The recent Lamentation about Services from Prepress or Service Bureaus made me think. Do you - the End user even know the Area and Issues involved in Prepress?

While DTP (Direct to Plate) has made great Strides in the last decade and a half, the Field of Imagesetters and wet chemistry Film development had it’s heyday back in the 90’s.
While new Imagesetters still can be bought, the Cost of the Purchase and the existing Volume of Demand on the Market doesn’t allow the Purchase.
Agfa and Scitex Machines tend to have costly PCB Board issues, Katana machines experience end of roller issue, means they liquefy and it a expensive repair to fix.
The market of raw Film has shrunk, as has the supply of Chemicals in general. Imagesetterfilm is very specific and one chemical doesn’t work on an other Film.

RIPS, Raster Image Processor Software, despite for the Demise of the Industry, the Price of the Software only has gone up. Older Service Bureaus might run Rips which only allow .tiff Files, the Standard is a perfect PDF. While we had Service Bureaus nearly on every Corner 2 Decades ago, now they are far and rare. The Quality of a perfect made Film from an Imagesetter can’t be matched with an alternative Method.

File Prep: We receive Files which are stroked, massive, because they are layered, RGB/ CMYK color space etc, etc.

If you want good Film and Plate from your Supplier, listen and follow the requirements.

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Here’s an old-timer’s question for you. I haven’t ordered any engravings/plates for a long, long time. I’m thinking about getting some engravings (copper or mag) made from what we would in former days call black and white art, consisting in this case of line art from Dover copyright-free books. Will art houses still accept this type of B&W art, and will the engravings still look the same as when they were shot on a process camera and the neg was used to expose the “top” (light sensitive coating) on the plate?


You are showing your age (most likely similar to my own). I make my own polymer plates, but when I need a hot stamp die, I order copper dies by sending an electronic file to my engraver. Your best bet is to contact the engraving house directly and ask them if they still will convert hard-copy art to plates. Most likely they still have the capability to do so, but they will use a scanner and imagesetter to produce the film. I doubt if cameras are used in those commercial shops these days.

I managed a photo engraving shop for a number of years in the 1980s, so I’m very familiar with your thinking.

John Henry

Thanks John. I doubt if many, if any, would use a process camera nowadays either. Do you think that if an engraving house scanned a wood engraving, like for instance a Thomas Nast Santa Claus from Harpers Weekly, would the digital image be fine enough so that the fine lines actually looked like fine lines and not lines made of digitized data?

Could it be done in vector art, or are there too many lines in wood engravings for vector art?

In the 1860’s print shop where I volunteer, we get comments that the images we print are so clear. I guess the visitors are comparing to their home printers. I would just want to maintain that clarity in new engravings.

Even the cheapest Scanner nowadays can produce high rez scans, if you’re adventures, go ebay and find a Heidelberg Sapphire scanner, they’re heavy, scsi (50) and optical. They used to be super expensive, as scsi walks out the backdoor they become Door stoppers. has vuescan which can run this scanners just fine. That would allow you to scan your own Artwork, Save as .Bmp and send over, I can vectorize for you.

If you really want to get all the printed detail, scan at at least 1200 DPI. 2400 is better still. I generally scan in RGB and convert to line-art in Photoshop, but most scanner software will scan directly to line-art as well as color and grayscale.

These files can be converted to vector art, but you have to be careful using automated vectorizers like Illustrator’s trace function. They’re very good but they’re designed to blur the art a little to compensate for pixeled edges in the artwork. You may lose small amounts of detail because of this. You can usually minimize or even eliminate these losses, though, by judicious tweaking of the vectorizer’s settings.

A good imagesetter will produce perfectly clean film from either the high-res raster file or the vector. The platemaker we use at my day job is 15 years old, beat-up, and cranky as all get-out but still produces plates at 2400 DPI at a 175 line screen with absolute consistency. (It was originally rated to 3000 DPI/250 LPI max, but it’s had millions of feet of film through it by now and our worn-out little Heidelberg QM can’t hold screens that fine anymore anyway.)

Basically, with proper prep dies from digital will be nigh-indistinguishable from the original foundry cut.

Inkjet printers like what most folks are used to leave a fuzzy edge on almost everything (even when they’re extremely high-end machines), simply because of the way they work. You can’t spray millions of droplets of ink in stochastic patterns without a bit of overspray. This is likely what you’re running into when people talk about how crisp the printing looks.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thanks for the info everyone!

Hello “typenut”,
my guess is that your post was more about designer/pre-press bureau issues then the actual film making issues. As I usually say: ” I will get back to you on that issue “, but as long as we are here at the technical issues …
Yesterday, a beautiful line camera went for scrap metal. When I got to the scrap bin, the pick-up guys were already smashing it with a sledge hammer. It was a sorry sight. The only thing I could salvage from the bin before the sledge hammer got to it was: Fargo ( Primera ) Impressa 2 == digital decal and label press. I had to fight for it with the scrap-guys. It is very heavy, now I need a hernia operation … LOL.

Could this machine be used to output “film” ?