View Full Version : Who has tried Pt/Pd printing and didn't like it?

Bruce Schultz
24-Oct-2005, 17:25
I'm eager to give it a try, but I'd like to know the pitfalls beforehand.
I'm drawn to this because the organic process, tonality, permanence, uniqueness, working in the light and the use of different paper surfaces. At the very least, the light table I plan to build can be used for Azo printing, so even if I don't like the process I'll get something out of it.
But who out there has given it a whirl and found it too expensive, too complicated, too cumbersome, too time-consuming, ad nauseum?

Ken Lee
24-Oct-2005, 19:37
As a novice to Pt/Pd I have been surprised at the number of variables which affect the outcome, and how long one can spend in their exploration. Every change in paper, chemicals, and processing can an effect on the image. If you have previously stuck to a simple selection of materials, this may surprise you too. I suggest that you find a teacher whose images you like, and learn those methods. From there, you have a base for further exploration.

All things being equal, Pt/Pd images tend to be "softer" than those produced with silver or inkjet methods. Many of the most remarkable Pt/Pd images take advantage of that inherent tendancy. On the other had, the "dreamy" look doesn't always suit the subject - unless all you shoot are nude blondes dressed in pale linen - which may or may not be a problem :-)

Lately I have been exploring archival methods to coat Pt/Pd prints, to give them a greater dynamic range, and am finally getting final prints that look about the same after drying, as when wet. I intend to share my results here when I am through.

Jim collum
24-Oct-2005, 21:50
you may want to look into Ziatype prints www.bostick-sullivan.com/ziatype.htm (http://www.bostick-sullivan.com/ziatype.htm) . It's a printing out process that doesn't require developing, and is very easy to control.

Ken, i'd be very interested in the method. I love the look of the platinum print as it comes out of the water!


24-Oct-2005, 22:07
I've never understood the fascination with platinum prints. They just look blah and old-fashioned to me. The best example I know of for comparison is George Tice's "Oak Tree." He prints it both ways, and it looks better to me on gelatin/silver. The two Westons and Paul Strand converted to silver prints when prepared platinum paper began to be difficult to get, and they all decided they preferred the silver. And in a very few years, they will both be suplanted by inkjet (or some other digital process) .

24-Oct-2005, 22:18
well, i think the process is cool, and i like it in a lot of ways, but i don't like it for my own work. whether or not it's right for your work is something you need to consider seriously for yourself. i think this is consideration needs to come before worrying about how convenient the process is.

with this in mind, i think it's good to get away from the idea that pt/pd is some kind of inherently superior process ... it's one process among many, and it has a particular look and set of qualities that will make it uniquely well suited for certain kinds of work and completely unsuited for others.

there's one pitfall with platnium that i'd urge people to be aware of ... i've seen quite a few bodies of work that were gorgeously, luxuriously printed in pt/pd but that were completely vacant in terms of vision. of course, work with this kind of failing can be done with any process, but there's something about processes that have a particularly assertive look that can blind people to it. people sometimes use processes with distinctive looks as a crutch to prop up weak vision. my feeling is that if your process is distinctive or assertive looking, it actually ADDS to your responsibility to make an image that strongly justifies itself. Otherwise, viewers walk away with a strong impression of your process's look, but can't remember a single image.

this was my impression at the AIPAD show about 5 years ago, when gorgeous looking porrfolios of pd/pd were everywhere. it's also my impression of much of the dianna camera work i see, and of much work done in cyanotype, daguerrotype, or with ultra wide lenses. i remember the "look," but not the work.

as far as convenience, this is an isssue if you feel the speed of working will get in the way of your creative vision. if it slows you down to the point of discouraging experimentation and playfulness, than it might not be right for you.

it's not too hard to try it out. you can get all the materials in whatever quantities you want, and you don't need much besides a contact printing frame to get started. don't expect to master it overnight though!

Jim collum
24-Oct-2005, 23:04
i don't know why platinum will be surplanted. i coat my own paper, i print my own negatives (digitally). I can mix my own chemistry if necessary... And as far as aesthetic goes.. it's a personal thing.. some like it, some don't... pretty much the same as anything.

