Photopolymer Printing / by greg brophy

There are three processes for photography that are considered the most sought after for longevity, tonal range and beauty. They are called the Big Three: Platinum, Carbon and Photogravure.

For the last few months I have been working with a new process that is similar to Photogravure. It is a photopolymer based approach. Photopolymers are a thin film that is applied to a sheet of 0.5mm PETG plastic, exposed and etched with Sodium Carbonate. This leaves a slight photo resist in the film that is then inked and run through a press. The results can be wonderful and very different from other photographic processes. The ink used is an etching ink that is the most permanent form of photographic printing because it is pure pigment and paper.

I started to learn this process because: I am trying to reduce the amount of caustic chemicals I use. I wanted to learn the three main traditional processes. I love working with my hands producing physical prints, not just inkjet prints (not that I have anything against inkjet prints done well). I needed a process I could do regardless of the temperature of humidity (Platinum and Carbon are very sensitive to heat and humidity)


I learned about the process from David Kachel who has done the most to advance the process for free. While learning the process, a few unforeseen problems came up. The main problem being that the person who sourced the film, ImagOn had passed away taking the secret of what the film was with him to the grave. Some of you know that I work for B&H and from conversations with David, I learned that the film was made by Dupont and was traditionally made for making circuit boards. I was able to call a distributer of the film and get them to send us sample so that David could test it. We narrowed it down to a few that may work and we are still seeking more options. In a future date, I will most likely be selling the film myself or if you want to place a wholesale order of $500 you can buy it as well.

You can also watch tutorials from David on Youtube at:

And you can also find instructions at the Photogravure groups on Yahoo and Facebook. I would link to the pdfs directly, but this process is constantly evolving and things change so it’s better to just follow the groups for the most up to date instructions.

Below is just a few of the steps of printing a plate:

 This is the plate after it has been exposed and processed. It is waiting to be inked on a lightbox with a sheet of newsprint in between. The marks and scuffs you see are from the lightbox itself. 

This is the plate after it has been exposed and processed. It is waiting to be inked on a lightbox with a sheet of newsprint in between. The marks and scuffs you see are from the lightbox itself. 

 This is the plate covered in ink. The next step is to scrap the excess ink off. 

This is the plate covered in ink. The next step is to scrap the excess ink off. 

 The plate with the excess ink scraped off. Next step is to wipe with stiff tarlatan. 

The plate with the excess ink scraped off. Next step is to wipe with stiff tarlatan. 

 This is after I have wiped the excess ink off with tarlatan, newsprint and tracing paper. I wipe until I get very little ink left coming off the surface. Next I remove the excess ink on the sides and where the photopolymer ends. 

This is after I have wiped the excess ink off with tarlatan, newsprint and tracing paper. I wipe until I get very little ink left coming off the surface. Next I remove the excess ink on the sides and where the photopolymer ends. 

 The plate is now cleaned and ready for printing.

The plate is now cleaned and ready for printing.

 The plate and paper on the press ready for printing. First I have to flip it over before running it through the press. 

The plate and paper on the press ready for printing. First I have to flip it over before running it through the press. 

 The final image. It is close to what I wanted, but I will go back and dodge and burn in a few areas and reprint it, but otherwise I am very pleased with the results. It's amazing how sharp the branches are.

The final image. It is close to what I wanted, but I will go back and dodge and burn in a few areas and reprint it, but otherwise I am very pleased with the results. It's amazing how sharp the branches are.