Printmaking in Solarplate

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Write by Yuli Andrea Cadavid

Article developed in collaboration with the workshop Milpedras, A Coruña (Spain) supplier of the materials mentioned in this article and investigation workshop


Solarplate is a relatively new technique in the area of printmaking, which has slowly been gaining audience with the great wealth of possibilities for both analog and digital application which offers; besides its physical benefits is a material easy to use developer noble in water and the environment. At the industry level this material has been used for decades but with the passage of time and progress technology has been a noticeable change in terms of components and development processes. The plates used in this technique and recognized by some of his predecessors, Dan Welden; “Solarplate” are a photopolymer plates that are used in industry in the field of flexography and typography for the commercial printing of photographic images and labels on all types of irregular surfaces, the most common are the cardboard boxes, bottles, leather, tape or balloons etc.

In 2001 Dan and Pauline Muir Weldeny as a result of a lot of research published a book on the art: Printmaking in the sun, managed to open technology from a wide range of innovative artistic possibilities in the area of ​​prinmaking. Since this technique can be applied not only by printmakers, so it can be for artists, illustrators, designers, photographers and printers etc.; Who want to create multiple impressions of his work with high quality and with the graphic printing.

In his book Dan Weldeny and http://www.solarplate.com/index.html website refers to the type of plaque known as the most studied Solarplate for them but the market makes it clear that we have available a series of plates industry, with differences not only in price if not in their intrinsic properties can also be used for the application of the technique.


As an artist, publisher and professor of printmaking at the time of applying the technique I encountered two major difficulties: the first did not find many connoisseurs of the art of printmaking with solarplate locally (Medellin, Colombia) the second and perhaps most important was not to find the reference Solarplate in trade and buy the foreign material was too expensive.

But as was mentioned some time ago by Paul Klee "the need to make the form" and the desire to implement the technique and to multiply knowledge with my students, beginning with a search of local materials, starting materials by distributors graphic arts, prepress companies and flexography, with little effect by not having a clear reference as the name was a reference Solarplate clearly commercial. After several months of research found photopolymer plates for flexography and letterpress effectively as referenced in his book Dan Weldeny, different brands and types of photopolymer plates, which involves gradually learning more about the use of material their differences and the results depending on the desired artistic use.

Basically photopolymer plates come in three basic presentations steel or aluminum and flexible polyester, each of them has a second layer of light sensitive polymer (UV) solar or artificial. And finally protective plastic.

Photopolymer plates allow different applications ranging from hole etching, relief and embossing, typography, photoengraving, to the planographic printing. It's just a matter of having clarity on what type of plate used depending on the needs of the work to develop.

Basically we will focus on the three most common types of plates on the market:

Nylonprint photopolymer plates (Germany):



Features: It has presentations and polyester steel base, high resolution, wide range of sizes, hardness, color orange, revealed in warm water and leave residue to reveal.

Its application in the printmaking art is high quality and resolution, but its development is a little slower and the color of the polymer difficult to see in the inking process. Due to its hardness can be used both chalcographic processes, such as typographical.


Jetwater photopolymer plates (USA):



Features: It has presentations and polyester base steel, its hardness allows photo quality and a wide range of shades of gray in the engraving art, color is gold, water-based developer, is biodegradable, leaves no residue and is safe for all drainage systems.

Its application in artistic printmaking is high quality, resolution and its hardness is ideal for gravure processes and time to capture the fine details of the drawing for planographic printing. And its golden color allows easy visibility at the time of inking.


Photopolymer plates and Miraclon Toyobo (Japan)



Features: It has presentations and polyester base steel, its hardness is ideal for jobs that require a lot of pressure like embossing or typography, color is greenish and transparent water-based developer is biodegradable, are polyvinyl and leave no toxic residues

Its application
in artistic printmaking is high quality, resolution, and its hardness is ideal for high-contrast images and creating labels. Its transparent color provides excellent visibility in the inking process.



Solarplate basic technical process:

The technique is called solarplate or printmaking in the sun, due to the UV light sensitivity of the polymer that forms its molecular structure causing a change called polymerization.
To take advantage of this great quality, images are transferred to the contact plate with a transparent art created in greyscale high contrast on transparent paper, which allow the passage of UV light in a controlled manner depending on the image or design on the surface of the plate. The non-image areas allow the passage of light to facilitate the polymerization process, which is the hardening of the photosensitive polymer that makes up the plate, making these become insoluble, forming the white of the image. Simultaneously, the areas where light does not pass that therefore do not harden and dissolved in water at the time of development, creating a hole visible on the surface of the plate are then stored ink to the printing process.


The important thing when applying the technique and get a good result is to have clarity on the type of plate to use about your toughness, your exposure time, maximize their strengths and not ask for material things that their composition does not can shed would be almost like asking a woodcut to give us a line etching, aquatint gray or a lithograph.

The solarplate have in themselves great benefits and a myriad of uses, it is necessary to make time tables in the use of the sun as the exposure unit, after having clarity of tone and material used, be easy to create an artistic engraving high quality and large runs.



Variety of films.


1 3


(For gravure)

Drawing created on Mylar


High Contrast

(For embossed)

Drawing created on Mylar.


Inverted image

(For seal or embossing)

Design printed on acetate

Digital printing.



Insolation process





Time scale and plate



Only continuous and experimentation will help to know which of the plates used, as applicable, and the exposure time, hence the importance of a precise documentation of each process applied.




Title: Valentina
Author: Juan Felipe Giraldo
Technique: solarplate
Plate: Jetwater.



Acknowledgements: the artist Juan Felipe Giraldo, for allowing their work photographically documented.


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