Creating Perfect Pinholes and Zoneplates Everytime

When I first began shooting Zoneplate images, I instantly became interested in creating my own Zoneplates with a variety of zones and to accommodate a variety of focal lengths. The traditional process of creating Zoneplates, is more work that it needs to be especially if you are concerned w/ the accuracy of your final Zoneplate. Accuracy is also a concern for Pinhole photographers when creating their self-made apertures.

Having a background in Graphic arts and the processes involved to create plates (not to be confused w/ Zoneplates) for offset printing presses. I’ve had plenty of experience in the days before Direct-to-plate technology using a “film” output device called an “Imagesetter”. When creating plates for offset presses accuracy is a must and at the time the imagesetter heeded that call. The imagesetter is still used at many local print shops for both Screen printing and Offset printing.

Creating a Zoneplate and Pinhole Apertures

What You’ll Need

Computer with “Vector” based software, such as Adobe Illustrator

This Link to a great Zoneplate Calculator

This Link to a Pinhole Calculator

A shop to with an imagesetter to output your digital file to film

The Zoneplate

At Whiz Kid’s site you can learn all about the in’s and out’s of Zoneplates. Since the subject is “creating” them we’ll stick to that.

1. Determine the focal length of the camera you would like to use your zone plate on.
2. Use Whiz Kid’s Calculator and enter in the information required.
3. Set the output dpi to 9600 in the calculator (this will create an .eps file for you)
4. Download the file
5. Open Illustrator and create an 8.5×11 page. Now open the file you downloaded and bring it into the blank document you just created.
6. If your Zoneplate looks like Figure A, select all and ungroup the selection
7. Deselect the black background and the text at the top and the bottom of the box
8. With only the center images selected, using your align tool, align the image both horizontally and vertically. The zone plate should now look like Figure B.
9. Save your file as an .eps
10. Done

Figure (A)

Figure (B)

The Pinhole

There are quite a few calculators to determine pinhole diameters. Here are a couple links for you to experiment with.

Here is one of them.

1. Determine the focal length of the camera you would like to use your pinhole on.
2. Use one of the suggested calculators and enter in the information required for the calculator.
3. Open Illustrator and create an 8.5×11 page.
4. When you have the results you can to into Illustrator and draw a black box however large you would like.
5. Now, draw a circle the using the results figured by the Pinhole Calculator
6. Center the Pinhole in the black box.
7. Save your file as an .eps
8. Done

Now from the size of the Pinhole or Zoneplate you just created, you can see how much space is left on your 8.5×11 page. Do a variety of Zoneplates with different zones or pinholes experiment with different sizes, shapes or designs till your page is full.

Once you have your files saved you can drop them onto a CD or DVD and take them to a local printer that has “film output” capabilities. A sheet of film at 8.5×11 should not cost more than $15, if it does, shop around.

Ask them for a high resolution Film Positive, Right Reading Emulsion Side Down, output at 100% and the final document size to be 8.5×11.

When you get your Film back it is just like any other film. There is an “emulsion side” and a “carrier side” There are a couple ways to tell which is the emulsion side. The easiest way is to take a razorblade and see if the black will scratch off with very little pressure. If so, that is the emulsion side. The other way is to look at both sides of the film, the “emulsion” side will be dull and the carrier side will be glossy.

When you mount your pinhole or zoneplate to your camera, position the “emulsion side towards your paper or film that your are projecting light to.

Now that you have done this process you should have created an ultra-sharp pinhole and a perfect Zoneplate.


7 thoughts on “Creating Perfect Pinholes and Zoneplates Everytime

  1. Hi All,
    A fine description.
    I created something similar about 1995 using Postscript code to create the images. Here’s the link to my site for that:

    Making pinholes with Postscript

    I’v just gotten back into Pinhole work and expect to update this code soon to include zone plates and photon sieves.

  2. Roger says:

    Great! Thanks for the links.

  3. Creating perfect pinholes and zone plates

    Roger Cline walks you through making perfect pinholes and zone plates with a vector drawing program and computer-printed film from a graphic arts service bureau.
    While zone plates are always made with film of some sort, I’m curious about light tr…

  4. DSLRs and pinholes made from film: a match made in heaven

    I posted the other day about Roger Cline’s instructions for making perfect pinholes and zone plates using graphic arts film, which is totally sweet on its own. Repeatable and perfect pinholes? YES!
    But wait! There’s more! I just realized th…

  5. paulbeard says:

    This is all good stuff, but still dependent on an imagesetter 😉 They’re as rare as hen’s teeth these days.

    I got some BlueFire police film the other day to try making these but making the image to photograph is the stumbling block right now. Inkjets lack the crispness I’m looking for, even if I enlarge the zone plate to fill a 6 x 6 inch area.

    I will try a laser printer next and if that fails I will try taking the image to a self-serve photo kiosk and printing it on photo paper at that resolution.

    I can remember when imagesetters were rare then common: now they’re obsolete? Anyone know of one where I could email the file(s) and get the output mailed to me?

  6. Roger says:

    Many screen printing shops are still dependent on this technology. If they can’t produce it themselves they will surely point you in the right direction.

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