Platemaking for Letterpress

Despite the global pandemic, distance learning with the kids, and recently recovering from a mild concussion, I’ve managed to slowly make progress on my printing press and bindery.

I added a photopolymer platemaker for letterpress printing to the studio. I had originally planned for one of these when designing the space so I had the water/drainage hook-ups ready to go.

I had taken a course in platemaking at the SF Center for the Book a couple years ago from a generous teacher and artist, Lars Kim. Since then, I had ordered a few plates for my book project from Logos Graphics in San Francisco. However, I quickly realized that for the longer books that I intend to produce, it would be more cost-effective to make my own plates than purchase them. I still have to purchase the film from the digital files in order to make the plates, and this process I will continue to outsource.

Boxcar Press sold me the platemaker and the necessary photopolymer and other materials. The plumber came out and added the drain to the machine so that I can easily fill and drain the tank.

I used a Stouffer Gauge to figure out the correct exposure, wash out, and dry time for the specific photopolymer material I had purchased. This will continue to be a learning process that I refine. I am also going to try out a different photopolymer plate material and see how I like those results.

A test plate for a book project. I still have some practicing to do!

I have been taking online tutorials from Dina Pollack, a wonderfully patient and experienced printer in Berkeley. She guided me online through the process of platemaking on the machine she uses. I went back and watched the recorded lesson, paused the video, and practiced the steps. I’m hoping to get to the studio this weekend to work on this some more so we can make more progress actually printing this project on the C&P.

The dance of trying to hold laptops around printing press machines while pointing and moving items is a challenge. But I’m grateful that the technology is there to allow the learning to continue from afar, and I’m grateful that there are skilled craftswomen willing to share their knowledge.

The addition of the plate maker to the studio adds an amazing level of additional creativity that can go into book design. It is yet another skill I am going to have master, but it will pay off in the long-run.

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