Photoresist: Truths and Myths

I've intentionally limited my work to glass pieces that will fit within my oversized blasting cabinet.  This means that I can use photoresist for all artwork, simplifying the process (I don't have to learn to use a plotter, or develop the hand skills necessary for freehand cutting).  There are currently two primary suppliers of photoresist in the United States: Rayzist and Photobrasive Systems.  Based on information from other sandcarvers, I conclude that both companies make excellent products.  I've further simplified my workflow to use only resist with adhesive pre-applied, thus saving a step.  This means that I use PhotoBrasive UltraPro exclusively.  So, here are some truths/myths I've learned:

"You can't carve really deep with photoresist"

A more accurate statement would be: "it takes more skill to carve really deep with photoresist than with conventional heavy resist".  Both photoresist suppliers quote depth information very conservatively, so that consumers will have very achievable expectations.  Most experienced carvers can achieve up to 1/4 inch depth with 3mil; much deeper with 4, 5, or 6.  6 mil can be used to blast rocks.  The secret is to keep the abrasive stream moving, so that the temperatures don't rise to the point of destroying the resist.

"There is a lot of bad art being done using photoresist"

True statement, as near as I can tell.  Good glass artwork begins with good art.  I certainly plead guilty to bad art on a number of occasions.

"You've got to work in a darkroom to expose and develop photoresist"

An accurate statement would be: "you should use care when handling the undeveloped film".  Having a photography background makes me err on the side of caution here; I use bug lights to make sure I don't compromise the image.  60 watt bug lights.  Compared to a conventional darkroom, this is like being outside on a sunny day.  You can read by these things.  If you are careful with times and light spectrum, you can use a conventionally lit room.  Test your room, leaving strips of unexposed resist face up in the open, with coins on top.  Wash out the resist.  If you can see the outline of the coins, you've got a problem. 

"You've got to know how to use a computer to produce really good images with photoresist"

You have basically three choices here: use someone else's computer art, generate your own computer art, or use hand drawings to create positives.   If you are approaching glass carving as an artist, you really only have the last two choices.  If you are skilled at technical drawing, pen and ink work, you need never use a computer.  If you don't have those skills, you will indeed be using a computer.  If that seems 'unnatural' then perhaps you're better suited to hand cutting. 

"Photoresist is a complicated and finicky product"

Would you expect a good image from your camera, if you set the exposure incorrectly, or if the lab didn't develop it right?  Of course not.  Follow directions.  In my experience, products from both suppliers consistently exceed expectations.  If they didn't, both would be out of business.

Whew!  That felt good!

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