Newton Rings and Contact Problems

Contact Issues with polymer photogravure

Newton Rings and Contact problems between the film positive and plate cause these white patches in the print.

Hi Jon,

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,

Jari Poulin

Hi Jari,

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!

Jon Lybrook

Historical Photogravure Prints Online in High Resolution

The Bridal Rose - Photogravure

The Bridal Rose – photogravure by Rudolph Eickemeyer (American, 1862–1932)

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.

Little Plastic 3D Gizmos

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.

Jon Lybrook - Intaglio Editions“I need a little plastic gizmo about two inches, or so, wide, with little rectangular cubes on it. I have one part of it and need it’s mirror image because It makes my shower doors work.

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.”



Quick History of Photogravure

Edward S. Curtis as a young man

Edward S. Curtis as a young man

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

Minimizing Dust Specks in Printmaking

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:

  1. Examine your paper for any specks before tearing and soaking it.
  2. Vacuum and wet-mop the floors and shelves.
  3. Staple plastic above your wiping area and press, if possible.
  4. Keep doors and windows closed.
  5. 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.
  6. Make sure your rags, tarlatan, and wiping materials have been shaken out and are relatively dust-free.
  7. 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.
  8. Cover the plate with clean tissue paper immediately after examining the plate. Carry it to the press covered.
  9. Use a drafting brush to remove any particles from the printing paper that may have been introduced during soaking or blotting.
  10. Have an assistant remove the tissue carefully just before you put the paper onto the plate.
  11. 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.

Photo Restoration Projects

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.

Old Ideas Breathing New Life into Creativity

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:

  1. Get good black and white print first. Overall image must have rich blacks and nice, balanced tone.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…
  4. Inks of different viscosities will repel one another.
    1. 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.
    2. Use magnesium carbonate to inks to make it stiffer and more viscous
    3. Use plate oil to make a ‘lean’, low-viscosity ink
  5. 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.

Deriving Curve and Exposure Times from Scratch (Part II)

I’ve been talking with copper gravurist Barbara Sanders over Email some more about the challenges with first establishing exposure and washout times when processing a polymer plate.  Also when is the right time to begin tweaking the curve applied to the transparencies.  I’m hoping that documenting her journey helps provide insight to others.


Barbara said:

Spent most of the day making test plates and trying to get the work flow correct. Not a bad day and feel I am close to proper exposure times. I am starting to collude that my transparency needs adjustment (the dreaded curves question!).

small-step-wedgeI included the following step wedge with my test image to evaluate where things weren’t getting enough information.

0, 10, and 20% are pure white; there is no difference in black 90, 100; my 70 reads like the 80.

I am thinking if I lose density in the blacks and lower the output of the whites that they might darken (grey). Correct?…Hard to figure which variables to tweak first.


Hi Barbara,

Thanks for the info.  You’ve basically got 20 steps which is an ambitious undertaking flying solo, but more information is better than less.  You should be able to get 20 unique tones with this process using Mark Nelson’s screen and the KM73 plates.  The last 10% of perfection is always the hardest won.

My sense is if you’re losing the top 20% of your highlights 10% of the shadows (with 70 and 80 looking the same), you need to pull down your exposure times a little and get paper white at 0% and some tone in the 5% area to start with, before tackling the curve (which is how you can address at least some of the midtone/shadow detail issues later).  Whether you pull back time on the aquatint screen or the film positive, or both is the question.  If you lack enough exposure, the black areas of the plate will go mushy, so that will be your cue if you’ve gone too far and don’t have enough exposure time.  Varying even 5 seconds of washout will also make a difference from my experience, so if you’re getting too mushy, you might back off washout time as it is the third physical variable you want to get a grip on (in addition to your two exposure times) before tweaking curves.  If the plate gets too sticky and sticks to the newsprint when blotting, you may need to increase washout time (or exposures).  How the plate feels is the first step to getting this first part right.

You really want to get as close as you can to even distribution of tones using exposure and washout times before fine tuning with the process compensation curve.  It’s a dance between increasing and decreasing these three times until you’re safe to mess with the curve.  Changing too much at once out of frustration is tempting, but don’t do it.  That way lies madness.  😉

You may also find once you start tweaking the curve, you have to tweak exposure and washout times yet again.  Don’t be discouraged, as this is the way you need to juggle the variables until things start coming together.  It’s time consuming, but the only way I know how to go about it with any accuracy given the multitude of variables.

For my current workflow using my custom screen I use the following exposure times:

Screen Exposure Time:  10.5 units
Image Exposure Time:  14.5 units

I’m giving this as an example: This ratio of screen to image time is not critical as there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme nor reason to it with any printmakers I’ve spoken with to date.  It just depends on your other variables (film density, exposure unit, screen quality).  I’ve seen people have screen and image times equal or vary as much as 100%.

Another tip:  Make sure you always warm up your exposure unit by blasting it for 60 seconds before exposing plates for the day.  It will normalize the exposure to some degree I’ve been told.

Best of luck.  Send me a scan of your printed exposure test if you’re able.


Deriving Curve and Exposure Times from Scratch

Met with seasoned copper gravure printmaker Barbara Sanders this week and had a lively exchange of information with her and her ceramicist husband Bill regarding the craft and business side of art.  Barbara is migrating from copper to polymer with great success as she works toward “close enough to perfect” to feel good about the process.  This is the quandary with most printmakers as our thirst for perfection is hard to quench.

