This is Robert Becker, the guy that has been making program discs with Pea Hicks since 2008. It appears that our ability to make new discs is ending unless I can get some help.
My role in the process is to take the audio files that Pea creates and convert them to an image file that can be photo-plotted on a high-resolution film plotter. The output of the plotter is a film master (negative) that is used to make disc copies. This master gets a 0.250” hole punched in the exact center. The film used for the copies (which are contact printed) is hole punched before exposure. The hole is used to register the master to the copies so the copied image will be perfectly centered.
The plotting, hole punching, and contact printing was done by a mom-and-pop engineering lab that was in close proximity to my workplace. They were a one-stop-shop, and were very accommodating. This lab held on to our master films so they could produce copies as we needed them. Earlier this year, the owner retired and sold all of the equipment to a large corporation 65 miles away. The masters were also sent to the new company. I wrote a letter of understanding stating that I could request the return of the masters at any time.
We tried ordering discs from the new company, and they have not fulfilled our order. They are now saying they are not interested in making discs (copies or masters) unless we are willing to pay 4 or 5 times the price. They also will not do any hole punching.
I’m exploring the possibility of bringing the film processing in-house to my workplace. The good news is that it looks like I will probably get some darkroom space. The bad news is that I have very limited (actually no) darkroom experience.
What’s required to make this work:
1. Photo plotter (to make new masters): There are a few places that can do hi-res photo plotting (8000 DPI), so I can delay this purchase, though it would be nice to have this in house. The cost of a new hi-res film plotter is $10K to $13K.
2. Fixture for punching the holes: The fixture that was used for punching the holes was sent to the new company. No one currently knows if it still exists (it could have been scrapped, or maybe hidden in a warehouse). This fixture was custom made, and could reliably punch the center holes to within +/- .001”. I estimate $1K to $2K for a replacement fixture (wild guess).
3. Fixture for making contact prints: I’m not certain how this was done. I assume something like a photo enlarger with a hold-down fixture with a .250” pin to align the copy film to the master. Estimate $1K to $2K (wild guess).
4. Darkroom stuff (tanks, chemicals, tools, special lights, etc.): I have to build a darkroom. It also has to be a clean room (dust is a problem for the film). I’m not sure what I need except in very general terms. I could use help here. Estimate $5K to $20K (wide range due to my ignorance).
5. Film: The lab I used was very tight lipped about this. I once was told that they had to move to negative polarity film because the positive polarity film was no longer available. Another employee said they used AGFA film (I don’t think he was supposed to tell me this). For the plotter, the film needs to be “red sensitive” since the plotter uses a red laser. For contact prints, I assume they used another type of film (cheaper, probably). I know the darkroom safety light needs to be green for the plotter film, but I’m not sure what’s needed for the contact prints.
So, I need someone knowledgeable that can consult with me about this sort of work so I can plan what I need. I need to deliver a budget to my company to get this going. If you happen to know about this stuff—or know somebody who does, please contact me!