The liquid emulsion is 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 the 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 for liquid emulsion
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 can’t immediately say what will print great and what will not. This is the way of many tests and lots of errors. On the 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 heavyweight cellulose papers at least 270gsm.
By the way, I cut the paper on the glass plate with a stationery knife. It does not leave scratches on the glass surface. Also, I use a ruler with a rubber spacer line. It is very convenient because prevents the paper from slipping during cutting.
Sensibilization with liquid emulsion
To make the paper suitable for printing it should be coated with the sensitive gelatin silver liquid emulsion in the 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, sponge, or other tools. I personally prefer to use synthetic narrow brushes for emulsion coating.
This can be compared to preparing a canvas for further 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 to gelatin, and should be melted in a water bath before use. Also, some kinds of paper should be precoated with a suitable preparation layer before applying the emulsion. And it should be tested.
The paper coated with liquid emulsion should be dried in complete darkness.
The printing process is very complex and can hardly be described in brief. But it does not much differ from printing on conventional ready-to-use darkroom papers. Anyway, it requires great skills. To achieve the desired result you need to resort 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.
Fixing and washing
Printing with liquid emulsion process requires perfect fixing which means using 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 paperweights than the longer washing is required.
After printing, rinsing, and drying photographs should be flattened. For this they are should be placed under a 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 a mix of sandarac, ethanol, and lavender oil.
Liquid emulsion printing 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 New York City printings to see some examples.