July 11, 2012

Stroking It

When I first learned about photopolymer plates, it seemed like there was no limit to what they could do. Provided you had the right metal base to raise the plate to type-high, any digital design could easily be remade as letterpress-ready plates. 

Except when small type was involved. 

If I washed the plate until the non-printing areas were clean, I'd lose the serifs, punctuation, or sometimes entire letters. If I kept the washout short enough to keep all the details, the surrounding areas wouldn't get washed out enough and would sometimes end up getting printed.

But I have a workaround.

I recently printed some business cards for a physical anthropologist friend who works with human bones. She wanted something simple, with a natural history look. We used a very soft, thick paper (Rives BFK) and printed her name and contact info in brown on the right. On the left, in tonal ink, we debossed the hell out of a illustration she provided.

The type, 9pt Garamond small caps, took me two tries to get the plate to come out right. The first time, the delicate serifs, the dots of i's, and some punctuation washed away, and weird blotches from the empty areas that didn't wash out, got printed. 

The second time, I went back into the design and added a 0.25pt stroke on the type. Then I did everything over again: made the negative, exposed the plate, washed it out... and the type held up with no problems. Printable, readable.

Next time, I would go with an even thinner stroke, because the type did turn out a little chunky.

Nerd Out: For those of you who couldn't tell what the illustration on the card is, it's a scapula, aka the shoulder blade. Most printers I talked to mistook it for some kind of flower (orchid, lily) or plant (carnivorous pitcher plant). Which is fine, because most printers aren't also scientists. :)

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