Laser engraving VS Photopolymer UV exposing

Dear letterpress community,

I’ve been inspired by the look of letterpress prints so much, that I’ve decided to open my own letterpress shop. The hot metal stuff is truly exciting, however it’s much more efficient to prepare the design in Illustrator etc.

There is a point in digital letterpress I can’t clarify to myself. What is a batter choice for platemaking, laser engraving or a printer -> photopolymer exposer?

From theoretical point of view I can assume some pros and cons for both approaches. I ask you weigh my assumptions on the practical side.

The pros for laser are:
1. No wet alchemy with “Density Toner”, PP selection, washout and so on - just load the blank plate into the engraver and have a cup of coffee.
2. The plates are more durable
3. The materials are cheaper and hence the production price of a single plate.

The pros for the PP:
1. Much cheaper equipment
2. No problems with smoke exhaust
3. Shorter production time

I’ve got some questions about laser plates engraving:

As I understand, the only metal that’s good for making plates is steel, that takes a very long engraving time. What about plastics, like acrylic or polycarbonate?

The stamp makers prefer laser engraving on rubber over any other technology. Can it be any good when making rubber plates?

Thanks in advance, I’m sorry for my poor English.


Log in to reply   7 replies so far


I guess your pros cover the basics but sort of leave some of the crucial niceties out. Never heard about the stamp makers preferring laser engraving but I kind of doubt fine press printers would go that route. Imaging simply isn’t going to replicate as well with laser engraving, especially at small sizes of type and finer points in illustration (this has to do with concerns about relief structure). But if you don’t have that, what do you have? Stamp making I guess. And I suppose letterpress, if you like that stamp making look to your work.


We have been using laser engraved plates for a year now. After a a steep learning curve we have a stable process and the correct material.

You can find more information here:

You can find some examples of our work here:

We (my wife and I ) are not fine art printers, we are letterpress printers and enjoy the quick turnaround, cost advantages, and simplicity of laser engraved polymer plates for letterpress.

I am very intrigued by the possibility of laser cutting plates. Although, on your site Joe, under ADVANTAGES, it says:
“No exposure or washout processes.”
But then under DIRECTIONS, it says:
“Scrub with soft brush under warm water to remove any soot or kirf.” Sounds like washout, no? Just how much rinsing and brushing is needed?

Also, would you be willing to list your EXACT pieces of equipment and supplies needed to get into this for someone starting from scratch? It would be a great help to have links to these products where they can actually be purchased.

Does anyone have examples of work printed from laser-engraved wood?

I’m taking classes in CNC milling/cutting and Laser Cutting at Techshop, and would love to be able to make some wood type, or metal, using those processes.

If anyone has any experience with something like that and could offer tips as to good materials and router-bits that have worked well for them, I’d love to hear it.




After the plate is engraved you wash it to remove any debris from engraving. This is not the same as the washout process with photopolymer. You are not removing any material, just cleaning the plate.

The EXACT equipment you need is a laser engraver (30watts or stronger) and a the direct engrave material. To hold the plate to your printing base you also need some double sided tape.

You can purchase the laser for a variety of domestic and import companies from Epilog to no name imports on ebay. They will all work, ease of use and reliability seem to be the trade off. I currently use a 40w import laser from Rabbit Laser USA. The plate material you can get from a polymer printing plate supplier or from us at the Laughing Owl Press. I recommend buying the double sided tape from Boxcar unless you want to purchase an entire plate from the plate supplier.

Thanks Joe. I think I just spoke with your wife on the phone before I saw this post. This should get me started on the information hunt!


Are your plates intaglio plates, or are you able to make the laser cutter create relief plates? I understand how the laser cutter can make intaglio, but I’m not understanding the relief platemaking process…