Carbon printing part five - exposure and mating

In this segment I expose the tissue through the negative and then mate it to the final paper support. When watching this you may get the impression that you have to have a UV for the exposure. Like any alt process, you can use a contact frame and expose using sunlight. However, a UV unit with a light integrator is one of the best investments you can make. Watch and learn more.

Carbon printing part three - pouring glop

After watching me blather on in parts one and two, here we get to business and pour some glop. There are a variety of ways to make tissue and this video shows the method and jig I happen to be using right now.

I have one clarification to make. In the video I talk about measuring the volume of glop to get an approximate 1mm wet height. I still think in square inches. So, the correct factor to get the volume in milliliters is .645 not 6.45, if you are converting from square inches. 

Carbon printing part one - overview

There are already a few YouTube videos that demonstrate some of the steps in carbon printing, but I've wanted to make a few of my own. Everyone's process and methods are different. So besides helping explain how I print to folks who have never seen carbon printing before or getting some interested in learning, these clips may be of interest to experienced printers as well. I am always interested in how others have mastered carbon's many quirks and idiosyncrasies.

I will continue this series through to a finished print. To start the series I covered making glop and coating tissue. Each one I was able to do in one take as I made some new printing tissue this weekend. I had intended these to be a little shorter, but, as usual, I get excited about explaining this stuff.  As always any feedback is appreciated, and I can teach workshops if you are interested. Watch from this blog post or visit the YouTube playlist where I will post all the videos from this series. 

A couple of clarifications in this one:

1. I refer to Arche Platine as watercolor paper. It's printmaking paper made especially for platinum printing, but it's consistent sizing makes it very good for carbon. Expensive though. See my post on paper for more opinions and experiences regarding paper.

2. Yupo, which I mention a couple of times, is the brand name of a polypropylene paper substitute that is perfect as a temporary support. You can buy it at almost any art store in pads or in sheets and rolls.  

A handy trick for pinhole photography

I recently made a lens board with pinhole adapter for a 4x5 Toyo 45AII. The pinhole itself was made in a square of brass shim stock using a standard sewing needle. The problem I had to solve was measuring the pinhole diameter to determine if I was close to an ideal size for the focal length I wanted to use. In this case 75mm. There are different formulae for the ideal size for a given focal length. I won't go into the specifics of calculating the size. In this case I wanted about .34mm.

What made finding the size darn simple was scanning the shim on my flatbed Epson v750, opening the .tff file in Photoshop, and using the ruler tool to measure the diameter. The ruler tool can be found in Photoshop under Image -> Analysis -> Ruler Tool. I scanned the shim at 6400 DPI and was able to use the ruler tool to measure to 1/100th of a millimeter. Being able to see the hole at this magnification also gave me a better view of the roundness of the pinhole. 

All in a fast, simple, and probably very accurate way to measure a pinhole. After I completed my measurement, I searched around and found some other folks who had employed a similar techniques. So, there is more info to be found out there too.

Two prints in TPS 23

I'm happy to report that I won two spots in the show for the 2014 Texas Photographic Society Competition TPS23. Better yet, the prints are two favorites of mine. Both are from a series of shots taken at the Lamar Street Bridge in Summer 2013. 

The prints will make three stops. The A Smith Gallery in Johnson City, the the Options Gallery at Odessa College, and the Center for Contemporary Arts in Abilene. I'll put up more details about dates soon. Both prints will be for sale.


My new carbon tissue jig

Lately I've been planning to make some larger carbon printing tissue for prints in the 16x20 range. That means that I had outgrown the surface area of my old jig for pouring out glop. I also wanted to start making thicker tissue again, and pour out glop at a wet height of about 1mm.

My favorite surface for this is glass. It's perfectly flat, cleans up well, is portable, and absorbs the heat of freshly poured glop to allow it to set up quickly. This new glass jig allows me to make tissues up to 24x24 in size.

