it's definitely possible to do photogravure from scratch. iirc (i don't have any real experience, only from reading about it) the tissue making process is the same like in carbon printing. so, check out the tutorial by sandy king on unblinkingeye. you then have to find out the best variables for gravure: pigment load, thickness etc. the rest is similar to carbon printing, except that you use a copper plate instead of paper.
the new b&s gravure forum should still be there (i think you already found it) and someone posted a few pdfs there some time ago. check them out, if they are still available.
Making photo gravures is a fairly complicated process so you might want to do a workshop with someone to shorten the learning curve. Also, have a look at the book by David Morrish and Marllene MacCallum, Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process. The book contains an appendix by me on making carbon tissue for photo gravure. Jon Goodman, who is a master graure printer, actually tested some of this tissue and found that it worked fine, subject to the modification of certain working procedures.
I have done (and do) both the traditional gravure and the polymer gravure processes. They are worlds apart in terms of complexity, with copper gravure being the most complex. The copper gravure process has many interdependent steps necessary to get a decent plate. With the recent demise of the Autotype tissue, everyone doing traditional gravure is pinning their hopes on Richard Sullivan being able to pull a rabbit out of his hat with a comparable tissue.
I would seriously recommend taking a workshop from a knowledgeable practitioner. I can highly recommend Jon Goodman from my personal experience in taking a week long class from him. He really knows what he is doing, and has a methodical set of steps that he uses. Others that I am aware of are Paul Taylor at Renaissance Press and Lothar Osterburg, both of whom do the traditional copper process. I am sure there are others, but these are people I know offer classes from time to time.
Be aware that doing traditional copper gravure cannot be accomplished on a whim over a weekend. You will need some gear and materials - an etching press, a dusting box (if you do traditional dust-grain rosin ground - which in my opinion is the only reason to do copper gravure in the first place. If you use a screen, you might as well just do polymer gravure), a good exposure system with hard collimated light, a vacuum frame, etching trays, ferric chloride mordant, muriatic acid and lye for cleaning the copper, hand, eye and clothing protection, a way of measuring the specific gravity of your mordant, some ammonium dichromate for sensitizing the tissue, a good source of 95% grain alcohol, and a few other things I am sure I have forgotten. It is not a process for the unserious.
From what I understand the press alone has to apply heavy pressure. So you would need the space with a floor strong enough to handle a monster press. If you buy a new press you're talking major investment.
The thing about presses is that they are not all made equally. Because of the shallow relief of photogravure you need a press that can exert an enormous amount of pressure evenly, not all presses are capable of it. I own a Takach and it works great. Others are a Griffin(modified) and some older presses that were built like tanks. I know a Wheelan can't, probably not a Conrad, or any of the stuff Dick Blick sells.
Yes, photogravure is a serious undertaking. But if you have a good teacher you can learn quickly. Crown Point Press just posted their schedule for their workshops. Photogravure is included, and there is hardly a better place to learn photogravure.
The basics of the process for a photogravure with a screen are these:
1) You create a positive. You can use traditional methods or digital. If your not handy with the darkroom yet, digital is better, you will have better control and go through less copper as you learn. The positive has to look somewhat flat in order to translate correctly to the gelatin tissue. (Density readings .4 to 1.5)
2) In a room with a yellow bug light you sensitize the gelatin tissue for three minutes using a 3.5% mixture of Potassium Dichromate (http://tinyurl.com/yboa3hv). Squeegee on to pristine Plexiglass and let it dry. It takes a couple of hours. When there is no resistance, peel off from the plexi, store in a cool dark place. The pigment is now light sensitive.
3) Cut a piece of copper a couple of inches larger that your positive. Using TSP degrease the plate front and back until the water no longer beads. Rinse and submerge in a solution of 3% Glacial Acetic acid. You can also use a vinegar bath, but I can't remember the concentration. Essentially you want to very briefly (4-5 seconds) brighten the plate. Rinse the plate and fill a tray larger than the plate with distilled water and immediately submerge the rinsed plate. Take it to the room with the yellow bug light.
4) Attach the positive to the sensitized tissue. Use Goldenrod paper, or any other type of light blocking material to create a safe edge around the positive. Create a space to attach a Stouffer 21 step tablet next to the positive. This will be used to judge the etch process.
5) Expose the positive to an UV light source, preferably with a vacuum unit. The amount of light has to be arrived at by trial tests. If you are using a screen instead of an aquatint, then remove the positive, cover with the screen and expose the tissue a second time to the same amount of light.
