Photopolymer gravure printing is not new. Printmakers have been practicing this medium for some time now. But, we decided to reinvent it by producing a direct to plate printing and calibration method. And we did this initially as an experiment to see if we could imitate aquatint copperplate gravure. We accomplished that and more, but in a safer and more consistent and reliable process.
What we are adding to this medium is:
- significantly greater fidelity similar to that of a traditional aquatint gravure on copper, and better than that of gravures used with exposing screens.
- better shadow and highlight detail than is normally associated with the gravure process.
- calibration to match ours or your computer screen display.
- low cost medium that is consistent and reliable and with a potential to pull 1000s of impressions from a single plate.
In this regard, what we are doing is revolutionary. Especially so because photopolymer gravure is also known as “solar plate etching”. Solar plate etching is not necessarily regarded for its high fidelity. We’re changing that.
Hope Elephantsstarted off as a digital photograph taken through an antique Kern-Paillard lens captured by a Sony A7R camera. This is how it became a photogravure.
- A photopolymer gravure plate was loaded into our Epson printer ready to have a positive image printed on it. The purpose of printing the image directly onto the photopolymer plate is so that it can act as a film positive (for intaglio) or a film negative (for relief print using the same type of photopolymer plate). This allows us to replace both an exposing screen and a film positive/negative, and avoid the limitations of using a vacuum frame, film, and dot screen for the exposure.
- We replaced the Epson printer driver with our new printer driver which we have been developing since early 2017. Our printer driver unlocks the capabilities of an Epson printer and allows us to print extremely fine dithering methods as well as higher resolution than the printer is capable of when using the Epson printer driver. Our dithering method (how the printer sprays dots) is very unique and geared towards imitating a very fine aquatint dust pattern. We have complete control over how our printer produces this pattern, Because we are printing directly to plate, we can use much finer resolution of dot than is normally associated with this medium (and why we are now approaching that of traditional aquatint).
- We also replaced the ink in the Epson printer with an ink that we formulated for this purpose. The ink that we are printing is fully UV Opaque, yet it washes away with water when we develop the plate.
- The exposed plate is washed with plain water which also acts to develop it. A moment later it is dried, and then re-exposed to UV to harden it. Then it is ready to be hand inked and printed on our etching press. That whole process from computer to press bed is less than one hour.
This is the hand inked and wiped intaglio plate that was used to make the photogravure print at the top of this newsletter. Cone Editions was known throughout the 1990s for making exceptional copper plate gravures. This new process is indistinguishable; except it’s quicker and much less expensive. Images can be created by hand, scanned, be sourced from digital images, videos, drawings, found objects, an almost endless supply of source material. We’re using safe, non-toxic intaglio inks by Akua and Charbonnel. The plates are inked and wiped in the same way that traditional etching inks would be. But, there is no odor and clean up is with water.
I’m delighted about this on so many levels. Those who knew me when I was an etcher 25 years ago know that I developed health issues around the solvents. Fair to say, I also spent a decade steel-facing my photogravure copper plates. But, that just made matters worse. Needless to say, safe non-toxic etching is sublime.
Here’s a peak at our calibration process…
512 gray patches were printed onto the plate as a calibration target. The plate was exposed and developed. Here it prior to inking and wiping and printing through our etching press.
This print right off the etching press is dried and then measured with the studios X-Rite DTP70. The 512 gray patches produce data which is put into Cone Editions (In-House Version) Piezography profiler to create a “media profile” for this process. It works whether making a plate for black inks or hand wiping color inks. We are literally calibrating etching.
So what does this mean for you?
It will not cost you an arm and a leg to make editions of etchings or photogravures. You can actually preview the results on your display. You can come here and work in the studio if you prefer, or you can work remotely.
We are now offering photopolymer gravure platemaking and printmaking services. One of the world’s most complicated printmaking processes is now both predictable and affordable at our studio. We are offering platemaking available to those with their own etching presses, and we are offering both platemaking and printmaking on our own etching press in sizes up to 30” x 40” plate size. Or come book a day or two with us to make plates with us, direct the printmaking or just observe it. Produce prints with us!
If you have your own etching press – let us make you plates. Or we can produce them and print them for you.
Highly pigmented but safe intaglio ink cleans up with just water. No solvents! Come book a day or two and play in the etching studio with us. We can get down to some serious printmaking quickly. We are also making our own extremely black etching ink. We are confident it is the darkest on the planet! We are using the same carbon pigment that we produce the Ultra HD™ inkjet ink with…(why not!)
Don Messec’s Badlands photogravure. Don Messec is the earliest inventor of direct to plate photogravure. I met Don when he invited me to Santa Fe to see his process. He always encouraged me to further develop it. But, I let seven long years go by…
Jon and Don!
That’s Cathy Cone next to my printmaking mentor, Mary Manusos. It was Mary’s retirement that was the impetus for me to finally develop out the process. Mary came to make photogravures with Cathy and I for a week. I wanted to come up with something unique for her to work with.
A lot of large etchings being made from digital collages, scanned found objects… Mary, Cathy and I collaborated during a wonderful week. Cathy and I met at Ohio University where I was photography and printmaking student. We’ve kept in touch with Mary Manusos ever since! I’ll write more on this in another newsletter.