View Full Version : Brush Development—Recommended Brush Types

Mark Booth
29-Aug-2010, 01:35
I am working with a really great "brush-development" process with pyro chemistry and tray development of sheet film negatives. It offers all of the benefits of reduced agitation development with none of the unwanted problems of risking uneven development or streaking under the extreme exhaustion with tanning/staining developing agents like pyro—encouraging maximum gradation and even development. (see picture attachment)

This special non-handled brush retails for about $32.00 but I purchased it for half-price. The brush uses natural boar's hair that has just enough body and tooth, but not overly grab the negative or scratching delicate film surfaces. I find it to provide even coverage, dislodging of trapped bubbles, and to fluidly glide across the surface of sheet film with gentle tension. For very large negatives one would need a wider brush, but 5x7 negatives work well with 2" brushes and with a little practice even 8x10. Although a 3" - 4" coverage would work more easily with 8x10 format film. Having no handle (as shown) is perfect for holding near the film and tray, so that one can sense more acutely its responsiveness against the film's surface in relationship to the tray and to keep a low angle along the entire film surface. I use very thin nitrile examination gloves for protection against the chemistry and then eagerly "drink" the exhausted developer for added energy! haha! :)

Another great brush type is the Hake brush, pronounced "Hay-Kay"—goat hair being most common. Hake brushes are available in wider sizes as a rule and spread alternative process chemistry very well also. Like all things, it takes practice in how to gently hold the negative or optimize brush strokes during darkroom use by tray. My first thought when I started using a brush was "panic" at first, for it felt odd and my coordination was barely adequate as I tried to feel my way on the negative. Bottom-line, take your time and do several test first. I am planning to create a YouTube video of my process within the next few weeks. I'll keep you posted!

Jay DeFehr
29-Aug-2010, 07:25

It is a great method! I recently suggested this very method to a friend in Oxford, though I always use cheap, dollar store foam paintbrushes! Yours looks far more sophisticated, and artistic, and there's a lot to be said for the feel of a quality brush. Thanks for posting, and it's good to see you here.

John T
29-Aug-2010, 08:07
Great information, except Hake is pronounced Ha (as in ha ha) Ke (as in the spanish pronunciation "que")

29-Aug-2010, 08:49
Other than cost, is there any advantage in using foam over a *-hair brush?


It is a great method! I recently suggested this very method to a friend in Oxford, though I always use cheap, dollar store foam paintbrushes! Yours looks far more sophisticated, and artistic, and there's a lot to be said for the feel of a quality brush. Thanks for posting, and it's good to see you here.

29-Aug-2010, 09:13
Its seems to me that with a hair-type brush, you stand at least some risk of the brush shedding hairs onto your film.

I talked with a lady that had years of experience with astrophotography and in her opinion, the ONLY way to achieve truly even development was through brush development, and they tried it all.

Jay DeFehr
29-Aug-2010, 11:23

I don't know that there is any advantage other than the price, and the fact that I happened to have a foam brush handy when I first tested the method. I'm sure a quality brush would provide a much different experience, even if the results were identical.

Mark Booth
29-Aug-2010, 13:19
John, thanks for the correction on the pronunciation for Hake. Jay, GOOD to hear from you!

My thought on brush or foam is really a matter of personal preference, and I would certainly not argue too much with one method being superior—find what works with the budget and is of most interest, then put it to work.

What I would say, is that scratching should not be a problem with a quality brush or foam. I especially like the natural hair brushes when wetted with paint media, so that is why I migrated to the natural hair approach and happened to have a little more money in my pocket that day—feeling rich I suppose! Also the nap is different and the drag across the surface differs somewhat, but by all means use what makes sense and be willing to experiment.

