Film for Polymer Plates

Hello -

I think it’s time to move my plate production in house, but I am finding it difficult to figure out the film side of plate making. I have read all of the posts on film for the last 7-8 years. I am interested in producing plates with small type and fine lines.

And as far as I can tell an imagesetter is still the best in terms of resolution and capability. Although, the imagesetter is a bit of a mystery to me. What specific equipment is involved in using an imagesetter (other than RIP software, film and chemistry)? Is there solid documentation on how to set up and use?

I am wondering if there have been new technological developments in terms of using either high quality inkjet and laser printers for film output? Anyone use a Xante Impressia, Epson 1430 or 4900 with Blackmax, or ?

Then there is laser engraving on polymer and a variety of other substrates. Have you ditched polymer and use a laser engraver? If so, can you share your experiences?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Hey Maysorum!

Recently, I’ve been making use of an inkjet, RIP software, and a black that I get from a supplier of inkjet-mods.

Although a variety of RIP kits are out there, the simplest one I could find for the money was ACCURIP- It’s actually RIP software for screen-printers (we also do paper screenprinting), but has been working well for the purposes of negative style printing. I just invert my art before sending to print (because the negative function covers the whole film with ink, not just the rectangle I designate).

But then you need an ink, and a printer.

I have had some fantastic results with this stuff and an Epson 9900- but you could use a smaller epson with the same printhead, the 7900 if you wanted. The ink- It’s so good, and so opaque, if I run it on the normal mode, I get a film that is able to run for 7 minutes in my A&V unit, and not allow the plate to expose. It’s density is good, but the really fantastic property is that it appears to be a weak filter for UV light. I have not found a better ink, even Blackmax is not as opaque (I have tested ‘test films’ of it and it’s not as good as this ink).

I also run their clear ‘lubricating fluid’ through all the channels except black. This allows me to print with one channel without buying expensive ink sets or cartridges; I just use refillable carts and a funnel does the trick. The system makes for a very cheap bulk ink conversion.

The one minor thing is, you’ll need to do a lot of testing with the printer and this ink in order to use it with the RIP, but the accurip software has a built in droplet test and some other good setup features. It will print a density scale that you can expose through- you print this scale, expose it to a sheet of polymer for 7 minutes (the longest you’d ever leave a sheet of material under the lights), and then wash the sheet out. Whichever droplet weight resists the burn through, you pick the step above it and you set the RIP and printer to work with that droplet weight.
(droplet weight is the picoliter size of a droplet that is fired out of the inkjet head- basically, how big is the spray per ‘dot’, or how much physical ‘ink’ is shooting out. It determines density. By tuning the droplet weight, you can make it so you’re A. using less ink to make the black field, and B. controlling the ‘spread’ of the ink as related to how it affects small line weights and teeny text.)

Even with this testing, frankly in the tiniest lines and type- you’ll see a little detail loss as compared to an imagesetter.
But for keeping most production in house, i think it really does the trick and my film costs are really low.
A film that used to cost me 25.00 outsourced now costs me about 4.00 in house. Add that to the cost of the plate material and my raw material cost is at about 14.00 per 8.5x11 plate, down from 35.00.
I still send out for imagesetter film for some jobs- but this printer has replaced the bulk of what I sent out for and reduced my turnaround times by putting it in house, without needing any of the silver film, maintenance, or chemistry related to an imagesetter. It’s a lot less exposure and hazmat materials to deal with and this is stuff which is readily available and will be for the decades to come.

there are some companies that convert all the printer cartridges to print black, but I have “heard’ that 1 printing red adds to the opacity, sic. like red litho film……….try “digital transfer film” for photography to see how it compares with normal coated dry film?

a fontlab or fontographer software might be useful too—Gerald Bieler book, photoplymer printing much recommended, check his website.

Hi HavenPress.

This is great news! Thank you for taking the time to share this info. Very informative. What size type and line weight have you been able to hold using your Epson 9900?

I was comparing the the picoliter size of the printhead on the Epson Inkjet Printers and found the following:

Epson 9900/7900: 3.5 picoliters, minimum droplet size with Variable Droplet Technology

Epson 4900: 3.5 picoliters, minimum droplet size with Variable Droplet Technology

Epson R2000: 1.5 picoliters, minimum droplet size with Variable Droplet Technology

Epson 1430: 1.5 picoliters, minimum droplet size (no mention of Variable Droplet Technology)

Wouldn’t a smaller droplet size allow finer detail? I am assuming the film play a role in fidelity as well?

Here are the listed max resolutions for the same inkjet models:

Epson 9900/7900: 2880 x 1440 dpi

Epson 4900: 2880 x 1440 dpi

Epson R2000: 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi

Epson 1430: 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi

I am a bit leery of optimized dpi, though. I can’t seem to find a real explanation for it or if the optimized printers print in true 2880x1440.