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Printing for continuous tone using polymer plates is not easy. Not only do you need to be an experienced printmaker to get good results, but you also need to be a plate technician – or have the good fortune of having one in-house: Someone who knows how to render nuances and shadow details from an image and make large plates, without sacrificing sharpness, detail and quality.
This video demonstrates printing with polymer photogravure plates from Intaglio Editions for superior photographic prints. View Intaglio Editions photogravure printmaking video tutorial – and others – directly on our main website.
Call Jon to talk about your fine printmaking project today at 303-818-5187.
You finally got to the point where your prints are coming out beautifully — with rich solid blacks and wide range of tones. Heaven!
There’s only one problem: The print is not flat! In fact it’s got some warping that’s pretty severe.
The good news: There is a solution to this horrible problem. The bad news: It involves more work! But don’t worry, it’s actually going to improve the quality of your prints in many ways, assuming smooth, continuous tone is important to your printmaking. These tips will allow you to ensure your prints are perfectly flat AND will have the added benefit of receiving the ink better and in a more uniform manner. This translates into more smooth, continous tone for your prints.
To avoid wavy prints with your intaglio printmaking, you can do 3 things:
1) Calendar the paper along with the grain, prior to printing. The grain is indicated by looking under raking light at magnification, or knowing which way the watermark faces with respect to the grain.
2) Make sure you’re printing with the grain of the paper, as well as calendaring it with the grain, prior to printing.
3) Flatten the prints while still damp, in between blotter and boards using this procedure
I’ve been making plates for several years for my photography work and have only recently started having a problem with those dreaded spots on the plate and subsequently the prints. In researching the problem I came across your web page and it was the ONLY place I have seen a reference to these spots. I tried you suggestion of drying the transparency and then did a small 4×5 transparency of the image on plate and it seemed okay, but then when I did an 8×10 transparency with the same process, the plate had the dots again.
Do you have any further advice about this problem with Pictorico film? Or another film that might work without the problem. It’s maddening and I’ve lost several days of work and lots of plates trying to resolve it with no luck.
I have some Sihl film I’ve never used and considering it. Anyway, any help you could offer would be very appreciated. I know Dan Welden and he says it’s a problem with Pictorico. Is there a work around?
Thanks so much,
It is much easier to be successful with smaller plates. Larger plates have a learning curve all their own since it is a larger surface area, making tight, contiguous contact with the plate more difficult.
The problem of dark spots (which become white in the print) is typically a contact problem. In some cases it can be attributed to newton rings,. In most cases it is simply a lack of contiguous contact where the film is able to go out of focus and become diffuse in places, weakening the density in the plate in those specific areas.
Newton rings can occur between the glass of the vacuum frame, and film – or between the film and the plate. I avoid newton rings on top by using Kreene plastic instead of glass in my vacuum frame.
Two other solutions to avoiding newton rings with larger plates:
1. Pictorico now makes a textured film. The texture creates small cracks where air can escape, avoiding the newton ring issue on some level.
2. The other solution is to apply baby powder finely to the plate and/or film positive prior to the second exposure to the plate. I use it sparingly, and remove as much as possible with a hake brush before putting in the vacuum frame. It does the trick.
Hope that helps. LMK if you have any further questions and best wishes for your project!
Some of the most famous and well documented photogravure prints in the world of art are now available in high-resolution digital images on The Metropolitian Museum of Art’s website free of charge:
Photogravure work by period photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Eadweard Muybridge, Josef Maria Eder and Man Ray, among others are available for viewing at various magnification levels and various licensing. Some of the licensing allows free use of the high resolution artwork for non-commercial purposes. With this kind of online service you can see the work better at your computer than in the museum (without proper access)! While no substitute for proper curatorial studies, it provides an unprecedented level of access to the Met’s collection and for that, we at Intaglio Editions give them a Tip of the Bandana.