Materials behave very differently when wet and surface tension is minimal between the surfaces with a good natural hair brush, but the tension is just enough to draw off the exhausted developer as a silky glide with full and gentle exchange. Also, a quality brush is generally hand trimmed at the tip so when wet it will not be prickly but smooth and supple. Brushes made from artificial hairs do not form a "belly" as well as natural hair, which is where most of the liquid is held within the brush (think mid-section of the brush). A brush will either have a seamed ferrule or preferably a seamless ferrule. The ferrule is the metal ring that holds the paint brush hairs in place and is secured to the handle with crimping. The beauty of a quality natural hair brush is how it behaves when wet for it will absorb as beautiful as it applies fresh developer.

The natural hair brush may drop a couple stray hairs at first, but will offer more gradual distribution than the synthetic brush. A good brush will not continually loose hair but will actually become better with use. I've never had a problem this way. For a synthetic brush a good fine art varnish brush can work, or a Sceptre Gold (sable synthetic blend) or Cotman (golden taklon). For a natural brush a Hake brush (white goat or boar) works well. Resources: http://www.winsornewton.com or http://www.danielsmith.com or http://www.utrechtart.com/

Most importantly when in the darkroom don't panic when you begin the film developing process, (agitate initially in the tray then begin the strokes) Don't become paranoid that you're missing a spot, because you won't. Relax (grab a beer or your favorite drink) and think methodically as possible, but most importantly intuitively. Have fun!

Jay DeFehr
29-Aug-2010, 15:12
Mark, I hope you won't mind another observation that hasn't been mentioned here; brush development permits the use of very minimal solution volumes- just enough solution to cover the film during rest periods is necessary. A flat bottom tray floating in a tempering tray is self-leveling, and requires very little solution to cover a sheet of film. Developing one sheet at a time, with one shot developer and brush development is, in my opinion, the surest, safest way to get repeatably excellent development results with sheet film, but it can become tedious when multiple sheets are to be developed.

Mark Booth
29-Aug-2010, 18:09
Jay, your absolutely right about the minimal solution volume required. I became curiously aware of this when using my one shot pyro solution and seeing first hand the efficient coverage gained by the brush method. Great comment about a flat bottom tray floating in a tempering tray. This would encourage both efficiency and precise control. Jay—next time in Seattle area, MY TREAT for coffee! Look forward to coordinating something together.

I've included a few snapshot pics to illustrate my very basic tray set-up. The 8x10 tray pictured is clean, but well used and stained from frequent use over the years. I've divided the tray into two sections for 5x7 negatives and I have a separate tray for 8x10 use, and another tray with four divisions for 4x5 negatives. I would normally have two gloves on and no watch as seen in the attached photos. I have included a pic of the spiral wrap material which was cut to size and used for the tray divider. I simply used an epoxy glue (in this case, Liquid Nails adhesive worked well). What I like about the spiral wrap is that it allows some flow of liquid through the spiral material while keeping negatives separate from each other. One can really customize this material for it bends and can be cut to any size.

In terms of processing technique, I don't really worry about precise rate of speed or the counting strokes, but establish an acceptable pace with consistency. I just set a countdown timer for 8 minutes with my Tri-X in 72ºF dev. solution and slowly and gently (systematically) brush from left to right two complete times over the negative, then move over to the other negative on the other side of the tray and repeat the same process. During this time the opposite negative is resting in the solution as the developer works toward exhaustion. Then I go back to the other negative and continue until my time is up. I also enjoy a metronome which I use for many things. I find this method immensely creative and satisfying which is one of my chef ways of encouraging consistent and repeatable processes. If one enjoys something they are prone to do it again, and to do so with dedication, as a habit that serves them well.

If one assumes a 6-12 minute development period with most developers and film, sufficient passes and coverage over the negative are almost assured with uniform development. Some photographers will brush in different directions (cross strokes) which is fine, but I find that brushing parallel and toward myself works well with one hand free to gently maneuver or navigate the brush over the film. My free hand is never head on the film in one place for long and is always applied gently if at all. One finds improved dexterity with repeated experience.

