An introduction to Platinum/Palladium printing – by Scott Hays
If there was ever a form of printing that gives you that true artistic feel, Platinum/Palladium would be it. If you have access to a negative, the sun and a piece of glass that doesn’t block UV rays and running water; you are half-way to being able to create a Platinum/Palladium print. For the rest of the process, let’s just say money won’t hurt: it may not buy happiness but it can keep us in printing supplies forever.
Platinum/Palladium Printing was patented in the mid-1870’s and has never gone away. It provides an image that is soft, multi-dimensional in appearance and depending on your paper, developer and a few other items, you will get a beautiful brown to off-white appearance in your final product.
One of the reasons for the soft look Platinum/Palladium (Pt/Pd) is credited with; is the emulsion does not sit on top of the paper or in a gel as we find with inkjet or other forms of printing. Since the papers used are handmade the emulsion will soak into the top layer allowing the metals to remain in place when the excess emulsion is washed away.
This also makes Pt/Pd the most archival print we know of today. As long as the paper is cared for, images themselves will last. Talking only about those made on paper, not metal or glass, prints that were made in the 1870’s are still available today.
Here’s what I cover:
Table of contents
What you need
No matter what size negative you work with, they can all be used. Obviously a 4×5, 8×10 or larger negative is ideal. If those aren’t available you have the option of scanning any size physical negative in order to create a digital negative and achieve the size of print you would like.
I am currently creating negatives using FIXXONS Waterproof Silk Screen Positive Film with my Canon Pro Pixma 9000 Mark II Inkjet. Once I print the negative I will normally let it set overnight to dry. If I am in a “rush”, I may let them set for 4-6 hours.
Bostick and Sullivan is probably the largest supplier of anything dealing with Alternative Printing, and Pt/Pd is no exception.
The primary chemicals required for creating a Palladium/Platinum Print are:
- Palladium or Platinum (ideally pre-mixed as a solution)
- Ferric Oxalate Solution #1 and #2 for Platinum. (#2 helps adjust for Contrast)
- NA2 5% (Sodium Platinum) if you are working with digital negatives. It replaces the Ferric Oxalate #2.
- Developer Potassium Oxalate or Sodium Citrate
- EDTA Clearing Agent
- Tween 20 (optional)
The first three are the main components of the emulsion. Then comes the developer, the clearing agent and tween ( a surfactant and spreading agent used for handmade photographic printmaking).
For your papers, there are several on the market; but the primary papers you are going to run into are:
- Arches Platine
- Hahnemuhle Platinum
- Revere Platinum
Remember that these papers are specifically created for Pt/Pd purposes. Although some of these companies make great watercolor papers and other art papers, those will not work for this process. These are completely ph neutral, no bleaches, etc… If you try to use a regular watercolor paper, you will be disappointed.
No darkroom? No problem. Once you prepare your paper, just try to stay out of UV light until you are ready to expose.
No Darkroom Required.
Preparing the emulsion
If you purchase a kit through Bostick and Sullivan, they provide a sheet that will give you basic emulsion preparation instructions. It is a very straight-forward process when you are beginning. The preparation will depend on the size of the print you are making but as an example, when making an 8×10 print using a digital negative you will need a 20/20/4-5 mix as follows:
- 20 drops of palladium/platinum
- 20 drops of Ferric Oxalate
- 4-5 drops of NA2 5%
That gives you enough emulsion to cover most papers. If you are working with a 5×7, the amount is simply reduced. Bostick and Sullivan does a great job at giving you everything you need to be successful in the process.
Applying the emulsion
There are two methods of applying your emulsion to your selected paper. One is to use a glass rod that will spread the emulsion over your paper; pushing the emulsion while you move the rod across its length. The other is to use a brush to “paint” the emulsion on. I learned with a brush and have stuck with it.
Applying the emulsion in an even layer is the key no matter which method you use to apply it. With a brush you apply in one direction length-wise, then width, then the opposite direction. It must be done lightly as you will be removing as much as you are applying.
Drying the emulsion
After you have applied the emulsion, patience or a blow dryer are the best ways to dry your paper. If you use a blow dryer it is highly recommended you wear a respirator and do it in a well-ventilated area, as little particles of metal can come loose. With that said, I have always opted for patience.
After my paper initially dries, I put it in a dark location to let it set until I am confident it is 100% dry. There is no need to rush this process.
Preparing for exposure
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that if you have access to the sun you are part way there. The reason for that is you need UV light in order to create your print. Although the sun will work, I opt for a UV Exposure box. The reason for that is it gives me a more consistent result.
No matter how you are going to expose your print, this portion of the process is pretty much the same. You are going to want to ensure your negative is tightly sandwiched between non-UV-blocking glass and a solid back. You are going to want to make sure that the glass does NOT block UV rays.
