Imagine being the last one in this world to continue, what others have started before you.
Osamu Yamamoto is working for the printing company Benrido in Kyoto, Japan. He is in charge of the collotype – a technology almost extinct today.
He and his studio are working for the office of the Japanese Emperor, making copies and reprints of scrolls, paintings and letters, many centuries old. They are saving Japanese artworks and cultural heritage for the generations to come.
Collotype is a 150 year old printing process from Europe. Around a hundred years ago, it was the leading technology, every country had a great number of collotype studios. You quite possibly own something printed by collotype without knowing it.
In the last five years, the remaining collotype studios in Firenze, Italy and Leipzig, Germany, closed down their daily work. Now there are only two companies printing with collotype left in this world. Both are situated in Kyoto, with Benrido being the bigger studio and the only one which can print in color.
The quality of collotype prints can hardly be matched by today's printers, the colors are extremely endurant and stay vibrant for decades. It's a printing without relying on dots, hence it's almost 1:1 in resolution when compared to the original.
With prior appointment, you can visit the workshop of Benrido. They also offer collotype printed artworks and postcards at their shop in Kyoto.
Soundtrack by Mario Kaoru Mevy:
(c) Fritz Schumann 2015
The collotype plate is made by coating a plate of glass or metal with a substrate composed of gelatin or other colloid and hardening it. Then it is coated with a thick coat of dichromated gelatine and dried carefully at a controlled temperature (a little over 50 degrees Celsius) so it ‘reticulates’ or breaks up into a finely grained pattern when washed later in approximately 16 °C water. The plate is then exposed in contact with the negative using an ultraviolet (UV) light source which changes the ability of the exposed gelatine to absorb water later. The plate is developed by carefully washing out the dichromate salt and dried without heat. The plate is left in a cool dry place to cure for 24 hours before using it to print.
To produce prints, the plate is dampened with a glycerine/water mixture which is slightly acidic, then blotted before inking with collotype ink using a leather or velvet roller. A hard finished paper such as Bristol, is then put on top of the plate and covered with a tympan before being printed typically using a hand proof press. Collotypes are printed using less pressure than is used in printing intaglio, or stone lithography. While it is possible to print by hand using a roller or brayer, an acceptable consistency of pressure and even distribution of ink is most effectively achieved using a press.
Here a bit more of technical info about the process…