Laser Engraved Photopolymer Plate

Has anyone tried using a laser engraved/etched photopolymer plate? I was wondering if this is possible and if it is, is the output comparable to traditionally exposed plates?

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hpverve, ever heard of a double negative? A photopolymer plate is one thing and a laser engraving is another
thing.To laser engrave the photopolymer would negate the light
sensitive portion of that said plate,and
for the life of me I can’t figure out where you would get such a wally of an idea. Apples are apples and oranges are oranges why would I use a laser engraver to make one the other? Best James

I come across something that images to a photopolymer plate, some sort of image setter that images the surface of the plate. Some violet plates that are developed in water wash. I just found it and don’t even remember when, so if you look (search) you may find.
And by the way, if are there anyone who could make a image setter and get rid of film that would burst the industry.


The newer direct-to-plate photopolymer plates are laser etched. This eliminates the need for a film negative. The plates are processed similarly with the slight exception of a quick surface burn off.

If you are thinking of engraving with a laser cutter as James surmised, I would agree with him, quite pointless.


Gerald, The direct to plate just exposes the plate via laser, not technically engraving it? James

well, it doesn’t expose the photo polymer plate. It ablates a photomask. After an ablative laser imagesetter images the material it then needs to be exposed to a UV light and processed the same as a plate made from a negative.

I heard a while ago a Swiss company was working on a UV platesetter. This would allow smaller printing companies that are still using convention, UV exposed printing plates to be made either from a negative or digitally. I’d love to see that technology ported to direct exposure of photopolymer plates. The first problem I can think of however is how to expose the shoulders needed.

There are machines that will make a raised plate directly from a digital file. They’re used in hi volume flexography iirc. I believe they were metal plates however, not a polymer and it was more of a very precise milling machine than any sort of laser imaging device. The cost also was upwards of $100,000

Lammy is right. In flexo, we use soft photopolymer plates, and we refer to them as either analog or digital. Analog plates are exposed in the conventional way with a negative, and most digital plates are of the LAMS type (laser ablative mask surface). These plates come with a black surface on the top. A laser exposure unit ablates (removes) the black where the image area is to be. Essentially the laser creates a “negative” which is an integral part of the plate at that point. After the plate is exposed, the “negative” is removed during processing.

On the subject of laser engraved plates, this sounds like an idea which should be looked into further. Not laser engraved photopolymer, but laser engraved non photo-sensitive materials like wood, linoleum, sheet plastic, etc. I think many trophy stores and maybe other places have laser engravers, and maybe they would be able to achieve enough relief to make a letterpress plate. They may even be able to create an angled shoulder. On the subject of shoulders, for shallow impression I don’t think the lack of an angled shoulder would be that much of a drawback. Wood type has reasonably straight shoulders, and it prints just fine. If you need angled shoulders for deep impression, as I said, that would have to be taken up with the laser engraving people. I am an old guy who tries to minimize impression, but I take my hat off to the deep impression people who have found a market and do some beautiful work.

Any platemaking entrepreneurs out there? Look into starting a laser engraved plate business.

we recently looked into a direct to plate system with the laser ablation system. It was pretty cost prohibitive ($80,000 on the low end), and the cost of the specific polymer plate material with the LAMS, was about what we pay for both film and plates now, so really not a big cost saver at this point in time.
I did not have a chance to print a sample plate, but the reveiws i heard were that it did not quite meet the standard we get with film, but pretty close.
maybe someday this will be the way to go,but untill it is better and cheaper than the current process, i would not bother with it, as i can see no advantage.

Don’t forget, you read all this here on the Briar Press site…the LETTERPRESS community!

actually, i have had recent experience with doing just this!
As220, which houses the community letterpress shop i work at, has recently purchased and started using a lasercutter in it’s new fablab, and we started by experimenting with making our own ‘polymer plates’
we used straight up plexiglass and experimented with slowing down the laser for a deeper cut, and different kinds of plexi held up better.
printed the plates, and we got great results. it elimates the need for the film, and the process of platemaking/buying photopolymer plates.
but….you need a laser cutter. not a cheap investment.

