Photo-polymer Magic

(Photo-polymer printmaking is also sometimes called ‘Photo-Gravure’ or ‘Solar Plate’)

Course Structure

IMAGES FROM PREVIOUS PHOTO-POLYMER WORKSHOPS

This course generally takes place over two consecutive days

Outline of programme

  • Welcome, teas/coffees and introductions
  • Examples of photopolymer artwork, plates and prints
  • Mini-darkroom equipment and process:
        safety, lights, printing frames, plates and use of tone-screen
  • Quick demo of the photopolymer process
  • Making test strips to find ideal exposure times
  • Developing artwork alternatives for your main print:
         using copier/printer to resize and print photographs onto acetate
         use ‘Tru-Grain’ textured drawing film for direct drawing of line and tone
         use collage materials (plant forms, fabrics etc) or pre-made acetates
  • Tonal screen and artwork exposure
  • Hardening your plates
  • Inking and printing
  • Review of results
  • Finish

Photopolymer process step by step…

1 Plan and prepare photo, design or drawing
choose a photograph, collage or drawing as the basis for your print
if necessary use a photocopier/printer to resize image
laser-print/copy onto clear acetate
this will be your ‘artwork’ when exposing image onto printing plate

2 Preparation of plates
take prepared artwork and tools into mini-darkroom
you will find printing plates all ready to use
turn on red safe-light and make sure darkroom is light-free
unwrap plate and peel off protective covering
lay plate on contact printing frame facing upwards
 
3 Expose the tonal screen
lay tonal screen sheet onto surface of plate
close glass of the contact frame and clip down tight onto the film
place frame in middle of the UV light area
start timer and switch on three UV lights
expose tonal plate for 3.5 -4.5 minutes (depending on test plates)
switch off UV lights
take out tonal screen and put it away safe from scratches
stop timer and reset to zero
 
4 Expose your artwork
lay artwork FACE DOWN on the plate
close glass of the contact frame and clip it tight
start timer and switch on three UV lights…
expose artwork for 35-45 seconds (depending on test plates)
switch off the UV lights
take out artwork and put somewhere it will not get lost or splashed
stop timer and reset to zero
 
5 Rinse your plate
put the safelight down to the lower shelf near water tray
put your timer somewhere visible
submerge plate FACE UPWARDS in water
start  timer and gently rock the tray to soak plate for ONE MINUTE
GENTLY wipe plate with brush/sponge for ONE AND A HALF MINUTES
carry the tray and plate out to spray booth or sink
RINSE GENTLY FOR ONE MINUTE with a fine spray hose
 
6 Dry your plate
plate should now be well washed and surface of plate may  show faint image
plate will be soft so handle by edges only
lift plate from rinse and stand upright on blotter to remove excess water
lay plate flat face upwards on a clean dry cloth, towel or blotter
lay dry newsprint flat across plate to take off surface water (gently but quickly)
lean plate against wall, emulsion face forward
reset timer to zero and time
dry plate with hairdryer (cool) for FIVE MINUTES
make sure plate is dry on both sides and along all edges
leave plate to cool down for FIVE MINUTES
zero and reset your timer
 
7 Harden your plate
take dried plate back in darkroom and lay flat under the UV light face up
check image colour (which should be a kind of honey yellow colour)
start timer and turn on all UV lights
leave plate under UV for 15 – 30 MINUTES
as plate hardens under  UV colour will change to GREEN/BLUE GREY
after 15-20 minutes gently feel plate edge and press with thumbnail
plate should feel smooth and glassy, and will resist nail pressure
you can leave the plate under the UV (or bright sunlight) for up to 35 minutes
(this hardens the surface and make non-etched areas easier to wipe clean)
 
8 Ready to ink and print!
when plate is hard and dry you can ink and make a test print
or put it away wrapped in clean dry tissue

FAQ’s

What is Photopolymer/Solar Plate and how does it work?

Photopolymer is a simple and versatile process to create either relief or ‘intaglio’ (tonal etched) printing plates using UV light and a variety of natural, photographic or found/collage materials. In these sessions we will be showing you how to make a tonal intaglio plate that displays a wide range of line, tones and textures. You can also do a more simple black and white photopolymer plate to achieve an effect like a relief woodcut. We will demonstrate both processes.

How do I make a printing plate that displays tones and textures?
How big should my drawing or design be?

You may need to create your artwork (photo, collage or drawing) and then copy or laser-print it here onto transparent acetate film that will be contact-printed onto your plate. Your final artwork will be a ‘positive’ the same size as the finished print.

Can I make a plate from a photograph?

Yes! Photopolymer is excellent for making a print from a black and white photo image as long as it has a good range of line, tone and reasonable contrast. If you plan to use a photograph we suggest you just bring it on a memory stick or your phone so we can help you print it out on your acetate at the right size and resolution. If you have already chosen your image you can also email it to us beforehand so we can check how it will print. Alternatively if it is an old traditional (pre-digital) photo you can bring the print in and we will show you how to scan it to get good results.

What about a drawing?

If you prefer to make a drawing then you may want to use the wide range of art materials we have here and draw straight onto a smooth or textured piece of film so you get the best possible image quality to reproduce. You can resize any pre-made drawing in the session using our scanner/copier, or you can make your design here in the session using the art and collage materials which we will provide. If you are not sure how much to prepare before the session then please just call or email us and we will help you decide.

It may be best just to bring some sketches and work on a final image once you have seen a quick demo of the process!

What creates the different tones on my print?
Is it like making an etching?

Tonal photopolymer is similar to applying an ‘aquatint’ to a metal plate in traditional etching. You will first of all put a tone onto your plate before applying your drawing or design. With photopolymer plates this is done using a sheet of film covered in tiny random dots. (We call this a ‘tonal screen’.) Once you have exposed the plate with the tonal screen you will then expose it again using your artwork. This will combine your drawn or photographed image with the pre-exposed tones to create a very sensitive plate suitable for inking and printing on a traditional etching press.

What should I bring with me?

Artwork and art materials
If you want to use a photo please bring either a good print or better still the digital image on memory stick or phone. If you want to use found natural materials (plant forms, scraps of lace or other fabrics etc) to make collages or shadowgrams please bring a selection with you. We will also have some collage materials you can experiment with. If you want to develop a tonal drawing we suggest you bring some preliminary studies plus any drawing media you like working with. We can then help you scan or copy the finished drawing onto laser acetate at the right size. If you are happy to experiment we will have a range of inks, pens, crayons and papers you can use.

Protective clothing
Photopolymer is a very simple process involving only UV light and water. There are no toxic chemicals or sticky resists involved in making your plates. It is one of the safest and cleanest processes of platemaking known. However the plates made are usually used to print intaglio as with traditional metal plate etching and this of course involves very sticky pigmented inks which can spoil clothing and may require detergent or oil-based thinners and cleaning agents. It is advisable to come wearing clothing that can cope with a few stains and smears, or to have a protective overall or apron for the printing part of the day! Also the Printworks workshop is a working environment with a certain level of dust and rough working surfaces so please don’t wear Sunday Best!. We do have a small selection of characterful (if sometimes grubby) aprons that you can borrow but it’s best if you bring your own.

 

 

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