While I generally use TXP 320 or FP-4 Plus film, even using the very soft emulsion of Efke film will not scratch this way. I find scratches to occur far more easily when the film is "sloshing" around the tray hitting everything during general methods of agitation or when floating around loosely along with other negatives during careless rinsing. (scuffing each other) Thus, the value of common sense and perfected use of repeatable "good" habits.

By brushing the film properly one will almost assure no air bubbles being trapped and extremely even development, unlike what can be a problem with general tray agitation if not done with care. Don't get me wrong... normal tray agitation is just fine, and some photographers might want to do a combination of agitation and brushing as well.

I am sure others have different or better methods, but this has worked well for me. I am currently doing this method almost nightly for a commissioned historical documentary photographic project involving the relationship of historic architecture and urban culture in Seattle, Washington. So I am taking great care in my work and place full trust in this method, particularly once one has a little practice in place. :)

R Mann
29-Aug-2010, 20:13
Anyone using night vision goggles with this method?

Jay DeFehr
29-Aug-2010, 20:20
A friend of mine is. He's using 1 minute of brush agitation at about 9 minute intervals with dilute GSD-10, and uses IR goggles to watch the progress of development. Sounds like fun!

Mark Booth
29-Aug-2010, 22:37
Somewhat Off-topic:

About a two years ago, I tested GSD-10 film developer very extensively (with 35mm film) and found your formulation to be wonderful in use. It works very well with tray or tank processing in semi-stand development and I'm sure it would be a delight with brush development too. For those who want to read up on the developer: http://gsd-10.blogspot.com/

Vlad Soare
29-Aug-2010, 23:23
What exactly is brush development? I keep hearing about it, but I find it hard to imagine. You dip your brush in developer and then smear it on the film? :confused:
Does anyone have a link to a video demonstrating this technique?

Jay DeFehr
29-Aug-2010, 23:26
Thanks, Mark. Your review of GSD-10 was very helpful to me, since you were the only person other than myself using it at the time. It's always good to get a second opinion, because it's easy to get too close to the work to see clearly. I hope you've been well in the interim. I'll be passing through Seattle thursday morning, but just long enough to change planes. I pass through every 3 weeks, and I'd love to meet you for coffee sometime, even if it's just at the airport, and provided it's not too far out of your way.

Mark Booth
30-Aug-2010, 19:20
Vlad— good question on brush development examples. Go back to the first page of this discussion and read posting #9. I share some steps and suggestions along with picture examples.

Not too much is out there with videos or classroom instruction, but I intend to do a YouTube video on the technique within the next month and then provide a posting... so stay tuned!

Regarding the process, I am NO expert but just a 35 year darkroom and shooting veteran of photography. In this case, I taught myself how to do brush development by self investigation. All I can tell you is that IT WORKS AND IS WORTH YOUR PRACTICE AND INVESTIGATION!

So, read #9 and post any questions. There are a number of us that might chime in.

Mark Booth
30-Aug-2010, 21:47
Jay— I can likely meet this Thursday, but need to make some minor adjustments with my schedule. I've sent you a personal message on the forum to arrange contact.

Pete Roody
31-Aug-2010, 05:00
I get great results with Efke film using brush development. I use cheap hake brushes. No problem with loose hairs. I think the fact that the brush is always wet eliminates loose hairs. I use ABC Pyro diluted to 1:1:17. This produces a very even development with no scratches.

Mark Booth
2-Sep-2010, 23:26
Pete— I fully agree with your comments of Efke and brush development being excellent for this tonally rich (smooth gradation) film and not scratching (assuming careful handling of course). I find the tonal richness of the classic emulsions of Efke and the new Adox line of films to be great candidates for the minimal agitation of brush development. Also, it is easy to work with highly diluted developers or two bath methods.

Next weekend I plan to process some Adox ORT25 Orthochromatic film with the new PET base properties. I will use brush development of course but by inspection method under red light. Working optimally with selective areas (zones) of film and exposure for +/- development is my hope.