6) In another tray slightly bigger than the tissue pour an 60% solution of Ethyl alcohol no higher than 65F. Submerge the tissue until it relaxes, about two minutes.
7) Remove the tissue from its bath by the edges and place image side down in the tray with the copper plate. Float the tissue and very carefully dip one side of the tissue until it touches the copper. That corner of the tissue should immediately stick to the copper. Slowly lift the copper out of the water by that same corner. Making sure not to disturb the water too much. You want to avoid bubbles.
8) Place in a flat surface hold on to the corner that's stuck to the copper and quickly and with even pressure, squeegee the tissue on to the copper. Do it again from the opposite direction. If everything went well and the exposure is correct you should see the outline of the image on the tissue. Set it to rest for a few minutes.
9) Empty one of the trays and fill with 112F water and slowly submerge the copper and tissue. Wait 3 minutes. You should see the gelatin melting on the edges. Stick your fingernail under a corner and try to lift the tissue. There should be a small amount of resistance. Kind of like when you try to remove a wet band-aid. Anymore than that wait another two minutes. If it's ready, remove the tissue in one slow smooth motion. Never stop mid-removal. Maintain the water at 112f and swish the water back and forth, the tissue will start to dissolve. Keep adding water to maintain the temperature and keep developing until the water is clear, about ten minutes. At that time slowly cool the water until it's at your locale normal temperature. Empty the tray and pour 85% ethyl alcohol. This will displace the water left in the tissue so it will dry evenly.
10) After 5 minutes in the bath, remove and place vertically against the wall. Drain and wipe the bottom of the plate(the part that has bare copper) Rotate around all sides until the plate no longer drips. You can accelerate the process by using a blow dryer on low heat. The plate will become dull quickly. Don't touch or let anything settle on the surface. The plate is no longer sensitive. Place in a room with a humidifier at 60% humidity and 65F for at least 4 hours.
11) Use contact paper to protect the back and edges of the plate. You can also use asphaltum, but it's messy to use and clean. Once the plate is protected, set two trays, one with 45 baume Ferric Chloride, the other with 43 baume. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Submerge the plate in the 45 bath and start the timer. Check the plate every 15-30 seconds. look at the Stouffer tablet, some of the steps might start to etch. You can tell a step is etching because the step starts to get darker than the one in front of it. After two minutes there should no etching below the 13 step and there should be no etching on the plate at all. If so, move the plate to the next bath. If the image has started to etch in the 45 bath, the plate is under-exposed.
12) Look at the image, once you see the first signs of etch in the image look at the steps and see which one is currently being etched, note the time. These will be your blackest featureless blacks. You want to be somewhere on step 13-14. Your note should read something like this:
25:45 /43 Baume/ 14
From now on you want to etch each step for about 2:00-2:30 minutes, if you see that a step takes too long, you move it t a lower baume to speed it up, if it's too fast, move it to a higher baume to slow it down. The total etch time should be from 25 minutes to up to 45 minutes or so. Any less the plate will be flat, anymore it will be too contrasty and foul bitten. Any time you either move to a different baume or you see the start of etch in the next step, you write it down. After a while you'll see the pattern of progression. Your notes should look something like this:
25:45__43 Baume__Step 13 Start of etch (black wires)
23:15__43 Baume__Step 12 2:30
21:20__43 Baume__Step 11 2:05 Street
18:35__43 Baume__Step 10 2:15
16:00__43 Baume__Step 09 2:30 Dark trees
13:15__43 Baume__Step 08 2:45
13:00__41 Baume__Step 08
11:00__41 Baume__Step 07 2:00 Blue Sky
08:45__41 Baume__Step 06 2:15
06:15__41 Baume__Step 05 2:30
03:25__41 Baume__Step 04 2:50 Grey clouds
03:20__39 Baume__Step 04
00:50__39 Baume__Step 03 2:30 White Clouds
00:20__39 Baume__Step 02__:30 Out!
As you can see etching is the most difficult part of the process and where you can make or break your image.
13) Immerse the plate in water quickly. Remove the contact paper or asphaltum. Take into a sink and clean. Briefly dip into the solution used to brightened the plate before. Dry and take some brasso and gently shine the plate. Finally clean with thinner or any green solvent you may have.
