Polymer Pitfalls


One of the problems with polymer plates is that they can be susceptible to scratches, if not handled properly. I must have picked up the smallest speck of grit when I inked this plate, because once I started to wipe it, these horizontal and vertical lines appeared, and they hadn’t been on the previous five prints I’d pulled earlier.

In situations like this, there’s nothing you can do except go back and make a new plate. Fortunately, because I keep very detailed notes, the second plate ended up being practically identical to the first and I picked up an hour later where I’d left off. It’s not always this simple, believe me.

“A beautiful print is a thing in itself…” — Irving Penn


Here’s a wonderful call for work organised by Rfotofolio and judged by Houston gallery owner and director Catherine Couturier.

The INPrint call for entry puts the focus on the final product of the artist vision, the photographic print or object, not the jpeg on the screen. Rfotofolio wants to encourage and promote the art of making the photographic print.


This call for entries will be judged not only on the image, but by the craft, skill, and quality of presentation.


All media are welcome, including but not limited to traditional film, digital, collage, three-dimensional, encaustic, small books, and alternative processes.

More information can be found on the Rfotofolio website.



I have been proofing the first plate with a variety of Charbonnel black inks, which I probably use 90% of the time, plus Gamblin Carbon Black. I had recently run out of the Charbonnel equivalent and tried to buy a 1lb can locally, without luck, so I ended up with the Gamblin, just to see me through a small edition, and I still had it knocking around. It’s OK, but it’s a lot looser than the stiffer Charbonnel version that I’m used to, and prefer.

The Charbonnel inks were Carbon Black, Soft Black and Universal, both with and without modifiers. Over the years I’ve found I’m needing to modify inks much less than, say, 15-16 years ago when I first started using polymer plates. Part of that is due to the ability to control the contrast of the film positive within Photoshop. When I started with this process I was still making film positives with large format sheet film, an enlarger and chemistry in the darkroom – a much harder thing to get right.

The first proofs had great separation in the highlights and mid-tones but the shadows were just a little too deep and black and losing detail. Working with a looser ink gave better separation throughout but the sky was becoming over wiped and too light. I made a second plate, increasing the aquatint screen exposure to lighten the shadows a little while at the same time darkening the high tones slightly. Being the very first image in the series, it’s especially important to get this right as it will set the standard for the remaining prints to match to. After a day of proofing I finally decided on Charbonnel Universal Black.


A New Year – A New Project

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Initial proof on Fabriano paper with Charbonnel ink.

I’m kicking off the new year with a great new project for a client — an edition of 15 portfolios, each containing fifteen images photographed in the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah. The images, approximately 11″ x 7″,  will be printed in polymergravure and presented in handmade clamshell cases.

Today was the first full day on the project and was spent making plates and proofing different papers and inks. As the weeks progress I hope to post more often, especially photos, showing the both the progress and the problems…