Personally, i like the depth of the image more than the inkjet prints, and it depends on the image whether i like it on silver or platinum


25-Oct-2005, 04:55
one word ....midtones

John Cook
25-Oct-2005, 05:59
As a teenager in the 1950's I fell hopelessly head over heels in love with a brand new British racing green MG-TD sports car. It was even prettier than girls. Made me cry, just to look at it in the showroom.

I still long for an MG-TD that I can fully restore and drive through the country, to an Edwardian meadow picnic of tea and watercress sandwiches, on a mild summer afternoon. Or toodle through a small college town, waving at girls wearing Argyle knee socks and pleated wool skirts, riding traditional bicycles with wicker baskets.

But those fool English machines absolutely won’t start on a cold morning, the side curtains leak, that A40 engine with the Weber carbs needs a complete overhaul about every ten miles, the Lucas ignition system with cloth insulation shorts to ground during every rain storm, they are probably even less crash-worthy than a motorcycle, and parts are impossible to obtain.

On the other hand, the new Ford Fusion, identical with all other new models from all the other manufacturers, looks like a jellybean. Nobody can tell them apart. Yawn.

But they bristle with airbags and crash zones. The engine will start every morning, never get stuck in snow, stop on a dime, and run with zero maintenance (except an infrequent oil change) for decades. And there is a Ford dealer around here on almost every street corner. It’s a no-brainer for safety and dependability.

Alternative processes are kind of like that MG-TD, for me. Really, really nice, but a big-time pain to work with.

Silver represents the mass-produced technical pinnacle of what the boys at Kodak, Ilford, et all, have been able to achieve during the 20th Century. Good image quality, efficient, repeatable. No sweat.

Only thing is, silver doesn’t satisfy the old pictorial adage that the less a photograph looks like a photograph, and the more it looks like a painting or pencil sketch, the better it is. ;0)

Ken Lee
25-Oct-2005, 06:41
Ziatype is a printing-out method, rather than a developing-out method, but both require chemical processing.

Robert Skeoch
25-Oct-2005, 07:57
I thought Pt/Pd printing was just a color you added to an image in photoshop. Just like sepia.

Just kidding... not trying to get anthing started.


Jim collum
25-Oct-2005, 08:35
yes, there's chemical processing with ziatype... but no developing.. you use hypo clearing (one of many different clearing agents you can use) to remove the undeveloped platinum.

Annie M.
25-Oct-2005, 08:42
I must respectfully disagree with much of what has been posted here in relation to the inherent qualities of the platinum print. It is not my personal observation that Weston’s platinum images of Neil from the 1920’s or of Tina Modotti or the steel works for that matter look like pencil sketches. Furthermore there are many many photographers both renowned and obscure who’s platinum work looks very much like photographs to me... Irving Penn & Kim Weston’s recent work comes to mind. The platinum/palladium emulsion has the capacity for an incredible tonal range with extraordinary luminosity... and there is the capacity for an exceptional delicacy of detail with the appropriate substrate.... naturally when the emulsion is used in tandem with textured art papers these qualities may be diminished to give the work the look that many describe here... but be assured there are many photographers taking the platinum process in new directions.

That said... the process is indeed cumbersome and time consuming and I long for the day when I can afford to have one of the wonderful master platinum printers out there craft my
photographs.... Cheers.

Eric Woodbury
25-Oct-2005, 10:08
I saw some interesting 'platinum prints' this weekend. They were kallitypes that had been toned in platinum. The guy that showed them said you couldn't tell the difference, visually or chemically, between these and standard platinum prints. The big advantage was that they cost about 1/10 that of a standard plat print.

Whatever you do, be careful with potassium dichromate.

Jorge Gasteazoro
25-Oct-2005, 10:41
The guy that showed them said you couldn't tell the difference, visually or chemically, between these and standard platinum prints

This might have been a litte bit of an exaggeration. While the toning mechanism is one of replacement, it is not known if it proceeds to a 100%. The only way to know would be to digest the image off the paper and run some chromatography or mass spectometry on the resulting solution. So far as I know, nobody has done this.

