Jon Lybrook is owner of Intaglio Editions just outside Boulder Colorado. Intaglio Editions makes polymer photogravure plates and prints from photos, drawings, and other fine art. Jon has devised a method of creating prints that provide superior tonality, richness and depth, much like copper photogravure, but at a fraction of the cost.
In addition to his work as a professional printmaker and computer programmer, Jon Lybrook is also a photo-based artist who paints on film with photochemistry to create abstractions. More at http://jonlybrook.com
Colored ink renders a photographic image much differently than black ink-only, as any printmaker knows. At Intaglio Editions we offer two generic ink profiles for our plate customers: Graphical and Continuous Tone. Continuous Tone plates are designed to work best with the blackest inks to create richness and tones similar to platinium/plalladium prints, but with greater relief details in the shadows, not found with other approaches.
When colored inks are desired, the process is to measure and mix the ink to get to an initial color or set of colors. The ink combination is then wiped into a baseline step test plate which is then printed, dried for a week or so, and scanned. The data is then measured and transferred into a spreadsheet or computer program.
Areas of the step test that appear blocked up together, or too light or too dark can then be manipulated in a process compensation curve or using 3rd-party RIP software like Quad Tone RIP. This data is then used to craft a customized plate of the artwork in the desired ink color.
Because ink color is hard to reproduce from batch to batch, traditional printmakers will keep careful track of their formulae as well as the B.A.T., or master print, in order to match the color again, should it be necessary to replace a print or if the artist has another image they want to edition and have it match. Every color ink may have its own unique physical properties which must be taken into account when formulating the proper consistency.
Body, Length and Tack are a few of the main qualities that affect the ink and how it is received by the plate’s matrix. In some cases, the amount of plate tone and contrast can vary a bit, until the plate has been properly seasoned and the ink’s step test is properly dried and analyzed. The ink is then modified to suit the needs of the piece.
The video below demonstrates a step test ink comparison we did while providing photogravure consulting for the great-grandson of the legendary American photographer Edward Curtis. The image we made the plate from in this video was taken from a scan of a vintage, glass plate copy negative. Alas, most of the original films that remained in tact were donated to The Smithsonian and unavailable for their project at the time.
From this video you can see how even relatively graphical images contain nuances of continuous tone and relief in the shadow details that make the difference between a more traditional-quality photogravure print, and one that looks like a flat, slightly depressed and grainy inkjet print. We of course aim to produce the former using traditional approaches and 15 years of experience exclusively specializing in polymer photogravure.
For more information about Intaglio Editions projects, and contracting with us on your own printmaking project, please visit our website at https://shop.intaglioeditions.com.
When I first put my procedure for making and printing polymer photogravure plates online in 2006, it was after a few years of my own frustrations in the process. I posted it in response to a lack of comprehensive information about the subject as it pertained to creating continuous tone images for photography. The traditional printmakers weren’t concerned with it, and the computer nerds (of which I am one) didn’t have any meaningful elbow grease or track record when it came to making traditional intaglio prints.
Picking up where others’ work had left off, I created a custom workflow and process compensation curve to accommodate a finer, higher-resolution aquatint screen than anyone else was using at the time. Our screen is 2-3 times as fine as traditional rosin dust used for aquatinting copper photogravure plates. At 1200 dpi, our fine, third-generation, heavy-duty aquatint screens with custom stochastic pattern are a double-edged sword. We don’t sell them to the public because they are less forgiving than coarser screening processes, but yield superior, fine continuous tones for photogravure when handled and used under a controlled environment using the tried-and-true KM73/83 plates by Toyobo, for which our screens and system for making continuous tone plates was designed.
While direct-to-plate (DTP) is easier and faster to teach polymer plate making certainly, it does not employ a critical, secondary aquatint layer to create the proper plate texture and variable depths. This is what gives photogravure its unique 3D qualities, otherwise you’re just printing a flat inkjet print that’s been transferred flatly to a plate. This critical aspect of plate depth and ink relief is among the most apparent qualities in traditional photogravure prints – when made on on finer, Asian, gampi papers, in particular. While hard to demonstrate in a digital image, the look of a traditional copper plate photogravure, when executed properly, is unmistakable.
While DYI is all the rage, some artists need an experienced, dedicated technical collaborator who understands their goals. Finding someone who has an intimate knowledge of the photo mechanical process as well as intaglio printing itself, is still the same today as it was 150 years ago. Finding such an experienced artisan is certainly harder than it was way back then.
As far as process and workflow, not much has changed at Intaglio Editions in our 15 years working with artists, clients, and their collaborators. We still create custom plates to meet client specifications including plates crafted for a specific ink color. In proofing the work with the client to refine the nuances and going back to the digital file and reshooting plates as needed, we have been able to provide the optimal prints our clients demand for their fine art projects. What has changed since the early 2000s is our ability to branch out into new territory, following the traditional processes, bringing the use of polymer even closer to the look (and literal feel) of traditional copper photogravure, without the added toxicity and expense.
What makes Intaglio Editions Premium Photogravure Plates different is our custom, high-resolution aquatinting process, and our ability to offer extra large pre-made plates up to 23″ × 39″ (among the largest commercially available). While other methods are limited in size and often leave tell-tale “salt-and-pepper” grain in their photogravures, our traditional double-exposure method creates a more authentically etched plate and print, but at a price. It is more time-consuming and requires more steps and attention to detail than other methods.