Instead of going for a magnetic surface that allows me to use magnetic strips to dam the liquid glop, I am using 1/4 inch strips of glass backed with electrical tape. The glass strips are easily arranged to form a dam for sheets of different sizes. The tackiness of the electrical tape and the weight of the strips is enough to keep the strips from moving once they are set down. I had considered rubber strips, but the electrical tape works just fine.

The base surface is a 1/2 inch thick table top I bought in Craigslist for 60.00. The base is heavy but easily portable and can be easily leveled with shims if necessary. This allows me to set up the jig in my kitchen where I like making materials the most. I just set it on my work table and put it away when I am done.

The only limitation of using the glass strips to dam the glop is that they will always be much thicker than the wet height of the tissue. This means that you cannot level the tissue with a metal rod. You have to set your thickness by pouring out the exact volume. However, so far this has worked out well. The glop has to be very hot, but I can effectively spread it out with a comb to get a smooth and level coat.



A perfect 11x14 sheet ready to dry. If you like set your tissue thickness by pouring by volume, this jig works like a charm and cleans up nicely.

A perfect 11x14 sheet ready to dry. If you like set your tissue thickness by pouring by volume, this jig works like a charm and cleans up nicely.

Papers for carbon printing

Fine art paper is my favorite surface for carbon printing. It has a subtle quality that other papers, like fixed out photo paper, simply cannot match. However,  printing on hand coated papers introduces a level effort and difficulty that can be discouraging. It's maddening to put the effort into preparing and sizing paper only to find out that the paper won't print well. 

Like my post on methods for hardening gelatin sized paper, this post is a running record of papers I'ver used for carbon printing and how well they have worked for me. I'll also include some reports from others. I'm omitting fixed out photo paper from this list since that's an entirely different animal. If you have an experience, with a particular paper you would like to share, drop me a line.

Arches Auqarelle

This paper was one of my favorite for Kallitypes. It has a nice smooth finish and great wet strength, but, despite being tub sized with gelatin, the sizing seems consistently inconsistent. Spots can been seen when the paper is wet and, although these spots disappear when the paper dries, these areas can often shot up lighter in the final print and ruin it. I think this problem is mitigated if you heavily size the paper with 7% gelatin or greater. However, with thinner sizing you run the risk of an inconsistent printing surface.

Arches Platine

Like Fabriano Artistico I've had great results with this Platine. It's originally designed for platinum printing, and is expensive. However, I've tried it for it's quality and the fact that it is supposed to have internal sizing that will help it dry flat even after multiple washes. This paper is smooth, strong, has consistent sizing, and seems to dry relatively flat even with heavy sizing. While not as heavy as the Fabriano it has good a good weight and feel.

Fabriano Artistico

I've had great results with this paper. I am hard pressed to tell you the specific type, but what i have used is the 100% cotton variety in natural and bright white. I believe this is different than the F5 variety which is only 50% cotton. This paper is smooth, strong, has consistent sizing, and seems to dry relatively flat even with heavy sizing.

Magnani Pescia

I had high hopes for this paper. It's 100% cotton and smooth hot pressed. It's also has a heavy weight and a feel of quality at an economical price. 

Unfortunately, after the rigors of sizing and carbon development, it delaminates and peels into layers - particularly at the corners. it also had a nasty tendency to get creases easily when bent. This problem seemed to be a symptom of the first. The paper seems to be pressed in layers instead of moulded. When the layers start to come apart, the paper can buckle and crease. It's probably great for some uses, but I won't be sing it for carbon again.


I just recently tried Stonehenge again and realized why I stopped using it in the first place. The wet strength is terrible. If you can get it sized and hardened without tearing it, the gelatin will give it more strength, but it's risky and just not worth the bargain price.

Adox Baryita

You can print on it right out of the package. No sizing required and no need to fix out like silver gelatin. However, I wasn't wild about the finish. It yielded what I thought was a rather boring finish. Kind of dull and flat.