Having said that, a tone kallitype can be very nice, but my experience was that it did not have as smooth a tonality as a true pt/pd print.

Michael Mutmansky
25-Oct-2005, 11:26

I additon to what Jorge has stated, the cost savings are nowhere near as great as you have stated. On a typical pt/pd print, the cost of the paper is often equal to (and sometimes greater than) the cost of the coating solutions. So while an ag coating solution is a lot cheaper than pd or pt, the cost overall comes down only a bit, and you have increased the number of steps along the way.

I think doing a platinum toned kallitype approach is fine for a casual printer, but anyone serious about printing will forego the kalletype and print in the traditional pt/pd manner for the best possible output and greatest consistancy.


To answer your original question, I didn't like pt/pd printing when I tried it, I loved it. It has become my primary medium. There are many different aesthetic preferences out there, and many pt/pd printers like the fairly flat contrast of the 'traditional platinum aesthetic'. This is not the only way to print with pt/pd, and there are many pt/pd printers who print with plenty of snap and contrast in their images.

All it takes is to somewhat master the materials to be able to get the process to work the way you want (within the limits of the materials). Let me say that a 'traditional platinum aesthetic' print is not a representation of the limits of the medium by any imagination.


25-Oct-2005, 11:56
I work exclusively in pt/pd. I find the process, once mastered, to be easier and more versatial than most silver processes. For instance, when developing in pyro I don't need a negative in a certain density range to print well with say.. Azo, (1.70 I think for grade 2 or 3) anyway what I mean is I can take a negative in a range of 1.30 to 1.90 and still print well with pt/pd. This is controlled by the mixture of metal salts. So I can emulse my paper to match my negative instead of worrying so much about matching the negative to the paper. By controlling these mixtures also gives you contrast control. With a good point light source such as a plate burner you can dodge and burn just as easy as you would a silver print. Annie is right, with pt/pd you have the capacity of great tonal range and luminosity. But keep in mind pt/pd printers don't look for dmax and dmin. We're looking for printable blacks. Where the pt/pd process separates itself from the rest is in the midtones. Here is where you see those beautiful mauves, creams and yellows. The fact also is that the emulsion is absorbed into the paper also lends to the extraordinary luminosity and at times will even appear almost 3d. I agree, it is not the most easy process to master but when one does the rewards are beyond words.

25-Oct-2005, 12:06
Ken you may want to try backing off your exposure times . A pt/pd print will have a dry down factor to consider when printing. I find this is usually around 10-15%.

Ken Lee
25-Oct-2005, 13:37
Thanks Robert - I have seen what you mean.

But here I am referring to what some have termed "brilliance" or lack thereof. Some images look best in a semi-gloss finish, which can be attained with coating. Other images look best without any coating.

One thing I have grown to appreciate, is all genius and effort that has gone into pefecting photographic methods - what John called the "what the boys at Kodak, Ilford, et all, have been able to achieve during the 20th Century".

To that I would humbly add "plus all the girls, and the 19th Century as well".

Kerik Kouklis
25-Oct-2005, 15:04
The pt/pd process, once mastered, is much easier and less-time consuming than silver printing, despite what you may have heard. I've been printing pt/pd for over 15 years and have taught the process for 8 years. My workshop students most common feedback is that they are amazed that something they expected to be so difficult, was in fact, so easy! And, when purchased in some quantity, the cost of materials is very reasonable. I can make a 14x17 palladium print on a nice paper like Arches Platine for less than 5 bucks.

While I've known paulr for years and respect his opionions greatly, what he said about bodies of work done in pt/pd lacking vision, well that is true in every medium I've seen. And perhaps nowhere moreso than in the world of digital prints, where it's pretty easy to make an eye-popping print of basically nothing interesting. And I'm not "anti-digital". I do plenty of digital work, but love the hands-on aspects of pt/pd and now wet plate collodion.

