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Fw: Re: photopolymer plates

This is being forwarded to book_arts in the hopes that it is of interest to
someone. Didn't we discuss this some time ago?


From: Brian Allen <BDAllen119@AOL.COM>
Sun, 29 Jan 1995 23:54:32 -0500
To: Multiple recipients of list LETPRESS <LETPRESS@UNB.CA>
Subject: Re: photopolymer plates

--Jamie Syer wrote:
>I've been interested in finding out more about the photopolymer system. Do
>you make your own plates or have them made for you? If you make your own,
>tell me about the equipment that's needed. Is there more than one process
>out there? I'm assuming you do your 'typesetting' on a computer screen and
>then make a plate from the result.

I have been experimenting with the steel backed photopolymer plates for about
a year now. I have magnetic bases from Pat Reagh (Los Angeles printer) and a
home-made exposure system. It can be maddening to make plates, but a
commercial system can cost $5,000 to $10,000 (or more) to buy. There are
companies who will make them for you, but I have not investigated them yet.
(There is also a soft, polyester backed plate material.)

It is quite simple: get ultraviolet flourescent tubes (black light) that you
can buy at a lighting store; compose your image in a page layout program like
Quark or PageMaker; have a service bureau output your file to negative (right
reading emulsion UP); contact print the negative to the plate material using
the ultraviolet light as the light source (this hardens the polymers in the
image area); wash with warm water till the non-printing area is washed down
to the steel base; dry with hair dryer; expose with ultraviolet light again
to harden the sides of the relief image; attach to a base (like my magnetic
base) to make it type high; print. I make them in my basement; and I think it
does not have the same environmental problems that the acid etch of engraving

Of course, it is never as easy as it sounds; many irritations/frustrations
can result. But with thousands of fonts available in digital format that will
never be available in metal again (or never were), it is worth the
aggravation, I think. I can discuss this further if there is interest. I buy
my plates from Gene Becker in New York, who has an instruction sheet on
making plates. The soon to be extinct journal Bookways has been printed from
polymer plates, and had an article about it in 1992, I think it was. Much
experimentation is going on, with widely varying results. Jim Trissel at
Colorado College, Colorado Springs (not too far from me) may be the furthest
along in using polymer plates in fine printing. He has done some exquisite
books. He gave a talk to our book arts group here in Boulder in December and
showed 10-15 books he has printed, several of which are in museum
collections, like the V & A in London. It can be done well.

I would never claim that printing from polymer is a panacea, or a true
substitute for printing from metal: the regularization of stem weights,
subtleties in punchcutting that digital type will not be able to reproduce,
etc.,  yield a somewhat colder look than that familiar warm sense that the
best letterpress printing conveys, in my opinion. However, It is interesting
to note that while much digital output of type (offset printed) looks thin
compared to the original metal versions (due partly I believe to imagesetters
being tuned for halftones), printing from a polymer plate returns some weight
to the stems due to the ink squeeze. Most outline fonts that have been
released by the font foundries are digitizations of original artwork, thus
underrepresenting the stem weights that were made heavier by ink squeeze.
Here is an example of the damage done by font piracy and theft of font
software: foundries cannot cost justify the extra time needed to tune their
offerings to the new technologies. Please do not contribute to the problem by
not paying for legitimate copies of font software. (Editorial comment). I
plan to buy some of Lanston Type Company's digital fonts that were made by
digitizing the brass patterns used to make the Monotype matrices. I think
printing from polymer plates using these fonts as the source would be as
close as could be managed via digital methods to getting back to the original
letterpress look.

Hope this answers your questions
| Peter D. Verheyen, Rare Books Conservator, Cornell University Library |
|                B-39 Olin Library, Ithaca, NY 14850                    |
|     <wk> 607/255-2484 Email: pdv1@cornell.edu <fax> 607/255-9346      |
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