History of Photopolymer Plates


Does anyone here know (I’m sure some of you do) the history of using photopolymer plates for letterpress? Who thought of it, when was it, etc.? Any info you can provide would be great.


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My notes from a platemaking course way back in the 1970s shows that the first practical plastic letterpress plates were offered in the 1950s by Kodak, their Kodak Relief Plate (KPR). If I recall correctly, however, these were not photopolymer plates, but rather plates which were coated with a photosensitive resist, and, much like zinc, magnesium & copper plates, were etched to obtain the relief image. In the case of KPR, the etchant was a pretty nasty solvent.

We also made Dupont Dycril plates (offered first in 1960) which were true photopolymer, the material being Nylon, it was found to be photosensitive when exposed to a particular gas (seems like it was just CO2), then could be exposed and washed out in a solvent bath.

The first plates I processed by hand for my own home operation were Nyloprint plates, again nylon, and had to be washed out in Alcohol at elevated temperature.

I was greatly relieved to begin using the water-wash-out plates we use today.

Maybe that will give you some brand names, at least to get you started in your research.


Most of the information that is out there is found in fugitive sources. I’ve made it a point to hunt these down. Off the top of my head I’d say that photopolymer hits the scene in the late 50s/early 60s depending upon differing claims. In the early to mid 60s it was seen as a way of saving letterpress from offset. That failed.

Photopolymer as we know it today, water-washout, sheet photopolymer, was likely developed in the late 1980s per various claims.

The Bunting Magnetic Base was first issued to the trade in 1985.

The first documented information on the use of printers like “us,” was in the late 1980s. By the early 1990s it had caught on somewhat in the fine press community. My first use of it commercially was 1991.

The current crop of letterpress card printers latched on around post 9/11.


Thanks, Gerald & Jhenry!

If you wan’t to know it’s history the letterpress industry isn’t where to look. It was made for the lable press and converting & packageing industry, and then adopted by the rubber stamp makers. Back in the early 80’s when I first started my trade letterpress my customers would make me use it and I hated it (was like turning my press into a autamated rubberstamp with good regester). The stuff was way to soft for letterpress. A few years later someone gave me some samples of some harder stuff but I stayed with magnesium. Back then it was called flexo printing or something like that. Mark Andy lable presses were the only machines up here using it, but I saw a trade rag with all sorts of applications, the only one I remember was budwiser beer cans.

The 1976 Pocket Pal states Flexographic presses are web-fed letterpress machines. Gerald and Jhenry pretty much nailed it.James

I first encountered modern photopolymer plates in the mid-1980’s. (~1984 or 1985) It was being used at the time as an intermediate step in the production of rubber stamps. We started using it for printing “Wooden Nickels” since it was slightly resilient instead of being totally rigid.

Artistic printmakers have been using it to make relief plates since the early 1990s or so. I have an old flyer from an Art Workshop proclaiming “Environmentally Friendly Relief Plates Are Now Possible!”…. and a list of classes about water reduced photopolymer platemaking. It’s dated 1991.

On Dan Welden’s youtube post he developed the solarplate in 1970-71.Humpt!

The oldest reference to photopolymer relief plates I have comes from Graphic Arts Monthly in May 1959, in an article “Direct Rotary Letterpress”. The article is printed from a Dupont photopolymer plate, with type, line art, and halftone (and the negative was made from Brightype positive). The article discusses plates in development for both rotary and flatbed work.
I really doubt this is a later use than in flexo or stamp-making, but like winking cat, I first found photopolymer materials (plain water washout) in the mid-80s through rubber stamp suppliers, where they were sold as moulding plates. The same suppliers also sold liquid photopolymer for stamps that used a detergent washout.

The photochemical hardening of dichromated layers of organic and inorganic compounds into relief plates, started as early as 1830, by Suckow, Ponton, Fox-Talbot, et al.
The history and development is covered by Kosar, in his book “Light-Sensitive Systems — Chemistry and Application of Non-Silver Photo processes”, who
researched for Dupont, Kodak and Ulano.


Thanks for the info. The OP’s request was for “the history of using photopolymer plates for letterpress.”

In a parallel post, a fellow was suggesting that plastic existed before wood. Not obviously accurate, but biopolymer is basic to life itself and is what the biomass consists of. So, something developed from that, whether it be plastic or whatever, yeah, but also no. Plastic is an early to mid-20th century development. There is a difference here.

Yes, developments by the folks you list are crucial to development of photopolymer, as were the wheel, gun powder, the printing press, the electric bulb, etc.

This kind of “long” history is erroneous history.