Liquid emulsion printing process in a nutshell

Liquid emulsion also known as 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. Why liquid emulsion is often called “Liquid Light”? It is the name of the product manufactured by the Rockland company, which is now often used as a synonym for any liquid emulsion.

Paper

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.

Hahnemuhle Torchon watercolor paper surface

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

Sensibilization

To make paper suitable for printing it should be covered with the sensitive gelatin silver liquid 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. And it should be tested.

Drying

The paper coated with emulsion is dried in complete darkness.

Printing

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 “tricks” 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

Fixing and washing

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.

Finishing

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

Examples

There is no way to make two exactly the same prints. Each individual print is slightly different from the next in its edition due to the physical nature of creating the prints. Have a look at my Venice and Street photo art prints to see some examples.

// Sasha Krasnov

Venice // Art prints →

Venice Black and White Photography Art Prints by Sasha Krasnov

15 Comments

  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 depends on the surface you will use to cover 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
    Hans

  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!

      • Renate

        sorry for the late reply! Thanks so much for your advice! I will try this today! do you make it up and use it straight away? I will try this recipe and let you know how i go!
        Thanks again Sasha

        • No peoblem. Nice to see you come back ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, I prepare the solution for not more than 200 ml of alcohol. I gather prints for some time to cover them with varnish as much as possible and to left the varnish as much as low. Of course, I have gaps between this procedures for 1-2 monthes. When the solution age turns to about half of a year I repeat a filtration procedure.

  4. How are you getting more contrast? A lot of my prints are too grey. I plan to try adding a small amount of developer to the emulsion before coating paper. I have also tried filters. I’m printing large (20 x30) so paper exposures are long.

    Thanks,
    Lisa

    • Hello, Lisa

      In my experience I can say that it is seriuosly depends on paper. All cotton paper give low contrast and too grey prints. Some of the cellulose paper give great results, some “not bad” while other “too grey” also.

      1) You need to did some test with the same negative and emulsion mix but with different papers. I personnaly recommend Hahnemuhle Torchon, Veneto as starting point. Two monthes ago I’ve discovered another one good paper for liquid light — Lana Gran Fin 300 g.

      2) Developer. I use Kodak D-9 lith developer with 1+7 solution. So, the less developer are diluted the more contrast you will get. And in the other hand less dilution cause less color tinting of paper. The reason is developing time which is as more as developer diluted. It should be noted that default D-9 dilution for lith printing is 1+9.

      3) If you do not like color tinting of lith prints — your way is to try high-contrast developers like Ilford Ilford ID-14 or Kodak D-11.

      4) Contrast depends on emulsion type. What kind of emulsion do you use? Variable contrast like Rollei Black magic or fixed grade like Fomaspeed? If the first — you may use contrast control filters.

      5) I’ve tried blue filter with fixed contrast emulsion and there is no much difference in contrast I’ve got. Also I’ve tried adding a small amount of developer into emulsion mixture but haven’t noticed great difference. May be worth a try them both — blue filter + adding developer.

      6) Exposure. The less exposure time the more contrast you get. So, I expose paper for about 4-8 sec and develop it in lith developer for blacks until it become so black as I need.

      Cheers! Hope it helps you!

  5. Thanks so much. My prints are large and using the typical water color paper has not been beneficial to the image I want. I suppose there would be a way to get the paper you mention in the U.S. and will try the different paper first. Another thing that has helped was using Aquafine to develop the film which pushes the film 2 stops giving more contrast. I usually use Rockland AG Plus emulsion but have tried Rollei Black Magic with no success. Smaller prints have more contrast. Things changed when I went much larger.
    Thanks for your help!!

    • I do prints up to 33×33 cm with Fomaspeed fixed contrast grade 3 emulsion. The prints become more grey with this enlargement too. But it happens because exposure time is doubled compared to 16×16 cm prints. The more exposure time — the less contrast you will got. I’ve tested various developers including x-ray Kodak D-19 but only lith developers gave appropriate contrast controlling. I have to keep exposure time for about 2-4 sec for small prints and 4-8 sec for large prints using 150 Watt lamp. Of course all depends on film negative density. The rule “exposing for whites, developing for blacks” works great with lith developers and liquid emulsion.

      But, I strongly recommend get the good cellulose watercolor paper at first. Hahnemuhle Torchon is really good starting point. Any new test I do only with this paper. It is inexpensive, lightfast and easy to get (in Europe). And there is a key thing — it gives very stable results! Any new developer dilution, emulsion hardening, adding developer into emulsion and other tests I perform with this paper. Because printing with liquid light strongly depends on paper type you need one which you will trust 100%.

      • Thank you! Yes, the smaller prints, I have no problem with contrast. I ordered the paper you suggested and we will see. I may consider putting several prints together to make one large one!
        I will let you know if I have great success!
        Thanks

  6. Paula

    Hello. I appreciated your work, as well as the comments, as they were a great help.
    I bought a bottle of Foma Liquid emulsion, but I had a question. To do some small works on watercolor paper, how do I do it? Can I prepare the whole emulsion with the hardener that came together or not? Many years ago I used one that was already prepared and used as needed. With this, I did not understand very well if after fully prepared it gives to save what was left or not.
    Thank you.
    Best regards,
    Paula

    • Hello Paula!

      My current procedure for melting emulsion:

      1) Under the safe light open emulsion and cut of some part into separate light tight black bottle.

      2) Put it in a the warm bath with temperature about 50C or less to melt it to the liquid state.

      3) Finally, put some melted liquid emulsion into small plate, add some drops of hardener. The hardened emulsion should be used completely. Never add hardener to the whole emulsion. But add it only before use to make “working” solution.

      On my opinion, in most cases you do not need hardener because paper is already sized with gelatin. But you need to test it with different papers. Because some people like cotton paper while the other cellulose papers. I prefer the last one and recommend to start experiments with this papers.

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