Vacuum Frame - Photogravure work
Hi there all,
I hope it isn't a daft one but I want to do some photogravure work using photopolymer plates. Although maybe not the most popular process (maybe becasue of the need for an etching press, plates, inks etc) I want to give it a go and have done a fair bit of reading up on the process. One thing that many practitioners mention is the need for a vacuum press to make sure that the contact between the polymer plate and the positive (and indeed the aquatint screen if you use one) is as good as you can make it. Many (if not most) therefore reccommend highly using a vacuum frame. I don't have one, do not have access to one either and am unlikely to get one soon (they are not cheap). I was wondering how much degredation there is when not using one in the photogravure process.
I assume that in the heady days when photogravure work was at it's height, Alvin Coburn, Demachy and the greats did not have flash vaccuum frames either (or did they?). I guess they simply used a single light source (the sun) and glass frames. Their work that was hardly that shabby! In my other alternative process work, I have used very heavy plate glass or vintage split back contact frames which have been fine for my purposes.
Anyway, before I start cutting the polymer plates and giving it all a go I just wanted to ask out in the community if anyone had a similar problem to tackle and the results they achieved with and without using a vacuum frame. I know that I am probably just going to give it a go without a frame but I would be very interested in any thoughts. I have posted on Hybrid to canvass opinions there too.
Thanks for your consideration.
If you want the final print to be really sharp, you'll need a vacuum frame...
If you're lucky, you can find as a part of an old repro maschine (I an from Denmark, so I don't really know the right english word for it).
I have been offered them for free more than once... They are "useless" in our days, and the top of them is a vacuum frame... which you can unscrew and use.
something like the picture attached (doesn't look exactely like mine..)
Originally Posted by Mac064
You don't say where you're located but in the US this equipment can be found for free at print shops if you're prepared to collect them. I got a second 5KW lamp and vacuum frame a couple of years ago just for the cost of renting a van. They begged me to take the second unit they had sitting there! It's outdated technology for print shops and they just want to get rid of them.
For polymer plates (for photogravure) you really do need a vacuum frame. The plates are much thinner than copperplates and have a tendency to flex and curl when cut. Bad contact shows in the print as areas of uneven tone. Some plates are thinner than others and cut easier, eliminating this problem somewhat - Solarplate for example. I use the KM73s and have a plate cutter which ensures a perfectly flat, smooth edge. Well worth the investment.
Thanks guys for the quick response.
I am in the UK and will definitely be on the look out for a vacuum frame, I could do with one really. I will have to scout around though because I am in the countryside! I plan to use Toyobo KM73 plates which I can get from a print suppliers in London and have joined a very well resourced print workshop that has a fantastic etching press and all the printing materials I could ever need, including plate cutters.
Keith - Thanks for the support, one of the key pieces I have read and re-read is your AG article on the process and it has inspired me to push on with photogravure work. I also have a book on the complete works of 'Camera Work' which I look at it constantly. It never ceases to amaze me what the 'greats' produced.
Gandolfi - Your work just inspires me anyway!
Just to let you know that the print workshop that I have joined has a point source UV vacuum frame! It's all ready and waiting for me to use. I plan to start by using small plates to work out the best exposure times for the Toyobo plates and also begin to get to grips with the plate processing. Can't wait to give it a go. Thanks for the comments.
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I've been doing photogravure with photopolymer plates for the past year, and not found a vaccuum frame to be vital for my work. I use a big piece of thick plate glass and make sure my plates are cut cleanly and printed with a nice firm contact, and my results have been quite good. That said, my dot screen is reasonably coarse, so maybe my grain is hiding it.
Do keep a close eye on the edges of your plate though, they do flex and curl like the dickens as Keith mentioned. And please - dont drop them...
A (very) accurate UV exposure unit is far more vital in getting started.
Fleath - Thanks for the advice. Just as an aside on plate cutting, what do you use to cut your plates. I want to make the cut as clean as possible as you say, a heavy duty guillotine, electric cutter? I know that the steel base is rigid but not that much. Cheers
I'm lucky enough to have fully equipped printmaking and photography departments at the art school I'm attending. 5 etching presses and 4 UV exposure units - but the best piece of kit has been a heavy duty guillotine. It's designed for cutting tin and copper plates for the acid etching class. It easily cuts my photopolymer plates, but if I cut a sheet in half, one of the resulting pieces will have a raised edge from where the plate has been bent up slightly by the blade. That's something you need to avoid or your contact will just be rubbish. After I size my plates I trim the edges by a few mm to make sure there's no raised edge.
The photopolymer itself can be cut with a stanley knife, the metal support will need something more heavy duty. I havent looked at any of the other options, but I'll have to start looking soon because I'm graduating and I'll need to start setting up my own studio.
I'm actually curious about this whole vacuum frame thing now. The exposure unit right next to the one I've been using has a vacuum frame built in. If I get a chance next week, I'll plate two images on the different machines and report back if there's a noticeable difference, with scans.
Thanks for the response.
I am ready to go but cutting the plate is a bit of a pain. I have just wasted a plate with a poor guillotine. I am going to try the stanley knife option on the wated plate as well just to see if I can get it right. I know that some people use hand tin shears but I guess that would only work for small plates. I am looking around for a decent weight guillotine or workshop metal shears. You can get them on ebay. Good luck with the experiments. The UV unit I am using in my print workshop also has a vacuum frame built in so it is easy to use.
What we have is a guillotine metal shear, something similar to this:
But more modern versions are certainly readily available. You want a nice clean straight edge in one cut if at all possible, which is something I've never gotten with tin snips.
All of this has got me googling, time to start another shopping list...