So why do we do it? This extra work our process requires follows closer to traditional platemaking methods and gives our custom plates the edge, literally. Unlike newer plate processes, the surface of our plates have detail and textures can be felt by the fingertips. This demonstrates how we provide the smoothest continuous tones possible with this process more in keeping with traditional photogravure plates. Our plates and prints have been praised by artists, photographers and printmaking experts worldwide for their fine nuances, smooth tones, and shadow detail.
Intaglio Editions continues to offer the photogravure-quality plates we use in our printmaking to professional artists and printmakers who love making rich, photographic prints, but who may not be interested in becoming expert platemakers as well. This helps our friends and customers get faster results, and helps them achieve that last stride of excellence that so often eludes newer plate makers, or those new to photogravure printmaking.
New and experienced printmakers alike may want to take advantage of our long-standing $99 Trial Plate offer. We’ll create an 8″ × 11″ plate of your custom image using our custom, double-screened, high-rez platemaking method for just $99, to see if our plates don’t provide the smoothest, richest continuous tones you’ve ever seen from this process. Shipping, handling and customs, duties, or other fees will apply. Our Premium Photogravure Plates and other customer services are available at the Intaglio Editions Shop.
I am an artist in Edinburgh, UK and a member of Edinburgh Printmakers. My practice includes filmmaking, photography and printmaking.
For the past 18 months I have been exploring the potential of photopolymer in relation to my film work and photography. I have followed your videos and blogs assiduously and found them very helpful. Generally I have been reasonably successful in producing a series of A3 photopolymer prints but just lately I have been plagued by scratches which as you might expect are often in critical areas and are very dispiriting.
These are dark scratches in the prints but correspond to visible scratches on the plate when examined carefully. I have gone carefully through all the stages in making the plate to try and eliminate the potential for scratches. I do use a communal workshop so it can be difficult to eliminate all variables or keep a dust free environment.
I use a Boxcar brush for washout which I have had for about 14 months and use for one plate making session weekly since I bought it. I also use an antistatic brush (Kinetronics StaticWisk hand held anti-static brushes are used for cleaning lenses, films, scanners, cameras, plastics, acrylics, jewellery, glass, monitors, instruments and technical equipment on the plate before exposure to the aquatint screen and again before exposure to the image acetate to ensure that the surface of the polymer does not have dust particles that might cause dust flares.
Checking the plate after each stage of the procedure, I have noticed scratches immediately after washout and drying. I use newsprint, paper towels and a hairdryer to dry the plate. I have thought that maybe I have been using too much pressure on the Boxcar brush and today I really tried to exert just the pressure of the weight of the brush with very little extra from my hand. I use elliptical movements across the long and short lengths of the plate and then if I have time diagonally as well. I soak the plate initially for 1 minute, washout with the brush for one and half minutes and then rinse for one minute. Even today being so careful with the brush, there were again scratches visible just after washout and drying. It’s getting to be a bit disheartening.
My photopolymer plates are Toyobo KM95GR which I get from Allflexo in the Netherlands.
Do you have any suggestions as to what I might be doing wrong?
All the best,
Thanks for your email. Scratches should not be too difficult to track down. Not exerting any pressure on the brush is the way to go. I also use gentle, small, circular strokes when washing out the plate.
The plates are most susceptible to scratching during washout, of course. Unlike your approach, I do the washout for two minutes and do not soak the plate in a tray, rather I keep it on an angle, pour water over the plate a little at a time as I ‘scrub’ the plate lightly and methodically. I then give it a final rinse, blot with newsprint, then dry for 5 minutes with a hairdryer, put in my plate drier for 10 minutes, post expose for 5 minutes, then do a final round of hardening in the plate drier for 25 minutes. I’d suggest not soaking the plate and increase the washout time. Bear in mind, this may change how much exposure you need to give the plates and may cause you to have to recalibrate the times.
Feel free to send images demonstrating the scratches. The pattern in the scratches should give you an indication of when they are happening. Good luck tracking down the cause and finding a solution. Also, is it okay with you if I post your question and response on my blog? It may help another person with a similar problem one day.
There is nothing like a vacation abroad to open your eyes. Our trip to Copenhagen was no exception. The number of fine printmakers within that city rivals any other city in the world. Henrik Boergh recommended we visit here after giving us a grand tour of his studio a few miles away. Our conversation had not prepared me for the magnitude of this operation or the friendliness of the artisans running the place. It was all at once educational, joyful, and a great connection to the tradition we follow in fine, archival printmaking.
Here are some of the highlights.
We had the pleasure of visiting the Niels Borch Jensen studios in Copenhagen over Thanksgiving (2017)
Having to find the studio by bus in Copenhagen was a grand adventure that required some planning and assistance from the many kind people there.
One of the most jaw-dropping photogravure from polymer plate was just tacked to their entryway bulletin board at Niels Borch Jensen’s studio. Alas, the photogravure master had left for the day. Next time I will plan my visit better. I would love to learn from him directly more about how he did this!
Mitte gave me a fabulous tour and was most generous with her time and experience. She has been working at the studio as a professional fine printmaker since 1989!
We looked over a cross section of about 50 years of fine printmaking in the hour plus I visited the studio.
In Master Printer Niels Borch Jensen’s office! This Keith Haring piece was printed at the Copenhagen studio where I was visiting in the 1990s.
Mr. Jensen regularly sends his printmakers to art openings in America, Berlin, and all over the world. Mitte had just returned from an art opening in Atlanta. Thanks for a grand tour!
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.
Wavy prints can be avoided by doing some simple preparations.
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
Newton Rings and Contact problems between the film positive and plate cause these white patches in the print.
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?
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!
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.
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