What a fabulous service to the aging and physically handicapped scholars, printmakers, and art lovers who wish to view the work. Now they can as never before! Finally public art and performances spaces have begun to see the web as an ally, not an enemy to subscriptions and ticket sales! The advent of sports television has not hurt attendance at live sporting events one bit. Let’s hope the same can be said for the marketing of art events.
At Intaglio Editions we get alot of interesting requests from people all over the world. People are printing on all things from fine Italian heavyweight paper to tea bags, from silk-like, handmade Japanese gampi to cotton T-shirts. We’ve printed on all these things with our custom, most continuous tone, fully processed, intaglio photogravure plates commercially available, up to 23 x 39″!
We do our best to respond to all inquiries and, if there’s sufficient interest, post them here, with permission of the participant whenever possible. The one below has us stumped. If anyone has any suggestions for the writer below seeking custom, little plastic 3d gizmos, I will gladly pass them on.
I am told that a desk top 3D printer can reproduce it easily.
Because I only need one small part, I am not going to invest in a prototype meant to use to produce thousands of pieces. Can you refer me to someone who has the 3D printer who can do this inexpensively for me? I would certainly appreciate your help.”
Arguably the most beautiful, challenging, and labor-intensive of the traditional photographic processes, photogravure printmaking is among the earliest, dating back to the mid-1800s. Best noted in the work of Edward S. Curtis in his epic anthropological study “The North American Indian”, which he editioned from 1907-1930, the photogravure quickly gave way to more affordable silver-gelatin printing popularized by Eastman Kodak’s Brownie camera. Prior to Kodak, artists, the church, and businesses primarily turned to printmakers who used presses to render quality images for distribution. Photogravure has come out of the long tradition of intaglio printmaking whereby artisan printmakers, working in conjunction with artists, would create an image by carving, engraving, or etching (with resists and acid) into a metal substrate, wiping oil-based ink into the grooves or pits created, and then running it through a printing press onto dampened paper.
While there are traditional printmakers still employing copper plates to make photogravures, most have moved on to use steel-backed polymer plates due to the quality, consistency, efficiency, and the more environmentally friendly nature of that approach. Polymer plates are both photosensitive and water-soluble, allowing the image to be etched into the plate using water instead of acid. The polymer plate method was introduced to the printmaking world in the 1970s by Dan Welden, a veteran artist and printmaker who discovered the fine art application of these plates, which had only recently been introduced by the semiconductor industry, where they were (and still are to some extent) used to cast molds for creating printed circuit boards.
Regardless of the technology used to create a quality plate, the true artistry and craftsmanship comes through in how the plate is printed. The type of inks and modifiers employed, the method of wiping, the level of care taken, the choice of paper, the amount of pressure given at the press, and method of drying and flattening the final print are only a few of the many variables that come together to create a high-quality, hand-printed, photogravure print. More information at http://intaglioeditions.com
For most printmakers, dust is and has historically been the bane of our existence. So much freon has never been released into the atmosphere as from all those cans of DustOff in photographers’ basement darkrooms — when darkrooms were more common. Spritzing negatives in an attempt to get that pristine, perfectly clean negative was one of the most important jobs a darkroom photographer could do.
Now that we’re in the digital age, not much has changed really. Sure, if you’re printing inkjet directly from digital you might be spared — unless there’s dust on the sensor of your camera, but even that can be whisked away in Photoshop, no problem.
For the alternative photography printmaker, however, the physical world is still a very real-world problem. If it’s not humidity causing problems on the East or West Coast United States, it’s dust, like here in Colorado. I have three air purifiers running in the studio where we make polymer photogravure plates. It helps a little, but still dust specks occur and when they do they’re likely to be in some prominent area of the composition like a sky, or the tip of someone’s nose. If it’s in the plate, it’s committed, so you take extra precautions, but what about if it’s in the ink, or dust that lands on the plate just before it is printed?
Here are some precautions to take to minimize dust specks in printmaking environments:
- Examine your paper for any specks before tearing and soaking it.
- Vacuum and wet-mop the floors and shelves.
- Staple plastic above your wiping area and press, if possible.