If you are just experimenting with the process and do not want to spend a huge amount of money, the cheapest form of glass I have found comes from inexpensive picture frames at second-hand stores. If you are going to work with 5×7 prints, find inexpensive 5×7 or 8×10 frames and it is a pretty good bet the glass is non-UV blocking. The glass is also normally also very thin so buy a couple of them in case one pane breaks.
Make sure the glass clear and does not have any hue to it. Any glass you use needs to be clean; no streaks, no specks of dust… Anything that is on your glass is going to appear on or affect the quality of your print.
To hold my paper down I use a painter’s tape that removes easily. I put my negative in place and then use another piece of painters tape to hold it down. Remember to apply the tape on the very edge. You just want to hold it temporarily and even though it should come up easily you don’t want to take a chance of it taking paper with it. If you have a contact frame handy, those are ideal. Again: I want to give you the least expensive way to do this.
Once you are confident you have your negative in place, put your glass over your paper/negative. If you are going to expose in the sun and are not using a contact frame, place rubber bands around the edge of your piece. This will help hold the glass/backing tight together. You don’t want anything to move during your exposure.
Exposing your paper
If you have previous darkroom experience it will come in handy here. However, it is not necessarily something you need to have!
There is no way anyone can tell you how long to expose your print. If you are working under the sun, it will depend on where the sun is and how bright. If you are using a UV box, it is going to depend on the type of lights, how far away they are from your print and several other factors. My first UV box would take about 12 minutes to make an exposure. My current UV box/cabinet takes about 1 ½ – 4 minutes to make those same exposures.
For my purposes, I am able to slide my paper/negative into my cabinet and start a timer on my phone. I could hook this up to a digital timer, etc… but I am content with the timer on my phone and the switch on the extension I have the power cord plugged into. It has served me well so far *
The first image below shows me pulling the negative back out of the UV cabinet. Before you completely decide you have exposed your image for the appropriate amount of time, you should pull your negative back. If you can see a faint image on the paper you know you have at least gotten the minimum amount of exposure required. If you do not see any image at all, there is a good chance you may need a little more time. (I have been fooled by this method a couple of times, so it is not a 100% foolproof).
* I have mentioned several times about saving money. I was on Craigslist one day and a local gal was selling about everything she owned. She had just built this cabinet and had never used it. Let’s just say I got it for less than she paid in materials. That was what she was asking for it, not what I offered. What I am saying is keep your eyes open, you never know what you will find out there.
Developing, stabilizing and washing
Like all darkroom type printing, this is still one of the most magical steps. Place your exposed print in a darkroom tray of an appropriate size. Remember, you do not need to be in complete darkness. As long as you are not under a UV light you are ok (dim light is still preferred though).
Take your developer and quickly pour it on top of your print. The magic happens and your print will appear. I will normally pick my tray up and slowly rock it back and forth, allowing the developer to wash over the print. No more than 2 minutes is needed for this.
(Your developer can be reused indefinitely. When it starts running low, add fresh developer to your bottle)
Once you have developed your print, you will need to rinse it four times and set it in clearing agent three times. Here’s the process:
- Rinse your developed print in clean water for 10-15 seconds.
- Place it in a tray of EDTA clearing agent and let it set for a minimum of 5 minutes, then rinse it in clean water for 10-15 seconds.
- Let it set again in your tray of EDTA for another 5 minutes, then rinse it again.
- For your fourth and final rinse, let it set in a tray of fresh EDTA for another 5 minutes, then rinse in gentle running water for 20-30 minutes.
After your final rinse is complete your print is going to need to dry. I use a blotter paper with a weight on top to help absorption for 2-3 hours, and then hang it to dry overnight.
The final result
In Platinum/Palladium printing your choice of paper, developer, preparation of emulsion and exposure time all play a part in your final product.
It is one of the reasons why I choose to print with this “traditional” style. No two prints will ever be the same even if you follow the exact same steps you made in the past. There are so many variables you have an even greater sense of creating art.
Platinum/Palladium printing can be a time-consuming process, so if you are a person who needs instant gratification it may not be for you. However, if you enjoy the idea of creating a one of a kind piece of art every time you start a print and do not mind the time you spend in doing so; consider Platinum/Palladium printing. I do not think you will be disappointed.
For my own work, I tend to print dark as my subject matter tends to lean in that direction. My negatives, paper choice and developers all play a part in my results – please check the link in my bio below.
Thanks for reading.
~ Scott Hays
Resources and further reading
Materials: Bostick and Sullivan
Information resource: Alternative Photography.com
Inspiration: J Keith Schreiber
Inspiration: Ted Preuss
Inspiration: Nobuyuki Kobayashi
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