Imagesetter Questions

Is there any such thing as an economical (read “relatively inexpensive”) imagesetter without going to eBay to buy someone else’s potential junker?

Exposure/washout machines are pretty inexpensive now, leaving DIY photopolymer platemakers biggest hurdle being making the negative itself.

Laser and home printer transparencies are just not at the quality level of an imagesetter. Not at this point anyway.


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With an imagesetter you need a film processor. The developer starts to deteriorate through oxidation as soon as you open the bottle, and it goes bad fast. Old developer produces a weak image. Unless you are producing a lot of negs, you will probably find the cost of maintaining fresh chemistry to be prohibitive.

You might be able to tray develop film, thereby using less chemistry, but that will require a darkroom with the proper safelights. Look into this carefully before committing.

I don’t have any advice, but I do have the same frustration.

Most quick-print offset shops have already gone direct-to-plate. There should be a flood of imagesetters on the market for scrap prices. But every one I’ve seen has been listed for $3,000 or more.

Is anyone actually paying these prices?

I understand that they were quite expensive when new, but they ain’t new.There’s no way that a fragile, ten-year-old piece of obsolete pre-press equipment is worth more than $500.

Just found this on the CL. Looks questionable, but could be a dream-come-true.

I can’t find a source for the film anywhere online, though.

Mr. Cropper,

No worries about darkroom techniques… I am a photographer from WAY back. I can control negative density and development in my sleep. Tray developing is no problem at all.

Ms. Maude,

I share your thoughts but unfortunately, sellers of these things apparently do not. :)


The imagesetters that I am familiar with require some expensive software, that’s why they cost so much. Since you have darkroom experience, have you thought about a graphic arts camera? You can get those pretty cheap (I was just offered one for free). Output your art on a laser printer and shoot film. Graphic arts film is red light safe, while the image setter film requires green light.

I would get a Kenro camera and a contact frame. You should be able to find them free. Most everything an Imagesetter can do has been done with a camera. It just takes a few more skills, and a good laser printer.

Lokken -

I actually have a pretty sweet 12x18” process camera and film processor that I picked up a while back. It’s a Compugraphic CS-18. I didn’t want to invest in the chemistry if it was going to be a failed exercise, though.

I’ve got a pretty nice HP Laserjet that does 1200x1200dpi. Given that setup, do you think I’d have success?

Thank you for your input.

Ms. Maude,

This forum is loaded with “film negative vs. Laserjet” threads, littered with them, lousy with them, overflowing with them in fact. There is no comparison from what I have seen myself, let alone read about. Everyone wishes they could cheap out with laser printers, myself included. Alas for vain hopes.

So back to my original question… the answer to which (so far) is apparently “no, there are no inexpensive imagesetters at this point in time”.


I agree that outputting film on a laser printer isn’t worth the time. But what Lokken is talking about is photographing high-resolution positive laser output using a process camera.

Once you photograph it, you get film that’s just as opaque as out of an imagesetter, though at somewhat lower resolution.

If it works, it would definitely be the cheaper solution. You still need the film processor and the chemistry, but nobody is holding process cameras hostage at outrageous prices (assuming you can find one). Plus they don’t really break, besides the bulbs.

I actually have one that I got on a whim, but I haven’t had the spare money to buy developer and fixer and film to learn how to use it.

P.S. I’m a d00d.

Imagesetters were not very common before 1990. I think we did some very good printing in the 70’s and 80’s. I was an offset guy then, but it took quality film to make a quality plate then just as now. It’s just a different method. It’s hard to find phototype now, In fact I don’t know anyone who has a running phototypesetter. I don’t know many paste-up artists anymore either.
With a hi resolution laser printer you can print your document at say 150%. Then reduce the image on the camera and achieve nearly 2400 DPI film.
The film from the camera will not be oriented properly for photopolymer (RRED). You will need to contact your negative to duplicating film the get the emulsion up.
The reason I would use rapid access film is that it has more contrast than lith film. I would use lith (A+B) developer because it will develop rapid access film and the concentrate has a longer shelf life than rapid access developer concentrate.
All the film and chemistry is available at Valley Litho Supply in Wisconsin.
One more thing, If you place a 16 step grey scale on the margin of your art you can tray develop to a solid step 4 and always have good film. Once your camera is calibrated of course.


Unless you are going to shoot film everyday, I would not charge up your processor. And if you do use your processor, use rapid access chemistry.

Thanks for the information! I feel bad for jacking T_om’s thread, but this is kind of the answer to the imagesetter question.

If I had the ability to run film, I think it would be worthwhile to charge up the processor. I tested it the other day and it’s running well. Might run it every other day.

That’s a really slick idea with blowing up the laser output and reducing it with the camera. Now that you mention it, the guy I bought it from suggested I do just that. Totally slipped my mind.

What the camera is missing is a ground glass focusing screen. It does have a dial that adjusts to a hundredth of an inch, though, so maybe I don’t need one.

He was using Fuji HQ film, and included some film and fixer from around 2007. I would imagine the stuff is past its prime by now.

I’m a little confused by the RRED. Right-Reading-Emulsion-Down, right? Couldn’t I fix this by printing in reverse on the laser printer instead of going through two stages of film?

I am looking at this as if I were a hobby printer. The Fuji HQ is a premium hybrid film with a premium price. If you were shooting 175 line halftones and other difficult images, I would agree. It you are just going to shoot laser printer output, an economy film will work fine at about half the price.
It costs me about $60 to charge my processor with fresh developer and fixer each month. Another $60 to replenish for a month. That is before I put a singe sheet of film through it. I could easily tray process 10x12 film for $.50 per sheet for chemicals. You need some volume to justify the expense of a processor.
I have never tried reversing a laser print, but it should work.
The ground glass is used to help position film on the camera back and to check focus. You might be able to have a glass shop cut a piece of frosted glass to fit. Be sure the new glass is the same thickness as the original.

Makes sense. The guy who had it before me was operating a service bureau of sorts. It makes sense that he’d be using fancy film. I’ll try the rapid access stuff from Valley Litho and report back.

I think that you’re on target with tray developing. I could probably use the processor to automate the washing and drying. Just fill all the reservoirs with plain water.

The HP drivers include a reversing function that flips it automatically, so it is really simple.

I have no idea how to determine how thick the original glass was. Guess I’ll have to experiment.

Thank you for your advice. It has been extremely helpful.