From then on the steps are the same as printing any copper etching. But beware the first couple of prints will look awful. The plate will need to "mellow" by going through the press several times. I usually start by setting the pressure on the press. Taking some damp paper and getting the plate to go through the press three or four times without ink. Maybe go over it with Brasso one more time, then inking the plate. This helps so you won't have a heart attack after all this work. Wash, rinse and repeat.
Last edited by squinonescolon; 01-27-2010 at 06:42 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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This is a great description of the steps involved. The comment about the press is accurate about needing lots of pressure. I do take issue with the remark about Conrad presses however: the Conrad presses are plenty beefy enough for photogravure, and are just as robust as the Takach, but not as pretty. I have a conrad and it is plenty good for photogravure. It can be tightened down to the point of bending a copper plate.
Not only is the press up to the task, but the owner does a great job of explaining/demonstrating/coaching the newbie to the process. Great workshop this weekend, Clay. Bill Barber
Great info !
I have access to a professional printer and her large press which is used regularly for intaglio printing (it has the required force) - she is a teacher herself but photogravure is not her forte, so combining our 'skills' (her more than mine) we've had a little success with polymer photogravure ... But copper/rosin/etc seems that more refined so its where I am want to be heading - I'm particularly keen to give color printing a crack (contact printing reversal developed CMY light exposed B&W (ortho?) film with some 8x10" or 11x14" transparency, then making the 4 plates and again with the CMY&K)...
Collimated light - is this due to the thickness of the transparent layers causing a blur ? I use a bank of fluoros for Pt/Pd but it's very diffuse by its nature - there's always the sun I guess, which we used with the solarplate (and an LDR or photodiode light integrating circuit, just need some UV pass filters :rolleyes
Many of the other chems and bits and bobs come parceled with other processes I have played or plan to play with - Pt/Pd, Collodion, Gum, Cyanotype, screenprinting - I have 'worked' with grain alcohol before (hiccup), dichromates, acids, step tablets, etc...
Vacuum frame ?
I'd love to do a workshop - Crown Point Press is where the print I linked in the OP was done, so I guess I'd be getting the info straight from the source by doing a workshop there but I'm living in NZ at the current time... I'm thinking it would be nice to combine a collodion and a photogravure class in one trip - bit of research to do...
Cleared the bowel problem, working on the consonants...
Collimated light can be an issue when you use a screen for your process. What can happen with fluorescent lights is that the scattered omni directional light can 'creep' around and underneath the dots in the screen and create light areas where too much exposure is being received. A good vacuum frame and parallel light rays will prevent this. If you are doing a traditional rosin dust grain ground, this will not be an issue. As I mentioned earlier, I don't think traditional copper is worth the trouble if you plan on using a screen, because the results will be indistinguishable from a polymer plate done with the same screen. The screen is what determines the random microscopic dot pattern - the 'tooth', in other words - that is needed for the process to hold ink in the etched recesses of the plate.
CMYK gravure is a very ambitious goal. Good luck!
I've been really toying with the idea of making a photogravure how-to video, selling a kit that includes all the chemicals, and then offer something like a year of proofing on my press to people who buy both.
That way they could spend a whole lot less and try everything at home without having to buy a press or go to a workshop far away from where they live. And they get the benefit of somebody that can guide them and tell them what they are doing wrong. Most photogravure workshops start around $750 and you have to travel to them for a minimum of three days, which could be another $600-$1000 for room and board in the cities where the top photogravurists live.
I wonder how many photographers would be interested in something like that. Is there a way for me to gauge consensus on something like that with the forums' software, anyone has any sugestions?
I saw the prints at Crown Point Press, they are beautiful. The print you link to is nice, but the stunner of the group is this one The brilliant quality is something I've never seen on a photographic print before, no matter what the technique. It's a tour de force in printmaking.
About the Conrad, it's probable that it will work. The thing is, the smaller the diameter of the roller the least likely you'll be able to get a print. I should clarify. Most presses can exert the pressure. The problem comes pulling the print. It becomes very inconsistent and difficult to do an even print. But of course you would have to try it to be sure. The problem is, unless you know someone who does photogravures, and they let you borrow a plate to test, it becomes a chicken and an egg kind of proposition.
And Clay you're 100% correct about using dustgrain for photogravures. But it's easier and more consistent to learn with the screen. Learning how to lay down and control an aquatint can take just as long as learning to do photogravure! It's an art in itself.
Last edited by squinonescolon; 01-28-2010 at 12:36 PM. Click to view previous post history.