For me, Arches Aquarelle had been a trustworthy paper with great wet strength, but here, in a wet print, you can see evidence of inconsistent sizing that can cause light spots in the final print.

For me, Arches Aquarelle had been a trustworthy paper with great wet strength, but here, in a wet print, you can see evidence of inconsistent sizing that can cause light spots in the final print.

A first experiment with split toning

I'm not sure where I got the idea, but this past year I started rolling around the idea of trying to split tone a carbon print. I'm not eager to print multiple tissue layers like a color carbon separation. Printing separations simply doesn't sound like much fun. If I'm going to go through that effort I might was well go all the way and do color carbon.  What got me excited is that I might get the effect I want with a simple technique.

If I could coat a single piece of tissue twice, each at half of my standard coating height, I could use different pigments for each layer and get different tones for the shadows and the highlights. Since carbon hardens down deeper in the shadows, the base layer could, for example, be a colder darker tone and the second layer a warmer mix using a tint like raw umber. When applied to the final support, in a single transfer print, the flipped carbon layer would place the exposed portion of the darker colder layer on top in the shadows. Conversely, the highlights would print using just the warmer tone layer from the top of the tissue. I suppose a similar technique could be envisioned for double transfer where the layers are reversed in order on the tissue. By extension, one could also imagine coating a tissue more than twice.

Approximately 6x10 inches on Fabriano Artistico 

Approximately 6x10 inches on Fabriano Artistico 

The first thing I had to determine is if I could successfully coat a piece of tissue twice and produce something I could produce a quality print from.  I wondered, for example, if the first layer would immediately melt into a black gooey mess? Would the two layers sufficiently bond? If I am coating the tissue with a coating rod, would the grooved rod leave streaks in the first layer?

So, how did the experiment go? Well, to my surprise, adding the second coat to the tissue was amazingly simple. I seemed to have more than enough time to get an even coating of gelatin glop and the coating was smooth.   

The tissue printed normally and my first print, the one in this post, was a reasonable success. The effect of the different pigments was not as pronounced as I had expected. However, my next step will be creating a tissue with a denser base layer, e.g., more black pigment, and tweaking the top highlight layer.

I still have some work to do to determine if multiple coats are worth my while. However, apart from all the technical details, I like the first print and it is enough for me to carry on with the experiment.





Stand and deliver

Possibly the first commercial film developer and still one of the best.

Possibly the first commercial film developer and still one of the best.

 I had forgotten how much I love Rodinal and stand development. I just set my first roll in a long time up for an hour long bath in the Rodinal soup. I thought about writing a blog post about it, but this fellow wrote an excellent piece.

 If you've never done it, get yourself a bottle. It's super cheap and will last forever.

Whenever I encounter a practice like stand development that is so simple, elegant, robust, and which produces such fantastic results, I realize that many of the processes and developers we have become accustomed to as classics were probably designed more for speed and efficiency than quality.  

The new Getty Atlas

I recently read a New York Times article about the new atlas from the Getty Conservation Institute, and yesterday I got my first chance to skim through the articles on Carbon Transfer and Photogravure. You can find the Atlas here. A handful of processes are covered today and more will be added.

From what I have read so far, the entries are excellent. Far from being stale and academic, the historic information is interesting and also practical. In particular, the diagrams and information on the development of the processes and the problems the early innovators solved, is very useful for understanding how the processes are practiced today.

Two prints in Jill Enfield's new book

I am happy to have two prints in Jill Enfield's new book, Jill Enfield's Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes: Popular Historical and Contemporary Techniques.  Both prints are kallitypes I printed in 2009. 

One of two kallitypes I have featured in Jill's book

One of two kallitypes I have featured in Jill's book

Hot off the presses this summer, Jill's book promises to be a must have for new and experienced alt process printers. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet, but the preview pages show a good mix of basic tools and techniques as well as practical instructions on specific processes. 