I looked into the laser engraves. At the time I couldn’t find anyone who could give an an answer if they could cut a hard enough material deep enough to make something I could use for printing. Most that buy the smaller “hobby” engravers are only taught how to make surface etchings for things like trophys and plaques. I figured it could be done as many manufactures listed specs that seemed to be deep enough to work. The cost of even the smallest simplest hobby engraver though was in the thousands though, add to that it could take hours to cut out a plate with a lot of free space and the possible hazard of the vaporized material and it seemed unlikely for someone just doing this for fun. A commercial shop that would use the plates themselves as well as sell them to others however could probably manage is as a fairly profitable investment.


Would you be willing to share your discoveries with printing using plexiglass? I tried it once, and never got the quality I wanted. We do have a laser engraver.

Plexiglass will print but not as well as photopolymer. We printed a 5-color engraving of Gaylord Schanilec’s that he cut in Plexiglass.

Difference is that a freshly processed photopolymer plate has resilience and tack. As the plate ages it quickly loses these print qualities. Basically ending up like Plexiglass.


Dang it Gerald! You, MegMessmate and Lammy are upstaging a big announcement I was about to make on direct Lazer to Block….. GGGrrrrrr….. (it’s a friendly Grrrr though. I’m glad to see this being discussed!)

look for my new posting later today.

I’m pretty sure the fumes from laser etching plexiglass are carcinogenic. Is the unit sealed and vented? And if so, does it vent near any windows or air intakes?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

most have a vent system, bit alas it has to vent somewhere right?

Sorry Winking, at least your doing it and not just reading about it like me :D

Daniel- we did install a blower / vent system on our lazer…. venting the fumes outside. If you don’t, it smokes up your shop pretty quickly.

Hi all, Morgan here, AS220 Community Printshop manager. I am writing to add some more details to Meg Messmate’s post, she is one of the Keymembers in our Providence based Printshop…

We are part of a larger non-profit called AS220 . AS220 Labs is one of our fellow “cottage industries” and we’ve been working together on laser cutting for the letterpress. So far we have been cutting plexi and special plastics made for cutting with a laser. We have a special vent system in place and are very careful both about the health effects and enviromental effects of the processes we choose to employ. This equipment is part of an endeavor with MIT to bring a FAB LAB to Providence.

Below is an image of one of our test prints. We attached it to our Boxcar base and it works very well. We will be offering laser cutting classes in April as part of International Laser Month. Stay tuned to learn more about workshops we offer both for laser cutting and letterpressing!

image: laserletterpess.jpg


Morgan…. great work! I’m glad to see others working on the same problem. You mention special plastics designed for laser-cutting. Who makes them?

Lammy- reading your posts, and seeing your enthusiasm, you should not apologise for “just reading about it”. We share the same goal: to see Letterpress advance and grow as a media….. keep up the good work.

why not just use laserable delrin that’s manufactured for exactly this purpose and not reinvent the wheel?

Delrin, interesting. Here’s what I found with a quick search…

There are direct laser engraving systems for polymer, rubber, and elastomer plates for flexographic and dry offset printing. They have been around for about 30 years.

Stork Prints is probably the world leader, and then there is Applied Laser Engineering or ALE.

These systems take a current cured photopolymer, elastomer, or rubber plate and actually engrave the image into the plate. It’s a positive process, not a negative one meaning it cuts away the non-image area and leaves the image area on the plate. When you’re done, there is a short cleaning process to clean away all the residue. You are able to control the depth of the engraving and also the angle of the shoulder on the dot/image.

It is a slower process than conventional or LAMS systems, about one square meter an hour, but the quality is just as good or better. It is most commonly used with letterpress plates for the metal decorating industry that uses thinner water wash photopolymer material like 83mm thickness. However, there are some package printers that use it for .067 gauge plates or elastomers from companies like FulFlex. It’s also advantages when using sleeves or need a continuous image like wallpaper or wrapping paper.

For All

You can engreve plates from Basf and Torelief for Dryoffset
and letterpress.

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