoid any type of hard ground that needs to be cooked as heat may cause the ground to prematurely begin lifting.
  5. Allow the ground to set.
  6. Boil some water. An electric tea kettle can be found in most print shops.
  7. Place the plate into a photo, or similar, tray.
  8. Pour the hot water onto the plate to begin the lift process.
  9. The ground will begin to lift. On larger plates you may need to heat and pour water more then once.
  10. Once the lift process is complete, dry the plate
  11. Optionally open bite the plate for a bit, dropping the exposed surface of the plate. This protects the aquatint and provides for more quality prints when editioning
  12. Apply rosin for an aquatint. Stop out and etch as desired.