Laser Cutter for Intaglio & Letterpress Printmaking
This is brilliant!
I have seen the power and the glory that is a laser cutter. If I could ever have my own, I would be on that in a second. I love the handmade, but I also love hybridity; especially when there are overlaps in technique and technology.
Laser cutters are so amazingly precise. This is especially true with thin plywood and sheets of acrylic. Cuts on acrylic are particularly precise. You can deal with digital art work, scanned hand drawn art or a combination of both. I was watching a laser cutter in action at hacker/maker space Pumping Station: One in Chicago. Many colleges and universities have one around, but sometimes only faculty can use them or you need special permission and training to use one. It works like a big printer: a printer with a powerful cutting laser.
MakeZine’s blog has an update on using a laser cutter for traditional pritmaking here.
There’s something so charming about combining high and low tech, which is why I like Trammell Hudson’s latest tutorial. The NYC Resistor member posted an excellent guide on how to use a lasercutter to create intaglio
letterpressplates out of acrylic, which is much less expensive than using the traditional copper. Intaglio plates have the positive image etched into them which creates reservoirs that hold the ink and are transfered to the paper. He also plans on posting a separate guide to creating letterpress relief plates, which have the negative image etched into them, creating protrusions that are inked and then transferred. Thanks for sharing your tips, Trammell!
This idea is also great because it is hard to find letterpress blocks and movable type pieces. They are unusual, cherished by letterpress fans and printmakers, and they have been steadily increasing in price due to rising popularity combined with growing scarcity. You can have any kind of font you want cut, and the amount you want cut. For intaglio, this is a safer, easier method than acid etching plates. You could turn a drawing into a relief cut in half the time or faster.
Click here for an in depth MakeZine article on laser cutting intaglio plates and a preview of using a laser cutter for relief printing. Traditional printmaking shops with presses may do well to add a laser cutter to the equipment on the floor in the future.
I’ve had the best results with the text as solid black and raster cut at 80% power, 20% speed, while the artwork with fine lines were vector cut at 5% power, 10% speed. The cuts do not need to be very deep (unless you want to emboss without any ink), so the low speed is to ensure that the laser cutter’s steppers make smooth lines. I use my own GPL’ed epilog driver to give me better control over the cutting versus etching, but this should work fine with Corel as well. Here is a short video of the laser cutter as it vector cuts the mirror image text. [source]
Here’s a separate, unrelated video that just shows a laser cutter in action: