What design tools do you use?

What types of software and design tools are people using?

Can you send hand-drawn art or computer files to companies that make cuts and plates? Can you cut your own plates from hand-drawn or digital art?

What material is available for printing? Am I correct to assume that you cannot print copyrighted material but only original designs, designs you have permission, and those in the public domain such as clipart?

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For images and page layout I use InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

For images I either get a high-resolution scan (1200+) or get it as large as I can and then set the resolution to 1200+. Then there is some fooling around with the image to get the tonal value to a good point to provide the best image. Then I convert the image to a bitmapped image. Pixels are only black/white (NO grey). Then typically I will do a trace in Illustrator to change the image from a bitmapped image to a vector-based image.

You can make either wood cuts, wood engravings, or linoleum cuts pretty easy. Better tools help this process. I bought a book at Oak Knoll Fest from a printer a couple of years ago and they had made the images by cutting in masonite (which I would think was way too soft) and the images were wonderful (of fish). I would say experiment but using softer materials makes it harder to do longer runs.

I’ve found polymer plates to work fine although I would like to have a copper plate made just to see if it helps any. I’ve not needed that large of a run for anything at this point. I’ve done 3,000 from a polymer plate and didn’t see any problems.

You cannot use someone’s copyrighted image, especially for commercial gain, unless you want to use your lawyer. If you violate you are asking for trouble.

A piece of advice is to take a note as complicated as yours with a variety of topics and break them into separate notes. That way the responses stay more grouped.

For my type & layouts I use Pagemaker 6.5. Since I learned on Pagemaker 5.0 in the early 90’s it works for me & lets me create PDF’s & import art from other programs. eps, tiff, bitmap, jpeg, etc. Color seperations & reverse images for making plates for letterpress. Having a postscript printer is also a great help. (HP5100) I know some would say I need to update, maybe so. That’s what most used to say about letterpress in the 70’s & 80’s.
Just my 2 cents worth. If what you use works for you, use it.

Hi Bob

That’s funny about Pagemaker. I didn’t think anyone used it anymore. Though I have InDesign CS2 for most work, and do love it, I still use PM 6.5.2 (which I adored) quite a bit for older files that I have not the time to convert. I keep older systems, both hardware and software up to date, simply because, well, some of that older stuff wasn’t so bad, and in some instances, is better. Realistically, one had the capability to do fine typography on the desktop since the early 1990s and not much has improved since then (except convenience and speed).

I have a HP 5000 (for the last seven years). I’d upgrade but it won’t die, and I really don’t need to junk it and then pay for a printer that will print 1.5x as fast. Just thinking green here. Or in less bullshit terms, what my parents, who went through the Depression, acted upon; use it up.


Some things I know how to do & use. I’m not opposed to learning newer technology. But buying every new version of software when it comes out can get expensive. I like the saying,”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Pagemaker 6.5 does everything I need at this time. I use it at work & at home. If I need film output, even the fellow that outputs film still uses accepts it & says it’s still good.
Of course, I do also shoot line & halftone negatives on a Kenro 2700 verticle camera & develope film in a tray. I get consistant results. (30 yrs. experience)

Question for Wallflowers – or anyone else who knows…

I design (my own original) line art using Illustrator, so that’s already vector-based. If I want to get polymer plates made, what do I need to know about requirements for output?

Apart from keeping it B&W only (no grey), is there anything alse I should keep in mind while designing with polymer plates in mind?

Thanks for any advice!


That’s pretty much it. Except, note that you will experience, at the very least, a 5% gain over your idealized digital printout.


I’m an Illustrator user. I do some design for CDs, and Illustrator has always worked for me. I hear trapping is a horrid process to do well in Illustrator, but the print shops I contract with do it internally to their own press spec. They are all offset-based, though CDs are screened.

For the hobby letterpress stuff I do, I occasionally use Illustrator to do mockups, though I have been playing with InDesign a bit. I just did a mockup specimen sheet InDesign, which was nice, because I could play with kerning and whatnot.

Illustrator works the best for me because I like to separate the files myself and set up the layout so I know exactly how it will look on plate. If I get a PDF I open it and separate the layers in Illustrator anyway. Plus Illustrator CS3 has some more refined features if you need to use live trace to turn pixel based objects or images into vector based artwork. I save InDesign for when I need to do multi-page projects because you can use master pages to set up all of your layout features, or when I know I will have to send the art our via PDF. InDesign compressed pdf files better than Illustrator ever has! At my day job I use it every day. For letterpress I use it very rarely.

I prefer the photopolymer with the adhesive back because it lets me cheat a bit. You can cut it with normal scissors. That way you can use the white space of a design by adding in other elements. It sometimes makes a bit more work aligning the polymer in some cases but I have never had to spend more than 15 extra minutes in make ready aligning polymer for a project, with or without corp marks.