The main geek topic of our conversation was how to best start to derive a compensation curve and exposure times.  Barbara had taken a sample of my company’s custom aquatint screen back home with her after our meeting and came back with some absolute numbers.  Here is the email exchange and some of my thoughts about starting to derive a curve, screen exposure time and image exposure time:

—–Original Message—–
From: Bill and Barbara Sanders
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 9:48 AM
To: Jon Lybrook
Subject: thanks

Such a fun afternoon!
Thank you for taking the time to see me and my work. I sure love your prints!
I measured the density of your screen  :  about 53/54 whatever units the densitometer is in
my new screen   : about 168/170
my old screen     : about 80/83
hence the different exposure times aside from our different exposure units wattage. Complicated but still fun!
Off to Mac class!
Many thanks again.


Thanks Barbara,

Thanks for the screen measurement.  Like I said I don’t know a lot about measuring density. I guess because I pretty much worked out my process backwards from the resulting print back to the curve and exposure times.  The absolute density of a screen and film positive meant nothing to me in the beginning since I had no point of reference, unlike photogravurist John Goodman and those who have had a historical knowledge of their materials and the process.  I could only hope my screens were consistent, and so far they have seemed to be.  But I am curious about it and appreciate your encouragement in that direction.  It would help to verify consistency among my limited stock of custom screens.

Since these screens are made up of dots, as black as we can get the imagesetter to produce them, I’m assuming it’s taking an average of the dots-to-clear-film ratio and coming up with a number.  In other words, it’s not measuring a continuous-tone density as traditional film provides, but rather a combination of these factors.

I’m presuming your screens read darker because the dots are bigger, allowing less light to come through.  Not because the dots on your screens are more opaque than mine, though if your exposure time of the screen/image is too high, the density of the dots on the screen would certainly be a factor as well.

To get a good curve and exposure time relationship, I test first by getting the screen to produce the richest black in my exposure and still provide tone up the scale.  This is where

Gradient circle test Grid by Jon Lybrook

Gradient circle test Grid by Intaglio Editions

those gradient circle tests in my procedure occurred – to get a ball-park sense of where I am.  I would then tweak the curve in conjunction with exposure times until I was able to maintain a rich black and get some added continuous tone in the highlights.  Trying to keep the black where it was, I’d tweak the process compensation curve and exposure times as needed to bring out more and more of the greys in both shadows and highlights.  Kind of like chasing your own tail in a way at first, but these factors start to even out if the testing is paced and consistent.

Subtle, but possibly relevant point pertaining to the quality of the outcome and the reason why I went with an extremely fine screen:  Bigger the dots, the more contrast, the more contrast, the less possible grey tones.  I like lots of grey-tone potential because you can always add contrast in the film transparency and make it more graphic if you want to, but you can’t add broad continuous tone until you’ve been able to achieve it already through a balanced combination of the process compensation curve along with proper exposure times of the screen and film positive.

Best of luck with your curve training.  Let me know if  there are any questions I can answer in your journey!

Best regards,



Monoprints vs Monotypes

Monoprints are prints made using an etched plate, but inked in different ways.  Not to be confused with monotypes, which do not generally use a plate or matrix, monoprints can be made in variable editions – meaning made the same but with some differences among each print in the edition – or one-of-a-kind, like monotypes.  Monotypes differ from Monoprints in that there is no matrix, and is more freeform where ink is applied directly to a piece of unetched plexiglass or other material and printed.  Some monotype techniques include using mylar or other material to mask off and even pick up ink from certain areas of the plate for subsequent monotype printings.  Monotypes are truly one-of-a-kind pieces since there is no “permanent” plate matrix, and none of the forms and color blending can really be repeated the same way again.  They are, in effect, paintings done on a press.

Snapdragon 2 - monotype by Jon Lybrook

Snapdragon II – monotype by Jon Lybrook courtesy of the Will Witman collection.

Recently I met printmaker Julia Lucey from California who works exclusively with monoprints using traditionally etched copper plates.  Her etchings alone are wonderfully rich and detailed, but she doesn’t stop there.  She layers her prints with multiple plate impressions creating a cubist-like ensemble of pieces that make up the whole.

Julia Lucey Monoprint

Julia Lucey Monoprint

Julia gives a succinct explanation of traditional copperplate etching on her website.


Anti-Devil Monoprint by Jon Lybrook

Photogravure Polymer plates can likewise be used for monoprints in this same manner.  This piece was done all on one plate, which I first wiped clean with blank ink, then effectively painted over using colored inks.  Unlike traditional etching, photoshop can be used to superimpose or manipulate the artwork before the plate is made. This is also considered one of the disadvantages of polymer in that it is difficult to do much to rework the plate with much precision once it has been created because it is made of plastic. Still, there are things one can do with polymer for creative effects, such as scratching it with sandpaper, mottling it with water, or “drawing” into it with a soldering iron.

When it comes to monoprints vs monotypes, the bottom line is they are both beautiful printmaking techniques.  It’s just a matter of whether or not the printmaker wishes to use or reuse an etched, drypoint, or polymer photogravure plate.