A photopolymer etching is a hand made print created from a steel plate with a photo sensitive coating. It is also known as photogravure, a photo etching, or a photo intaglio print.

An image is printed on the face of the plate with a calibrated ink jet printer.

Image printed on plate

That black ink acts as a resist when exposed to ultraviolet light. Where the light exposes the surface, the photo-emulsion hardens and becomes water resistant. Where the light is inhibited by different densities of black ink the surface is protected from hardening, the depth dependent on the amount of light that penetrates the ink.

Plate with inkjet image placed in UV light box

The areas protected by the black ink are water soluble and easily wash off of the plate’s surface, leaving an image etched into the plate. Unlike traditional etching methods which use asphalt as a resist, nitric acid to etch and several solvents in the process, this non-toxic process only uses light and water! What could be better than that?

Plate washed in water to remove soluble material

The plate is then coated with viscous etching ink, filling all the recesses created by the etching process.

Etching ink spread all over plate

The surface of the plate is then carefully wiped, leaving ink in the etched portions.

Surface of plate is wiped clean with tarlatan, leaving ink only in the etched recesses
Inked and wiped plate ready to print

The inked plate is placed on the bed of an etching press, moistened paper laid onto the plate, and a set of felt blankets lowered onto the paper.

Plate placed on bed of etching press
Moist paper laid onto plate
Felt blankets lowered onto paper

The bed of the press is then rolled under a roller that presses the paper into the recesses of the etched plate, picking up the ink to create the final print.

Paper lifted off plate
Final print

Photo based etchings of the eastern Sierra region