I'm from the school of thought that the medium and the image carry equal weight in the final piece. I've never bought into "it's all about the image" thinking. I want a compelling image, but I also put great value on prints that have the photographers "fingerprints" on them. And not from opening a package of inkjet paper...

Paul - I wonder if you remember the medium more than the image with the processes and techniques that you listed because you have such a strong technical background and awareness of the processes and methods used, and are somewhat blinded by your hyper-awareness?

25-Oct-2005, 16:04
Ken I think I understand what you mean when you are referring to "brilliance". I have read about waxing and other attempts at coating but most were unsuccessful and most defeated the archival properties of the pt/pd print. My first question would be: Have you tried all the papers that are available for pt/ pd printing there are some very good ones out there and a few I've used provided very brillant results. By no means am I trying to discourage you from inventing some ground breaking archival wax or coating, heaven forbid I stand in the way of progress. Something along that line may even help preserve other less archival processes. So go for it. I'm just suggesting, exhausting all other means as far as searching for that brillant print in which you seek. You may even find that the pt/pd process doesn't meet your vision and move on to something else and that is ok too. But play with your mixtures and adjust your contrast with different papers . You'll find it's a lot of fun and it makes you more aware of what you can do in certain situations to get the most out of the process. It is a very versatial process. Look at what people like Kenro Izu is doing with his "Platinum Blue Series" Which is a platinum over cyan or vice versa process. But the main thing is have fun with it and don't get discouraged. Show me a platinum printer without a stack of work prints and I'll show you a guy that still has a lot to learn.

25-Oct-2005, 17:21
You should check out a new book came out over the summer on Irving Penn's platinum prints. It talks about his trials and errors over years of experimenting with the process. He ended up mounting the paper in aluminum and coating and exposing the paper a few times to get the depth he wanted. He had some system to make sure the negative was precisely registered each time. The book shows test strips he made, as well as some unsuccessful attempts. It convinced me as much as I like the look of platinum, I don't have the time!

25-Oct-2005, 17:49
Sitron, I haven't seen Penn's book but I'm looking forward to it. To use multiple registers or overlays use to be more common I think when papers weren't so good. I've even heard of printers sizing their own papers to hold the emulsion better. But nowadays the we have some beautiful papers to work with and with proper coating technique you can achieve single registered prints that are quite stunning. Seee... we Pt. printers have advanced in the paper dept. But on the other hand as I mentioned before Izu is doing the same thing but using two different processes and that's quite interesting in itself. But the technique is not that difficult with a good magnivisor and some masting tape. ( A good elbow rest and a couple of shots of good 18 yr. single malt always helps too.) The thing is, it is the kind of process that you get so excited about doing or you don't want to bother, there is very seldom an in between. But if you're drawn to the additional midtones and tonal shifts you can get from the process you'll understand what I'm feebily trying to describe. I guess a better word to sum it up would be addiction. ( now that's something I know about....but that's a whole other post.)....lol...have fun

Jorge Gasteazoro
25-Oct-2005, 18:55
Robert is right, we should credit Bostick & Sullivan for giving us a great set of papers to star with. Once people got on their way, testing alternative papers became a snap.

Pete Caluori
25-Oct-2005, 20:43

I'd like to add another thought to this discussion and that is process. Each process is different and as "artists" working in the photographic medium we have many different processes to chose.

Joh Cook used the analogy of his MG-GT, well allow me to expand on this analogy. You wouldn't use a MG-GT to move you household goods from one geographic location to another, instead you would probably use a truck. By the same token, you probably wouldn't use that truck to tour the countryside, but rather an MG-GT. I believe this same analogy is transferrable to photography. Some images are very well suited to the the look of silver gelatin, while others are better suited to the look of Pt/Pd, but in the end each of us needs to make the determination of what best suits "our" image.

For myself, I absolutely love the look of palladium toned van dykes, which exhibit an even longer tonal scale that Pt or Pd, but I also realize that not all image are suited to that process, so I don't limit myself. I work in a number of differnt processes including Pd and Pt/Pd and I would never give them up.

