Photo Gravure Field Trip

Vinalhaven, Maine, 2012. Gravure print 2013

Brenton Hamilton’s Alternative Process class recently took a field trip to Alan Vlach’s workshop in Trenton, Maine, to make photo gravure prints.

dawson_gravure_15Polymer-based light-sensitive plates used for gravure printing. The vertical plate has been inked and left to dry, while the horizontal plate was inked and printed and left as-is (without re-inking).dawson_gravure_17

(The metal plates are pretty sharp on the edges, and despite a warning (and what I normally consider a healthy supply of common sense) I managed to slice open the tip of my thumb.)


In this particular process the image is printed on a transparency film (making a digital…positive, in this case, since the plate becomes the negative). This transparency is placed in contact with the light-sensitive plate and exposed to UV light.


Alan shows the class some examples of gravure prints, then demonstrates the technique known as “palming”, in which the ink is manually rubbed off the highlight areas of the plate.


The UV hardens the polymer surface where it gets through the image on the transparency. Where the UV is blocked it remains soluble, so in the development (water) that unexposed polymer washes away, leaving the three dimensional etched plate.


The rest of the process is, as far as I know, regular ink printing on a hand-rolled press. I’m amazed, among other things, at how fine the detail is even after roughly rolling on the ink, buffing it with coarse cheesecloth, and palming it with our bare hands. It’s a neat process!


John works the press and then shows off his final print.