Inkjet Printed Film

I have been making photopolymer plates for sometime now with excellent results. I just purchased and inkjet printer and have tried making film with it. Till now I have been purchasing film from a printer. The film I have made is very opaque and looks great. The issue I am running into is that it seems to require a very long exposure compared to the film I have been using. Is there anyone out there using a BlackMax or similar system, like Filmmaker to produce inkjet film and have they had similar issues. Any advice on exposure techniques or film types would be useful.

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Hey Don-

As a matter of professional courtesy, I’ll share what I know.

I have recently been making my own inkjet films and exposing/processing photopolymer plates with great success.
The three keys are:
1. great film, great inkjet printer
2. great INK for that inkjet printer, and the RIGHT ink.
3. a RIP that can offer a good solution to working with and TUNING that inkjet printer/film combination.

1- Film:

My printshop does multiple processes- silkscreen, intaglio, lithography, and also letterpress from photopolymer.

I started looking for a better type of silkscreen film a while back when I acquired an Epson 9900 printer; I settled on a brand made by Ulano, a direct-method photo emulsion producer.

They make the ‘pink stuff’ you see coated on silkscreens at most of the Tshirt shops who buy american made emulsion.
They also make an excellent, economical inkjet transparency film which has a very low UV blocking quality, which makes it ideal for photo-exposure.
I buy it in 44” wide rolls to fit the largest images we make with our silkscreen setup, but you can get it at all sorts of sizes and it’s not expensive compared to imagesetter film.

2- Ink.

Next, I looked into ink. It has been said many times by screen printers that having more than one channel of black ink printing at once is ‘better’ because it is ‘more opaque’. That might be fine with some positive printing films, and true to an extent for silkscreen, but the fact is- the more you load the film with ink, the more it spreads. We know this as letterpress printers, we see it with ink on press. Well, ink jets do the same thing but on a much smaller level.

So in my research I came across many companies who purport to vend replacement cartridges and “all black” sets of ink. OK, that is fine, but I kept looking because I have overloaded film with ink before and that does not work well with negatives. I wanted to find a company that offered suitable film for printing from ONE channel- meaning ONE nozzle- of the inkjet head.

At some point I stumbled upon a company who make aftermarket parts and films, called American Inkjet Supply. They offer a variety of after market inkjet parts, like cartridges. They also offer inks.
One of the inks they offer is a UV blocking black ink designed for….. ding ding ding…. Film positives.

The ink itself is really opaque, and it really does filter UV light. I get good exposures up to 7 and 8 minutes even and really good washout. It has changed the way we screenprint, AND the way we make letterpress plates here.

I had to purchase all of the refillable cartridges for the printer, chip resetters, and a couple gallons of fluid, but it was one of the most worthwhile investments I’ve ever made for the shop because the system saves a lot of money over buying OEM epson carts, and this ink is far less expensive than going with an imagesetter. It ran probably around 1300 dollars to convert the machine in total and fill it with ink, so it is not for the faint of heart- but I have a really big inkjet and that makes it more expensive. Some of the smaller epson printers can be done for less.

No, it does not offer 2400 LPI rendered line screens or halftones. But I don’t use it for halftone- I use it for line art and vector, and it does great at that, and I’m very happy with the results (I am very very picky, too).

3- RIP.
The last piece of the puzzle- You have to have a RIP to really work well with this stuff. Not because you need something to process the pixels well- most graphic software further forward than say, 2007 is able to provide satisfactory post-script pixel pushing (say that 5 times fast!)
Where a RIP comes in handy is that it provides a way to test and maintain DROPLET COUNT.

