The Death of Photogravure

_mg_1863The death of photogravure may not be exaggerated.

In about a month, I will be studying the traditional dust grain photogravure process with Jon Goodman. This was rescheduled from June. Up until now I have been playing with polymer plate photogravure. I want some hands on experience with the traditional copper plate method.

A couple days ago, he forwarded an e-mail from a MacDermid Autotype sales representative saying:

It is with sadness that after 100 years of supply, MacDermid Autotype is now forced to discontinue the manufacture of Gravure Pigment Papers and films due to the withdrawal of two unique raw materials.

Coincidentally, I had sent a thank you note to Mark Katzman for the creating the brilliant site. I woke to his reply this morning where he suggested I blog about the “Death of Photogravure.” And the loss of the key manufactured component of the process is catastrophic indeed.

The Autotype Company started as a manufacturer of carbon pigment tissue in Brixton in 1868. The carbon printing method was perfected by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1862, and was commercialized as “the autotype.” The Autotype Company evolved to support a variety of photographic reproduction processes and began manufacturing the gelatin tissue for use in photogravure. The use of the pigmented gelatin tissue in the making of a photogravure plate is described on the Art of the Photogravure site. Wilson also perfected the bromide paper still in use today.


But all that is irrelevant to the greater history of the world (which is partly why few people are noticing the passing of the gelatin tissue needed for photogravure). What Swan is primarily known for is the invention of the incandescent light. His work led to Edison’s later successful commercialization of the technology.

Messages are flying through the ether. Richard Sullivan of Bostick & Sullivan has sent a note out that he is attempting to reproduce the manufacture of carbon tissue for photogravure. He is requesting help in determining the composition.

So, the future is what we make it at this point.



  1. Posted Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    I was talking to my friend Ken and mentioned Swan’s greater claim to fame and remarked “Making the world a brighter place, one bulb at a time.”

    This is almost a lightbulb joke.


  2. Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    A new tissue is available now called Phoenix Gravure. It is very similar to Autotype in processing and paper backing. It comes in 4×65′ or 2×8′ rolls.
    It is sold by Cape Fear Press. I am also offering workshops with Unai San Martin using the new tissue. We cover all aspects of plate making, dustgrain, aquatint screens, printing, chine colle, steel facing, special tricks and tips plus much more.

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