Carbon and Gravure are not covered. I wouldn't expect either process to be covered in a general guide. However, she does go well beyond basic processes for beginners, including, for example, gum and collodion. I am particularly interested in her coverage of digital film and tool as and techniques. 


Pinhole to Print - An Alt Process Primer

Want to party like it's 1869? I'm currently designing an introductory course to alternative process printing and film photography I plan to offer in Austin Texas in the fall of 2013.  The course is designed for students who want to learn the fundamentals of taking an image from a film negative all the way through to a full size hand made print.

Course materials include your own piece of fantastic plastic.

Course materials include your own piece of fantastic plastic.

Accordingly, the course will focus as much on foundational skills applicable to all alt process printing as it will the specific processes we employ in making our prints. To build confidence, emphasize basic skills, and have fun, we will take and develop pinhole images on medium format film, scan and create full size digital negatives from the film negatives, and create a cyanotype or vandyke print. Included in the course materials will be a Holga pinhole camera. However, students will be encouraged to shoot and develop film from their own small and medium format cameras. I'll be available to teach students to use cameras they are unfamiliar with or advise students in purchasing a film camera suited to their needs and budget. Students can also use digital images.  

The course will be held in three weekly sessions and will be limited to six students. The course tuition will be approximately 250.00 and will include all materials.

The course materials and schedule are still under development. So, contact me directly if you are interested in enrolling.  


Photogravure at Renaissance Press

This August I was fortunate to attend a five day photogravure workshop with Paul Taylor at Renaissance Press. I've been planning to attend for over a year, and it was worth the wait. Like carbon transfer, photogravure is difficult.  There are nuances of the process and the materials that would have been fiendishly hard to learn on my own.  

Paul inspecting positives with different contrast curves before exposing a photopolymer proof plate.

Paul inspecting positives with different contrast curves before exposing a photopolymer proof plate.

Well known as an atelier for his work in gravure, Paul was also an exceptional teacher. Over the course of five days I learned enough to carry on in gravure on my own. However, I was also happy that we when through the entire linerization process for producing high quality film positives for gravure. What I added to my knowledge of digital film was almost a workshop of material in itself.   

The days were long, but we were also able to take a crack at photopolymer gravure as well. All in all, I was able to produce two copper and one photopolymer plate and spend most of one day printing all three on the press. The printing time was enough to make inking and wiping the plates feel familiar and allowed Paul to show us a few special techniques like retrosage, dodging with hand and chalk, and stipling defects on the plate.

Two copper gravures ready to be inked.

Two copper gravures ready to be inked.

Stippling a defect in a plate. Photoshop 19th century style.

Stippling a defect in a plate. Photoshop 19th century style.

Beyond learning a specific process, I've found that attending a workshop is equally valuable for the exposure to exceptional prints, presentation, and working methods. As printers in high end niche processes, it's a rare and valuable opportunity to see exceptional work. Experiencing masterful work is inspiring and also offers a benchmark for where you are in your own craft. This was true for me when I took my first workshop from Sandy King and equally so at Renaissance Press. 

I highly recommend Paul's workshops. His studio is in a beautiful, but very rural part of New Hampshire. I biked the entire trip having flown into manchester from Austin. However, if you are going to bike it, expect some long rides and steep hills. Otherwise, look at renting car and having a relaxing stay in Keene or Brattleboro.


It's Superclear!

For bright whites when printing on gelatin coated paper, it's good to have clean clear and filtered gelatin that doesn't leave a yellow cast. While searching around for bulk gelatin I came across Superclear. I found their ballistic geltain first and when I called to order, they pointed me to Superclear. It's specially filtered and made clear for making fancy and pretty desserts.

So, how is it? Well, it's slightly more expensive at 12.50 a pound, but worth it. It's definitely cleaner and clearer than the product I was getting from Bostick and Sullivan at almost the same price. 

A Superclear sample.

A Superclear sample.