In order to make a determination for yourself, you need to work with a process and see what its capabilities and limitations are, then and only then can you decide if it suits your asthetic and the way you wish to express yourself.

Regards, Pete

Struan Gray
26-Oct-2005, 01:16
Does anyone here make cold-tone Pt/Pd prints? Most summaries of the process I have seen talk about being able to produce a wonderful range of tones from warm to cold, but all the prints I have seen have been brown, cream or pink. How easy would it be to make chilled prints?

26-Oct-2005, 02:55
Pete, Take a look at what Wynn White is doing with Van Dykes. His over developing then bleaching back his prints technique is rendering some very stunning results.

26-Oct-2005, 03:09
Struan, For warmer toned Pt/pd prints I use a Potassium Oxalate developer. For a colder toned print an Ammonium Citrate developer can be used. Like I said this process is very versatial.

26-Oct-2005, 07:26
my apologies for not using the spell check " versatile"

Jim collum
26-Oct-2005, 11:02
I'm printing with Ziatype, using Palladium:Platinum 2:1 ratio. I'm printing on COT 320, using the Bostick& Sullivan chemistry. I expose with the paper at about 60% humidity, and get almost dead neutral prints. If the humidity goes down below 40%, it starts to get very warm toned.


26-Oct-2005, 11:51
Jim, What you are using is POP process. I think you're probably using lithium palladium chloride and ferric ammonium oxalate. This process I'm not very up on but I do know that humidity will effect tone in this process. I work with the more traditional pt/pd developing out process where humidity won't have effect on the tones and how they shift. Although when coating I keep an eye on the room's humidity just for the fact of how the emulsion spreads when coating the paper. Cot 320 is a great paper and probably one of the best you can use. If it weren't for the fact that I'm playing with the Van Dyke process and still printing mostly in Pt/Pd I would love to give this POP process a try. But there's just not enough time in the day to do everything I would like. I would love to see some of your results once you get comfortable with it. These processes can be so much fun once you start playing with them. What type of light source are you using? You can make excellent prints with the Sun but you may want to consider a UV light box or a plate burner if you haven't already. With a good UV light souce you can really dial in your times and get more consistant results than printing with the sun.

26-Oct-2005, 11:59
"consistent" as in... I consistently spell terribly here lately.....I better see what's wrong with this spell checker it's obviously not working....my apologies again

Ken Lee
26-Oct-2005, 16:29
Does anyone here make cold-tone Pt/Pd prints?

Print color depends on a number of variables, including temperature, paper selection, developer, and sensitizer (emulsion). It isn't too hard to get a fairly neutral toned image (Not that I would ever want one. They've always struck me as a little dead-looking)

The same is probably true of Silver processes, but since most of us are accustomed to off-the-shelf products, we are somewhat unaware of the infinite possibilities of chemistry. If this branch of chemistry were as financially compelling as a cure for the common cold or wrinkles, we would see a lot more of those possibilities taking shape as commercial products.

Annie M.
26-Oct-2005, 17:39
After a long and protracted off forum conversation with one of my Pt pals it has become apparent that it is indeed my approach to the process and not the process itself .... that is too expensive, too complicated, too cumbersome, too time-consuming, ad nauseum.... (in my case lots of nausium)

Bruce, get yourself a kit from B&S and try it... it is a truly wonderful process ... I wish you every success.

Cheers Annie

Struan Gray
27-Oct-2005, 01:37
Thanks for the reassurance that cold and/or neutral prints are indeed possible. My personal taste in toning is for a smidgin of cream in the highlights, and cool to cold shadows. Almost all thef Pt/Pd work I have seen has a warm look that I would not want for my own photos.

A few years ago I was in Gothenberg with half an hour to spare, and was forced to choose between Sally Mann or Irving Penn. Ugh. I took the Penn, and loved the exhibition, although these days I suspect I would have jumped the other way. Reading about Penn's exhaustive work to reach that level of competence doesn't so much put me off, as make me realistic. I don't see myself doing Pt/Pd until the kids are older and I have a darkroom that doesn't have to be torn down and set up every time I want to work. For now, I'll stick to learning to see.