Platemaking can be an interesting process for the adventurous with some research and experimentation. If you plan on processing your letterpress plates by hand, know that the most challenging part is having a good source for your film negative.  The density of the black part of your negative must be high enough to block out any extra light through the film.  Photographic film works best for this.  Try the light test.  Hold up your negative to the light, you should NOT see the the bulbs or any light shapes through the black part of your “film”.  If you see the outline of light, that means some light will filter through during exposure.  The more light seeping through, particularly at the edges of the clear parts of your negatives means you lose some of the crispness of your exposure.  If you use transparencies for your negatives, you will likely see some light as the density is not as strong as photographic film. One solution for a more rich density of black is to lay two transparencies on top of each other.  You will have to decide how much light is acceptable for your project.  Your light source / UV box should also have steady light from different angles on the top of the plate for strong, well formed relief.

Another part of good plate processing is a good washout.  When you do it by hand, you will need a very soft handheld brush but beware, because handheld brushes are small and washout times frequently are over 10 minutes per plate (and that’s you moving a small brush with constant motion for 10 minutes in room temperature water). With this much exposure to water, you will have to keep an eye on the plate. The substrate material that holds the polymer on the back of the plate can start to break down after long times in the water. This causes loss of detail because the plate can soften too much and may come apart in the water. Text is one of the hardest things to consistently process on homemade units, and we all love text, right? The learning curve for processing quality plates can take time. Lastly you will need a drying /heat source. Do some research to assemble all your tools for the greatest success.

An alternative to hand processing your plates is using a professional plate processor service like Boxcar Press. We’ll provide you with quality plates every time, and we guarantee our plates will cause you no hassles or loss of detail on the press.

Or you can consider purchasing a professional platemaking machine if budget and your time allows. These machines are expensive but they are also convenient, allowing you to have your plates ready immediately. Make sure to ponder if you have the time, staff and energy to be making your own plates, or if you’d rather focus on your printing instead.

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