making films for platemaking

We are researching options at the moment for the production of producing films with the hope to be able to keep our production all in house in terms of films and platemaking which we currently outsource.

Any advice on the best system & materials for producing films inhouse? Obviously a big agfa imagesetter would do mighty fine job - but at a very big expense!

We have tested our xerox laser printer before to make films and found that we did not achieve enough density in ink. We have recently acquired a wax printer (uses blocks of wax rather then toner). This seems to give much better density - however I do wonder if anyone has tried this before? My thought is what will happen to the wax once exposed to the UV light. Will it melt??

We haven’t yet purchased our platemaker so can’t yet test this out but would love to hear any thoughts on how you approach film making?

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Our solution was a big Agfa imagesetter. There doesn’t seem to be a real alternative to this, unfortunately.

Some screen printers use rip software and an Epson modified with all-black ink cartridges to achieve density, but it probably won’t be crisp enough for fine line work or small text for letterpress.

The imagesetter has been advantageous from a turnaround standpoint. You have to consider the value of quick turnaround versus the cost of time and materials to run film, though.

There was a learning curve, which took time and money.
There were also quite a few technical issues we had to overcome: setting up the RIP, interfacing it with our PC-based workflow, setting the imagesetter expsoure, figuring out how to mix the chemistry, and setting the processing speed / temperature.

The platemaker itself is a tricky little S-O-B, too. I find my exposure times vary wildly with the temperature, probably due to the bulbs warming up. You definitely have to run a test strip every time. When it’s hot out I need about 47 seconds, and when it’s cold it can go to 1:14ish.

Once you get it all dialed in, you can get consistent results and you’ll be glad to have it, ‘till it breaks!

Have you tried with a colour laser? If you set it up to print with all four of the inks (CMYK) then it does become quite dense.
At the printing office, where I work, we print transparencies all the time for hobbyist circuit etching. You ought to give it a try.

Some digital presses can be set up to put down 400% (100% on each ink) density, and they have fine detail and perfect registration, plus the prints are heat resistant (both the transparent stock and the inks/toner as well, since they are fused with heat above 100-150°C).

If your laser printer does have the resolution you want, you might consider making exposure of laser transparency to daylight contact film in an exposure frame with a quartz or mercury light source. These systems are being discarded all over as CTP and digital presses replace traditional methods.
Our local equipment dealer, Hicks Bros in San Francisco, has multiple light sources and large contact frames for which there is no market. And with them moving at the end of the month you could make a deal. Any dealers in your area might have similar excess stock.
But the quetion remains how much longer contact and dupe films will be available. Processing is RA, can be done in tray too.

I’d just like to point out that screen printing positives have come a long way in the past few years. It’s not necessary to convert a printer to a RIP setup that prints black ink from all cartridges. All that is necessary is that you purchase the correct film for inkjet separations. I would recommend something like Chromaline’s Accuart or Accublack, which offer excellent DMax (ink density) and are coated with a special film to allow the inkjet toner to really achieve a good opacity and line fidelity.

Traditionally, I avoid laser, since there has been an issue with the heat generated in that process “stretching” positives, which can wreck havoc on multiple color registration. But ultimately, it depends on the amount of films that you output at one time.

James Beard
Vrooooom Press

I’m setting up a darkroom for camera film, but for now am going to the screen printing inkjet film route as I already have it going.

Density is not a problem. The main drawback is that Epson printers are only going to offer 1440dpi output which is about half most imagesetters. Pixelization on certain types of line work and text is apparent. It does the trick though, cheaper and easier than camera or imagesetter film.

Thank you for all your comments. I am guessing that from the sounds of it a screen printing inkjet solution would be cheaper then an imagesettter option. As as we would only be producing up at A4 plates we would only really need some sort of small system.

Having looked at Chromolines Accuart as per Vrooooom’s suggestion above. I now do wonder what would be the best piece pf equipment to print these films. Preferably something small and desktop would suit best. The smallest suggested Epson printer to suit is the 7800 and is A2 in size.

From the sound of it our laser printer is out and I have concerns with our wax printer (although amazing ink density) whilst under heat in the platemaker.

Photo Stylus Pro printers come 13” or 17” wide I believe and will be cheaper, but the 600 line (7600 and 9600) Stylus Pro printers they made are best for film in terms of density. They are 24” and 48” printers though, so won’t be cheap.

I don’t think it’s worth spending the money on an inkjet film system. If you already have it it’s worth playing around with, but just outsource your film, you’ll run into many less headaches.

If you’re looking for cheap and lots of work, track down an old line camera from a shop that doesn’t use it anymore. Print out 1200 dpi laser copy and shoot film with the camera that you then tray develop (or buy a film processor. ) You need a darkroom and there is a steep learning curve, but it’s the cheapest way to go.

regarding laser film stretching issues for silkscreen, was just reading about this film that claims no stretching and seems cheaper then the transparencies that are sold for making film positives from inkjet. It’s called Kimodesk. If density is good enough you should be able to get a higher resolution then from Epson inkjets…and seems like a good value if the film is cheaper and toner is cheaper than ink. The only issue for most is probably that more people starting out in silkscreen have Epson inkjets then tabloid laser printers.

I will eat any hat if you can achieve negative density necessary for pp platemaking from a laser printer.

Also, most Epson printers at highest resolution settings print at 1440dpi. Are there many tabloid laser printers out there that can print above 1200dpi?

I suppose not! There aren’t even that many tabloid laser printers any more.

I guess i’m still stuck in the last century…. since I still use old-fashioned photographic film. The real advantage of photographic film is that you can make the negatives VERY dense, and they carry very fine details.

You don’t have to have a big graphic arts camera to make your own photographic negs. For smaller work, I’ve found that a 4x5 view camera works GREAT….. and an 8x10 is even better. Since they are obsolescent, you can find really nice ones on e-bay or in local camera shops for very reasonable prices….. and any good used book store will have all sorts of books on how to use them. You can get orthochromatic film on the internet, and chemicals are cheap.

The real disadvantage of chemical photography is not with cost or quality…. it’s one of know-how. Making really good negs takes a bit of skill, and the learning curve is rather steep. BUT if you are willing to study, and learn how to do it right, you’ll be amazed at what you can do with it.