Photopolymer plate making in-house

We have an interFLEX Photopolymer plate processing unit that we are planning to make our plates with…..finally! Other than using conventional film imagesetters, how are others internally making negatives that can render quality plates? When we started 6 years ago, we had a service center make our negatives. I had made an exposing unit that worked well, and hand processed our plates. It wasn’t long before that “process” was taking way to much time, & we started having our plates made outside. Now we need to manage costs! Any help will be appreciated immensely! Thanks! Gale

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I use a stat camera, and tray develop film. Works well when you get the exposure and timing right. I think some people have found an inkjet or laser method that works. It takes a dense negative.

There are places to get inkjet and laser neg film products. There are also companies that convert higher end epson inkjet machines in film machines. I think they replace all the inkjet color heads with a common color product to make the neg. The inkjet is then is only a film machine and not a color printer any more. My only concerns were the film density and fine type area quality where filling in might occur. At the end of the day it is still a inkjet. Maybe do both inkjet and true neg film. I guess a lot will depend on how large and how often you are making plates. If you are near Santa Ana, California I know a great film resource.

Imagesetter Film and Poly Plate Steel and Flexible up to 24x30 inches

I make 13x19 film for silkscreen using an Epson 1430 Inkjet printer and transparency film I buy from Ryonet. Ryonet makes a system you can buy from them which converts all six ink tanks to black, but I have been fine with just using the printer as-is and making really dense, slow prints w/ black cartridge. That lets me use it as a color printer occasionally.

Process camera and litho film. Also toner based films on Xerox printer.

Nickel Plate Press

We sooooo appreciate all these responses! THANKS to all of you! We are going to put thought to these, and probably reach back out with questions? THANKS AGAIN!

There are several companies which sell dense dye inks which can be used in Epson printers along with specially-treated clear film which “locks in” the image and ink.

I use ink from Ink owl ( in my desktop Epson printer, and after a bit of experimentation with ink setting in the software (printer driver settings) I get quite good results. Once you get a good negative, run a few stepped tests on the photopolymer material to hone in on the exposure you can use and not burn through. The density is not as good as silver-based film, but I find it gives good definition if carefully used. I purchased refillable cartridges for the Black and the Photo Black of my printer, and I still use the printer for color stuff.

I generally use the photopolymer for illustrations and large display type, but have used it for 10pt. text with adequate results. Results may vary dependent on the printer model, and I’m certain custom drivers and better resolution Epson printers would help. I just used what I had on hand. I’ve been making my own negatives this way for over 5 years now.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

John, do you think this method would give good typographic detail as a positive, to then make a contact negative from it for better density? How hard an edge can you get?

FWIW, a friend has had decent success with vellum paper in a laser printer, then treating that with I think is an acetone fume to re-fuse the toner dots together. I might be able to get the details if anyone’s interested.

Like jhenry, I’ve been printing negatives on my Epson (Stylus Pro 4900) printer with good success (down to at least 7pt type). I use the standard ink cartridges (also with InkOwl refills). If you are using Adobe Illustrator, here are a few things I’ve learned: One, the amount of ink deposited depends on the type of paper selected. I seem to get good coverage using “Enhanced Matt Paper”. Two, Set print to “Max Quality” (and I turn off “High Speed” too). And three, when you set your CMYK colors in the drawing, don’t use plain black (0 0 0 100). Instead, with your black objects selected, open the “color picker” and drag the color spot down to the bottom. CMYK will change to 75 68 67 90. I don’t know why or if this is optimum, but it does print a nice rich black.

I’ve been reading over several years of comments on Photopolymer plate making in-house.

I recently came across an exposure-wash-cure unit and was thinking about making plates in-house… but got to the same question: What about the negatives?

Seems that the best alternative is a mid-range inkjet printer, and then proper in/film. You might still want to outsource plates that are super detailed, intricate, or have ultra-small type… but for most of the plates it should work out.

For printers, some recommendations are (all Epson) 1430, 1280, 9900, 7900, 4900, 3880.
For the film, I’ve seen good comments on Kimodesk, Ulano and Pictorico.
For the ink, there is a UV Blocking Black from American Inkjet Supply besides the BlackMax ink and also an ink from InkOwl.

Besides that, a RIP is highly recommended to better adjust your print to get the right amount of ink so you don’t waste it and it doesn’t spread and lose detail.

I understand that although there is a cost-benefit, if you are not running a full-blown print business and you are doing this more for short runs or a hobby, the main benefit is that you go from your idea to a printing plate quickly, so you can even go thru different iterations/adjustments to the artwork on the same day… rather than waiting a few days for somebody to do your plate.

That’s as far as I’ve got on my research based on what I’ve read here. Many thanks to everybody for such great information!

Any updated recommendations? Something that I got wrong? Something that you think would be a better alternative?