Liquid light printing process

So, what is liquid light? Liquid light is the gelatin silver light sensitive liquid photographic emulsion that is used in alternative photography printing processes based on applying it on any surface, exposing by an enlarger, and processing in conventional chemistry in darkroom.

Since the negatives are made, the most interesting part of creating a finished piece begins! There are many different printing techniques emerged throughout the history of photography, with the development of which now classical darkroom gelatin silver printing process has started up.

There are many kinds of ready to use darkroom photographic papers. But the most interesting and creative way is making the darkroom paper yourself using as the basis watercolor paper. It has an interesting fine texture that gives more depth to the prints and tactile sensation. But this also limits the use of this process. Some of the prints come out better than others of course.

The sources negative should be selected carefully. I cann’t immediately say what will print great and what will not. This is the way of many tests and lots of errors. In other hand any error may become a part of the finished piece of art. Which paper to choose is the topic for a separate article but I prefer heavy weight torchon papers at least 270gsm.

watercolor paper perspective

Fine texture of watercolor paper

By the way, I cut the paper on the glass plate with stationary knife. It does not leave scratches on glass surface. Also I use ruler with rubber spacer line. It is very convenient because prevents paper from slipping during cutting.

Cutting the paper

Cutting the paper with a knife

To make paper suitable for printing it should be covered with the sensitive gelatin silver liquid light emulsion in darkroom under the red safelight as it was over 100 years ago. It is a complex and multistage process, which involves only manual work. The key highlight of this process is applying the liquid emulsion with a brush, spoonge or other tools. I personally prefer to use synthetic narrow brushes for emulsion covering.

gelatin silver liquid photographic emulsion covering

Applying liquid photographic emulsion is like a painting process

This can be compared to coating a canvas for a painting and to a large extent determines the character of a future print. As a result, every print comes out unique and slightly different from the next one. This is an extremely interesting technique, which allows me to achieve great expression and imagery. All mistakes and unsuccessful experiments are allowed to become a part of the “finished work”.

It should be noted that liquid emulsion actually is not liquid due gelatin and should be melted in a water bath before use. Also some kind of papers should be precoated with a suitable preparation layer before applying the emulsion.

The printing process is very complex and can hardly be described in brief. But it is not much differ from printing on conventional ready to use darkroom papers. Anyway it is requires great skills. To achieve the desired result you need resorting to various “tricksโ€ until — as if by enchantment — you get what you want. A really perfect print should not only have the proper contrast and tonality but also depth and artistic expression.

developing in darkroom

Developing of the print

Printing with liquid emulsion process requires perfect fixing that means using of a fresher fixer and sufficiently long washing. The last depends on the basis (wood, glass, canvas, etc.). So, additional tricks may help. As for papers — the more paper weight than the longer washing is required.

After printing, rinsing and drying photographs should be flattened. For this they are should be placed under press for some time. To protect prints against external damage I prefer to cover them with varnish. I do it myself using a classical recipe based on mix of sandarac, ethanol and lavender oil.

lacquering with varnish

Finishing the print with varnish based on the mix of sandarac and lavender

Each individual print is slightly different from the next in its edition due to the physical nature of creating the prints. There is no way to make two exactly the same prints.

Sasha Krasnov

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  1. Hi Sasha,
    Very inspiring work!
    On Facebook I see you are using the Foma Liquid emulsion.
    This comes with an hardener. Are you using this as well or are you using a hardener in the Fixer?
    Or is the final coating enough to give the emulsion enough strength.
    I’m thinking to purchase this Foma Emulsion also but would like to hear your experience.

    Thank you very much in advance ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hello, Hans

      Thank you for the comment!

      Well, using hardener depend on surface you will use to cover it with the emulsion. It is very complex process to say clearly to use it or not to use. You always need to do some tests with the certain surface. I prefer watercolor papers as primary material. Such paper already sized. I don’t use hardener for watercolor papers. But with certain paper types you may need to use it. Anyway, it should be tested. I personally recommend to start your experiments with Hahnemuhle cellulose papers like Torchon 275gsm, Veneto 325gsm and Cornwall 450gsm. These papers give very stable results without any precoating or even presoaking. And of course if something goes wrong you should change only one step to determine what cause an error in your process.

      I will glad to answer your any further question ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Sorry for the late reply, Sasha, but thanks a lot.
    This helps me for a first start.
    Best regards

  3. Renate Rienmueller

    Great work Sasha, and thanks so much for the information. I have been playing around a lot with liquid emulsion lately, and really love the results. I noticed that you are using gum sandarac, lavender oil as your varnish. This is great, because i already use this solution for as a wet plate varnish. Could you please tell me what your recipe is for the varnish, how much lavender oil to your gum etc…i just want to make sure that i don’t ruin my images by using the varnish i already have.
    (MY VARNISH IS: 400 grain alcohol, 60 gram gum sandarac and 40ml lavender oil) Any advice on this would be greatly appreiciated. kind regards, Renate.

    • Thank you, Renate! I use the following recipe: 31g sandarac, 200ml alcohol and 16ml lavender oil. So, it is similar to your recipe but with less part of lavender. I guess the recipe is somewhat to play with. Of course, the series of tests should be made. No dubt. I use old test-prints for this purpose. Anyway, there are some moments that I consider to be important: (a) The varnish is much better “works” on prints with a lot of dark scenes. So, it can make black tones rich and deep; (b) I cover the varnish exactly over the emulsion is/was, but never over the paper frames around it; (b) I use synthetic mongoose brush that is really soft and realible. Hope it helps!

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