Modern Makers Blog - Part 5: Solarplate Printing


Written by Modern Makers participant Katie Billington.

View all of this project's blog posts 

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been learning how to print using solarplate (also known as photopolymer plate). Solarplates come with a layer of light sensitive material and images are etched onto the plate when this is exposed to natural light or artificial UV light ad developed in water. The plate can then be printed in the usual intaglio fashion.

For the first session we came prepared with black and white images that we had hand-drawn, which were then photocopied onto sheets of acetate. I quickly learnt that this type of printing-making lends itself to high contrast images preferably drawn in pen; my initial pencil drawing was too soft so I spent the first half hour adding definition.

One of the main differences of this type of printmaking to others we’ve looked at, is that you do most of your preparation in advance of making your plate since, in effect, the process transfers an image. For some, this means you can nail your image at home, then use most of your precious studio time to print. This also means that it’s good for photography, or other digital images. However, if you’re the type of person who likes to slowly shape a plate, or to see it evolve during the process, it’s probably not your medium. Once the solarplate has been exposed, that’s it. You can of course play around with your ink and rolling, but your plate is essentially unchangeable.

Once we had our images on acetate, we then used a large, impressive, and slightly futuristic-looking UV machine to expose the plates, with the acetate sheet in between the UV light and the plate. We all started with a test strip of plate in order to test out different exposure times and see what worked best with our images. Once we’d chosen the exposure time, we then exposed our actual plates, before developing them in water, drying them, baking them and finally printing them!  

The following week I experimented with a photograph, which I’d digitally edited beforehand to enhance the definition. This in itself was interesting; my editing choices definitely changed as a tried to work out what would be best for solarplate printing the image. I also learnt how there are so many (known and unknown) factors that influence a print. I still don’t know how I ended up with some of the lines on my plate – they definitely aren’t in the photo – but of course, isn’t that all part of the printmaking fun!

Written by Modern Makers participant Katie Billington.