Tip Tuesday-Photopolymer Plates


I had a customer ask me yesterday how do you wrap your head around the process of making photopolymer plates.  How do you decide what the image should look like before you start so you end up with the right convex (relief) or concave (recessed) design?  What a great question that I struggle with as well.  So I hope this tutorial is helpful.  I highly recommend watching my video on YouTube as a starting point for learning how to easily develop Photopolymer plates.  If it's not evident by looking at the photos, the yellow portion of the PPP is the cured or unwashed out area.  The clear portion is the polyester backing on which the yellow resin is attached.  The yellow is the portion that makes the impression.  The clay will go into the areas that are clear.

HOT MEMORY TIP: The clear areas are the recessed areas or background areas of the silver or clay.  The Black is the foreground or raised areas of the clay.  Black before Clear.

If you are skipping the Thermal Negative Film (TNF) step:

-and you want your design to give you a relief or convex design then your transparency needs to be a positive copy like the one above on the left or the one below on the left
-and you want your design to give you a recessed or convex design then your transparency needs to be a negative copy like the middle copy

If you are using the Thermal Negative Film step:

-and you want your design to give you a relief or convex design then you first make your transparency a negative copy (like the middle copy above), then when you develop the TNF, it will give you a positive copy (like the one below) and you'll then develop a plate that gives you the relief pattern
-and you want your design to give you a recessed or concave design then you first make your transparency a positive copy (like the one below to the left), then you develop the TNF, it will give you a negative copy (like the one in the middle above) and then you'll develop a plate that gives you the recessed pattern

Why bother using the TNF?  Well it only takes about 5 minutes extra and is going to give you a much better impression.  Transparencies are not fully black.  They are a dark grey when printed.  The TNF is an absolutely black film.  It does have to be cured, just like the PPP or Photopolymer Plates, but it's worth the extra step.  Having this black film image allows no extra UV light to get to the plate so it cannot be cured and will be washed out. This is especially important on the edges of your design.  If the light can partially cure the plate then it will not wash out completely and will leave you a rounded edge.  The TNF gives you a crisp edge.  Here is what one customer said about our Thermal Negative Film:

Just wanted to send a "thank you” for your great tutorial on TNF and PPP.  I’ve been working on redoing all my sumi-e images using the TNF this weekend and they are coming out GREAT!!!  The TNF really makes a difference.  :o)

—Pam East


The great thing about these plates is that you can make a custom texture plate with a complicated design in very little time.  It takes about 15 minutes total time to make a plate.  I start with my clip art cds finding all the different patterns that I really like.  I print these out on one or two pages with 1" between images.   Whole Lotta Whimsy has a great collection of clip art books in both the Book category and Clearance category.  These clip art books come with a cd which will allow you to make the clip art any size you'd like and if you have graphic skills you can alter or edit the design as well.  You can also draw a design and scan it into the computer and then alter that as well.

Next I take that disc to my local printer and ask them to print out it out on transparency.  If I made a lot of these I might invest in a box of 3M transparency sheets and print them out myself.  Now I am ready to make my TNF or Thermal Negative Film.  You can check out the rest of the process on the video.


As you can see each design has it's possible great uses.  So when you are making your plates, maybe you should make both designs.  This might save you time later from having to go back and get out the disc and make the art again.  Don't forget that really small spaces with the deeper texture plates are harder to get in an image or impression.  The thin metal backed PPPs are great for this.  I highly recommend them.  I really like using them for a more subtle texture and definitely for words.  I love them for words!

Here is an example of a piece I did with Keum Boo and Resin which was published in the PMC Guild Annual 2.  The front top bail has a PPP texture of the sign Double Happiness.  The other picture shows the back using a PPP.  It is a quote about friends and happiness (Swedish proverb).  It may not be clear with the angle of the camera but the top says "Double Happiness, TMD, 2008, FS".

IMG_3506_2 IMG_4240

5 Responses to Tip Tuesday-Photopolymer Plates

  1. Thanks for the great info Tonya. This really helps it get into my head! And to see how clean you scrub your PPP's too! I really appreciate your help. And I've decided that TNFs are the way to go! They make it all so clear.

  2. I know it's been a while since you answered my last questions…but I have some new ones now! First of all – is there an easy way to tell which way up the TNF should be? I try and scratch a small section but it would be great if they were supplied with some way of telling so each time I didn't have to scratch. Secondly, if I print out my image on vellum from my inkjet printer and use that for making the plate, will that differ significantly from printing out a paper copy on the inkjet and then going to a copy store to copy onto a transparency?
    Maybe this will encourage a new post? Thanks

  3. I rarely leave a response, but i did some searching and wound up here Tip Tuesday-Photopolymer Plates. And I actually do have a few questions for you if it's allright. Is it simply me or does it appear like a few of the comments come across like written by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing at other social sites, I'd like to follow anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of all your communal sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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