Film negatives for photopolymer

Firstly I would like to apologize if this is a previously discussed topic, but the search tool yielded me many links that were unrelated.
I am trying to create my own photopolymer plates and was wondering what others have used to create the film negatives, or if you purchase them, where do you purchase them. I initially tried to print out a transparency with a laser printer, which did not provide enough contrast to create a clean plate. So I proceeded to stack several prints on top of one another to create more contrast. This strategy makes me feel like a caveman though. I was wondering if anyone has had more success with an inkjet printer. Or perhaps everyone orders film negatives. Please educate me.

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Travis Ray

Using toner-based negatives for making photopolymer plaqtes is like looking at a beautiful mountain vista through a dirty window.

Given all the material costs involved, toner, etc, including loss through poorly rendered plates, it is likely far more economical just to buy silver-based film negatives.

It is very difficult to achieve the specifications required for transparency and opaque with toner based film. There is also resolution to consider, silver-based film negatives are generated at either 2400 or 3600 dpi which render thick and thins with extreme clarity. Even with laser printers that can generate at 2400 dpi (such as the Xante) it is an expensive undertaking, clarity of imaging is not as precise, and the film making component for this machine is quite inadequate, just barely meeting spec.

Printing with photopolymer plates has been going on since the early 1960s but the primary reason it caught on like it did, in conjunction with digital type and imaging, was because of the parallel development of the imagesetter.

There are still plenty of service suppliers for imagesetter generated film though that might depend upon where you live. Often overlooked are photoengravers. Those that accept electronic files, can supply film.


Thank you for the swift reply. I will now explore the film possibilities.

There is some information on how to get rich black when using laser and inkjet when printing on transparencies, for a more “do-it-yourself” method.

I’ve been using a laser printer to make negatives for years with excellent results. Here are a few of my observations:

1. I mostly make my own negatives and plates for printing images not type. There are a variety of reasons I prefer to print from metal type, but as far as making my own negatives goes, I’ve found it difficult to hold the nuances of type at sizes smaller than about 18 point.

2. For most of my illustrations this not a problem. It is possible to hold very fine lines with the DIY method, but some things do always drop out. I find my results more than acceptable, it’s just that I’m very fussy about type. Look at the attached illustration and detail which was scanned from a book of advertising images, modified in photoshop, printed to laser film, exposed in a homemade UV box, and washed out by hand. There are more examples on my web site. Anywhere it says printed from polymer the plates were made using this process.

3. Not all laser printers are equal. I use a 1200 dpi Lexmark printer with the toner setting at “darkest”. I also experimented with the paper type settings and found that contrary to what one might think the “transparency” setting did not yield the darkest black. The “construction paper” setting works best for me, perhaps because that type of paper is very absorbent so the printer lays down more toner to compensate. I’ve used 600dpi printers that work fine as well.

4. I’ve experimented with several brands of laser film. My favorite is called “Kimodesk”, available from Valley Litho (

5. “Casey’s Black” is magic. It’s a spray on toner enhancer that causes the tiny dots the laser image is composed of to fuse together making the image more opaque. Also available at Valley Litho.

6. This winter I worked at Penland School of Crafts where I tried to use my own negatives in their professional plate maker. After many wasted plates I realized that their unit put out so much stronger a light than my homemade one that I had to cut the exposure time down to about 30 to 45 seconds. I typically expose for 3 to 4 minutes. Laser printed negatives are not nearly as opaque as film negatives, but they can work. On my website “Dusk at St. Mark’s” is a book I printed at Penland with the plates I finally made successfully.

At Penland they have been using an ink jet printer with transparencies made specially for ink jets. They need to layer two negatives together but they achieve excellent results with that method.

The real advantage to making your own plates is not as much in the small cost savings as in the immediacy of the process. You can be much more experimental because you don’t have to wait two days for a new plate or negative if your first idea doesn’t work as planned. It took some time to experiment with photoshop, the film and printer, and to make a lightbox but I learned to make consistently flawless plates and the freedom I enjoy to follow new inspirations as I’m working on a project made it well worth the effort.

image: peace2.jpg


image: peaceonearth.jpg


You may also consider an epson printer with “black max” style cartridges. They replace all 4 cartridges with black and make extremely opaque negitives. Otherwise, the only issue I ran into with the laser printer method was that the heat from the fusing process tended to shrink the film making multi-color cuts nearly impossible to register.

Also +1 on using the poly cuts for graphics and metal type for text.


The Kimodesk laser film I mentioned is formulated not to change dimensions at high temperatures. I believe it works as I’ve been able to achieve very close registration with it.

Bob Walp

Thank you for all of the responses this has been very helpful

I want to add to the thread that I have had excellent results making negatives from and Epson 1280, using the glossy film setting, printing in black only, and under the ‘advanced’ settings, selecting 2880 printer resolution, on Pictorico film. Other inkjet printers, notably the R1900, have proved useless for high-density negatives.