How Well Do You Know Your Brayer?

Soft rubber brayer.

cate pratoOn Father’s Day this year, I treated my husband to an outdoor printmaking session. Nick is well-versed in the fine arts, primarily drawing and painting. But printmaking was new to him, and I took a special pleasure in introducing him to a technique where I was more knowledgeable than he.

That is, until he started he started ask questions I couldn’t answer. In particular, he stumped me on the ins and outs of the brayer I was using to spread paint on the plate.

“Is there just one kind of brayer?”

“Should you use the brayer to smooth the paper [on the printing plate]?”

“Do you wash that in between printing sessions?”

“Can you use it on anything?”

“Do you need more than one?”

“Does the roller come off? How?”

Honestly, it was kind of aggravating. Especially because I didn’t have all the answers. I hate that.

I figured maybe you don’t know everything there is to know about a brayer, either. So herewith is a little tutorial.

What is a brayer?
A brayer is a multipurpose tool that looks similar to a paint roller. Using a brayer insures consistent results when inking, gluing, printing, and painting.

What kinds of brayers exist?

  • Hard rubber brayers are perfect for embossing, inking stamps, and gluing.
  • Soft rubber brayers are an ideal fit inking stamps or to lay ink onto paper directly from your inkpad.
  • Acrylic brayers are rigid. They can be used to smooth glued papers without damaging the roller, and they are good for spreading a thin layer of paint. Elastic bands or other elements can be wrapped or adhered to the roller to create texture without distorting the roller. Acrylic brayers easily wipe clean after use.
  • Sponge brayers soak up a lot of paint, but they are inexpensive and a good tool to use for filling in large areas. This is the roller to use to brayer over mesh or stencils, as the foam will allow the ink to reach the paper.


acrylic brayer
Acrylic brayer.

When should I clean my brayers, and how?


  • Because a brayer can be used with so many different materials, it is especially important to clean it after each use.
  • It’s easier to clean them if you do it before the paint, ink, etc., dries.
  • If you have a brayer with a removable roller, take it apart for easier cleaning.
  • Check with the manufacturer/instruction to see whether your brayer can be cleaned with anything besides water (such as a solvent).
  • Store your brayer with the roller facing up so that it doesn’t develop a flat side if it will be sitting on a hard surface.

I confess I did not do all this research myself. My colleague Barbara Delaney put this information together for the new Cloth Paper Scissors interactive eMag, Collage in Color. Her segment shows how to use brayers, offers more details about cleaning them and their various uses, and pretty much anything else you need to know. You can download it to your computer or iPad and play with all of the segments on collage techniques, color theory, and projects. I especially like the time-lapse video on pieced paper collage.

You can even teach your husband a few tricks!

P.S. Do you have a tip for using a brayer? How about a preference for what type? Share with the class!


Blog, Mixed-Media Supplies


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