- Keep doors and windows closed.
- Keep one or more air purifiers running near your printing area at all times. Make sure they are blowing away from your materials, not at them.
- Make sure your rags, tarlatan, and wiping materials have been shaken out and are relatively dust-free.
- Examine the plate carefully while wiping to remove any chunks or specks in the ink. Use a clean, lint-free rag to brush off any remaining dust.
- Cover the plate with clean tissue paper immediately after examining the plate. Carry it to the press covered.
- Use a drafting brush to remove any particles from the printing paper that may have been introduced during soaking or blotting.
- Have an assistant remove the tissue carefully just before you put the paper onto the plate.
- Clean press bed with anti-static plexiglass cleaner between prints.
Of course, the larger the plate, the more surface area there is to get contaminated. Also the more white-areas there are, the more likely dust will appear there. The less time your plate is exposed to the open air in even a slightly dusty environment, the better chances you have of not introducing unwanted particulates to your prints.
At Intaglio Editions we strive to make photogravure-quality prints that are artifact-free, and that includes digital posterization, newton rings, dust specks and the usual list of pitfalls new printmakers tend to fall prey to. The printing process, whichever it may be, will always lend itself to the final print and influence it in some way. Intaglio printmaking is, after all, an industrial art and along with that comes large equipment, large spaces, and unfortunately, large amounts of dust which invariably, at some point, will work its way into your life, and your prints. I would assert that this very dust issue might be why most vintage photogravure prints tended to be of darker, more complex images, so the dust that does work its way into the prints is not as distracting from the image itself and it simply blends in. People were also more accepting of it just being part of the process back then as well.
Most photo cleanups take 15-30 minutes. Since this piece is intended for a large intaglio print we needed to get more aggressive. The original scan was made using a 16 passes with an Epson Perfection v750 Pro scanner at 16bit RGB.
Click on image for greater detail. As you can see, much physical damage in addition to the normal specks, scratches and discoloration needed addressing.
Some areas of the photograph were completely destroyed and needed to be discreetly added back.
Photoshop, Wacom pressure-sensitive pen and tablet and 3.5 hours later and we had cleaned it up so that no one except for those with a trained eye could tell the difference.
Cleaning up the intaglio editions website I came across an old file – not sure why it was on the website, but it reminded me of some techniques in intaglio I have yet to experiment with on the press. Granted these kinds of techniques could and probably should be simulated on the computer before going into the studio to save time, however there are occasions where what happens in the studio is a complete surprise and a gift that would never have occurred had one not ventured forward IRL (in real life) with curiosity and confidence.
So re-visit those old notebooks from time to time, as you might old friends.
Here’s what the old page of notes said:
My next plan is to try and do multiple plates – one for each of the tonal ranges
(shadow, midtones, highlights) and use complimentary colors for each of them.
– 02/22/04 – Create 3 plates:
- Get good black and white print first. Overall image must have rich blacks and nice, balanced tone.
- Last plate: Blacks only. Extract blacks from image and put it into it’s own plate. This will prevent ‘fuzzy’ look and will keep lines sharp.
- Middle and First plates – Midtone and Lighttone plates for use via a la poupee! Create two plates, on that contains the mid to preblack tones and another that ranges from highlights to midtones. — Try overlapping the mid areas on these two plates to prevent posterization, rather, color blending will occur in these areas…
- Inks of different viscosities will repel one another.
- Use a combination of translucent and concentrated inks, dob onto plate, then wipe by putting plate face down on stack of newsprint and firmly drag the plate in a particular direction. Do consistently for multiple wipings. Wipe in opposite direction in the same manner. Try rotating side to side too.
- Use magnesium carbonate to inks to make it stiffer and more viscous
- Use plate oil to make a ‘lean’, low-viscosity ink
- First plate – Lightest color
Only problem will be devising a process for coming up with somewhat accurate registration.
Instead of Q-tips or brushes or felt for a la poupee, use stiff brushes to deliver ink to plate.