No it's not a bong

It’s a rod heater. For making carbon materials, this has turned out to be one of my most useful tools. When coating paper or making tissue, it’s a pain to have to constantly refresh a tube of hot water to keep the coating rod hot. Often the rod is too cool or the temperature is inconsistent. The hottest water rises leaving the bottom of the rod cooler. All in all it makes for a tedious session

Rod Heater.jpg

It was simple enough to build. The key component is the heating element. It is a simple electric beverage heater you can get at Ace Hardware. The heating element is stuck through a hole in the black rubber end cap that is attached to the end of the wye fitting. Epoxy glue keeps the hole in the end cap water tight. The wye keeps the element out of the way  of the metal rod. The switch obviously turns it on and off.So, for about 20.00 and a couple of trips to the hardware store I was able to make a fully electric rod heater. The only things it lacks is thermostatic control. Maybe I’ll add that feature for v2.

The rest of the pieces are PVC pipe and fittings to suit the dimensions of your coating rod. I’ve found that 2″ pipe is more than adequate, but I like the transition to the larger 4″ at the top as it makes the heater easier to fill and the rod easier to grab. The only other price of interest is the base. That is a PVC toilet flange. The wide base allows it to stand upright wherever I want to use it.

To give the heating element a head start, I fill the tube with hot water from the tap and turn it on. However, it will heat a tube of cold water in about fifteen minutes. I keep a check on the temperature of the water and simply turn it off at the switch when I want it to cool a bit. It can make the rod too hot. When I am coating a sheet of Yupo for tissue, a rod that is too hot can cause the Yupo to buckle a little. One thing to remember is to never turn the heater on and pour water on it. The thermal shock will cause the element to break and you’ll be headed back to the hardware store for another heater.

Hardening gelatin sized paper

This post is a running record on how I have hardened gelatin for sized art paper. I generally coat my papers with a 10% gelatin solution using an RD-95 coating rod for a .25mm wet hight thickness. To my surprise, I have found coating papers and finding good hardener to be as challenging as making my own carbon tissue. I have currently settled on using formalin as it works wonderfully and is perfectly safe when used outdoors in low concentration.


Know to work well in all ways, but toxic. Formalin hardens perfectly and doesn't leave a cast in the paper or gelatin. For these reasons, I avoided using formalin for a long time, but finally decided to give it a try for my last batch of papers. Following recommendations from others I used a 2% solution of formalin 37. That's a 2% working dilution of a 37% stock solution. I hardened the papers in a tray outdoors and pre-soaked the papers before putting them in the formalin. 

The combination of the dilute solution and soaking outdoors made left almost no odor. So, I felt confident that I wasn't putting myself at risk. I soaked each paper for about a minute and put them on a clothesline to dry. The formalin can be reused. I am not sure how to judge when it would be expended. So, there is little environmental impact. 

The results were perfect. The gelatin was perfectly hardened and there was no change in the color of the paper. The process itself was also very easy. Combined with soaking and drying outdoors for safety, formalin will be my go to solution for hardening from now on.


It's far less toxic than formalin and hardens well, but does produce some yellow stain in the paper. Much of the stain washes out in development and clearing but not all. My method to date has been to put about four drops in 75ml of gelatin, and this works well. I would like to try brushing it on after coating and drying. This would minimize my exposure to it and keep my gear from getting as gummy while coating.


The key is knowing the difference between potassium alum and chrome alum. Potassium alum is relatively harmless. It's apparently the same stuff they put in the little pencils used to stop bleeding from shaving knicks.

However, it does not harden well and is difficult to wash out of paper. So, it can be good for hardening paper that will be used as a final support in a double transfer carbon print. However, when I tried to use it for a single transfer, it hardened the gelatin in the tissue during the mating to the support and ruined my prints. 

Chrome alum apparently hardens well but is far more toxic. I have been told it can also leave a nasty blue cast to the paper.


Never used it, but given it's toxicity, I would probably just use formalin.