The inkjet head actually pushes out small droplets as it passes back and forth; the amount of droplets per unit is measured carefully and CAN be modified for greater/lesser coverage. The thing that works here is that with my printer/RIP combination, I can do a test to find out just how little ink I can use- how FEW droplets I need- in order to print an opaque enough layer of the ink to make my image function correctly. So, in this case, I use the RIP software to generate a test film with multiple instances of various droplet counts. Then I expose this test to my medium (screen, plate) and establish a typical “Pass fail” tester. If it develops correctly up to a certain droplet swatch, but fails after that swatch, I pick the next swatch better and work with that.
this allows me to use the least amount of ink possible, as mentioned, and reduces spread considerably- it is what allows me to hold .25 pt lines on a negative film and have them correctly expose 9as far as I can measure). Just yesterday we printed some films and made some plates from an artist friend of mine’s drawings, and noted that she had used .001 micron pen on them- this turned out really well on the plates, and in the resultant letterpress proofs.

That’s it, the rest of what I can share will have to come out with people’s questions; undoubtably part of the success of this system (for me at least) is in my willingness to handle files with the highest resolution possible and patience with checking the media/testing the printer often, and maintaining it, but part of it has to do with finding the best stuff.

Oh, and as far as cost, I think this film- imaged- costs me about 3.00 a square foot now that I have the system set up.

Thank you for the information HavenPress, much appreciated. I have installed FilmMaker 4 as my RIP and have an all black system, Epson 1430. I am getting the best (looking) results using just 2 of the 6 cartridges.

I printed a job last week with very fine print. I have compared the negatives (from an imagesetter) I used on that job with ones I have made on the inkjet. The image setter is a little cleaner, but the inkjet films are not that far off in appearance.

I have made plates to compare with the ones I used to print the job. The exposure I used when making plates (from the imagesetter film) was 16 minutes. When exposing the inkjet films I have gone 3 times that long in the exposure unit and I am still losing punctuation and fine lines.

My first thought was that the film itself must be slowing down or filtering some of the ultra violet from hitting the plate. Maybe this is true, but, thanks again I have a number of other ideas on where to look now to improve my results.

As for cost, I decided to invest in this system when I had to pay 45$ for 9x12 piece of film for a rush job.

That is a great explanation HavenPress! Thanks for sharing it.

So your film could be part of the problem. What brand are you using?

Yes, the problem could be partly or largely because of the film. The film is branded “Microjet” Waterproof and Fast Dry. I have located a Ulano distributer close by and will see if they can supply an inkjet film I can use for a comparison.

Not all Distros carry the Ulano film, but you could try victory factory if you wanted to source a roll. (800)255-5335, make sure to ask specifically for the “Ulano inkjet film” as they carry several other film products called capillary films etc etc.

fascinating from Haven, thank you. i was given a few sheets of photographers ‘digital transfer fim’ to try, just ain’t got around to doing it, but should be very fine detail.

The film does make a difference. I have tried a different film and found it gave slightly different results. But, I also discovered it is not just a matter of putting the film in the printer. My printer is sheet fed. Each material has to be recalibrated to get the best results for that material. I still have a lot to learn on how to fine tune the printer to get the best results. The film I used as a comparison was a lot less absorbent than the film I started with and as a result took less ink.
Another variable I did not take into account is the Photopolymer. I make KF152’s and KF’95’s. I keep them in storage and when I need a specific size I will cut it out to make the best use of the material. Often there are small left over pieces I put in a storage area to use for small jobs. Well testing a new film system is a small job.
I know how old the plate material in storage is, but the scraps are undated. I have been using the scraps in the testing I have done on this film and I think it has affected the results.
I have switched to fresh photopolymer for testing. The results have been more consistent and predictable.
My exposure times have come down to the acceptable range but I still have a lot of fine tuning to do.

Ohhhh yeah. that could be the culprit, or your lamps not being professional level or being very old. I expose for 3-5 minutes.

Also I buy plates in lots of 10, date them, keep the lot in the same bag, even the scraps.
When I first get the batch, the initial time I’m gonna use a plate I run the test film before I make plates from that batch. I add incremental percentages of 20% exposure per 16 days (sweet spot I have found), based on how old the plates are, and when they’re too old-
I washout all the polymer and recycle the carrier sheets after 100 days (there usually isn’t much leftover anyhow but that’s my procedure).

(I just leave the scraps in a bucket and yank the carrier layer after a day or two.)