Friday, April 27, 2012

Show & Tell: Polymer Plates

So you've seen some of the metal type used for letterpress printing. But how about "modern letterpress printing" techniques? How do you take a design on the computer and get invitations made from it?

Well, once the design is finalized by all parties, we send it off to our friends at Boxcar Press- they not only do their own printing, but create plates for other printers. And they have a special way to do it- with adhesive-backed polymer. (The traditional way was metal on metal. Another method is steel-backed polymer.)

At the class in which I learned to print (YEARS ago, oh my goodness!) we made our own polymer plates. Our line art file was printed onto a transparency sheet and was placed over the unexposed polymer. Together they were placed inside of a really cool machine that exposes the areas behind the transparency that are not inked. Once the timer goes off, we took the plate to the sink and scrubbed gently under running water, brushing away the part of the plate that won't be inked! Dried off, et voila, a polymer plate!

The plates we used were steel backed and attached magnetically to the base. Watch those fingers, the edges could slice them! The instructor told us about Boxcar's aluminum base and adhesive-backed plates- no more sliced fingers. I was sold.

Photo from
As long as inviting's been printing, we've used Boxcar's plates. In a perfect world, I'd have a plate maker and be doing it myself, but as they're the size of a dining table, we just don't have the space.  Not to mention, they're crazy-pricey.

Cool facts about the polymer plates:
-These can be reused over and over. In fact, we're still using a plate from our first wedding job, back in 2008. The print quality hasn't diminished one bit.
-And you know what else? They're recyclable! We just send a pack of scraps and old-old wedding designs back to Boxcar. Awesome.

So, from start to finish:

Let's use this wedding design as our example. Here's the design from the .ai file.

Here's the plate, after trimming from the larger sheet. You can see how the text & image are raised.

And here's a photo of the printed invitation:

You can't tell by this photo but the text and art are crisp and the impression is strong.

So, that's how we do a lot of our cards. It's great not to be limited to what we can find on ebay!

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