ABC Pyro 1:1:17 is an excellent combination for delicate gradation potential.

I use a developer of similar character Pyro-TEA at 1:50 dilution. For those who might have interest in the (Pat Gainer formula) which is an organic solvent developer, I'll provide the stock formula below. The capacity of this developer is just for one-shot single use development sessions, but the stock solution itself stores for years and is so simple that it is actually very economical in use.

Pyro TEA Formula — TEA is Triethanolamine (Photo Formulary stocks TEA)

P-TEA Stock solution (Gainer formula):

TEA 100 ml
Pyrogallol 7 grams

That's it!!! (A pyro equivalent in simplicity to good old D-23 or variant)

Dilute 1 + 50 (with water) for use immediate use. Example: 1 Liter water + 20 ml of developer solution makes a working solution. To mix: the liquid triethanolamine I carefully heat the TEA liquid in a microwave for just 30 seconds to elevate the temperature to aid in stirring. I then measure the pyrogallol and slowly mix it into the TEA which forms a slurry solution. I then return the Pyro TEA to the microwave (in a glass beaker) and heat for several 30 second cycles with intermittent stirring. In less than two minutes of heating in the microwave the slurry will fully dissolve with patient stirring. (solution/beaker very HOT!!!) TEA has a vastly different boiling point than water, so it heats and cools ultra quickly. Once the solution is fully dissolved it should be a pale brown color. To cool, simply place the beaker of solution in a basin of cool water for about 10 minutes. (I use a stainless steal sink area) TEA will respond to ambient temperatures quickly. Be careful when heating the solution NOT to burn yourself and use high precaution when handling and mixing pyrogallol. I store my finished stock solution in brown glass bottles. Without water present, TEA acts as a Pyro preservative and stores inactive until use. Once water is introduced it acts as an organic alkali and effective silver-halide solvent.

Hope this helps... or peaks some interest for experimentation and learning.

Jim Graves
3-Sep-2010, 00:03
I had the same confusion as Vlad ... I had to read both Mark and Jay's description twice before I realized the negatives were actually submerged in enough developer to cover them (Jay's post says that but I couldn't find it in Mark's posts ... I assume this is what generated Vlad's question about whether you dipped the brush in the developer and brushed it on.)

Mark Booth
4-Sep-2010, 13:43
Jim — I submerge my negatives and begin with initial agitation, but I would suppose that one would not have to do this per se. My theory is that obtaining a good base of coverage and even development is important during the initial minute much like one does in the printing process with paper. Then I transition quickly to brush development with the first goal of removing any air bubbles and establishing a rhythm of brushing that works for me.

First Goal: Establish good handling control by initial agitation method (platform for brush development) and boosting self confidence. One must "settle into" the workflow and be assured of good initial development. Good handling is always about habit, but sometimes we forget about the importance of synchronizing and a harmonious process in the art of photography. Herein we might glean from the ideals of both Adams and Mortensen in their valuable methodologies.

Second Goal: Transition to fine tuning the film processing experience through brush development method, knowing that good initial control is already established, one can now simply enjoy their time in the tactile process. Depending on film type and one's set-up, one can use development by inspection with brush development, or just keeping it simple with normal darkroom processing procedures in total darkness.

Of course, whether one is inclined to use D-76 or D-23 in its classic use, or to pursue a pyro formula, or Amidol water bath development, Etc. the use of brush development has great merit to consider for all developer types. For example: Orthochromatic type films seem to greatly benefit from highly diluted developers and allow for red light inspection which are ideal combinations for also using the brush development method.

Brush development gives new meaning to "painting with light" as photographers!:)

Mark Booth
8-Sep-2010, 21:02
A helpful link for outstanding selection of artist brushes and specialty art supplies is:

From Yasutomo Hake brushes to Winsor Newton specialty brushes, NY Central Art Supply has one of the most extensive lines of artist supplies anywhere. Those photographers who work with alternative processes will enjoy this resource as well!

I realize that Home Depot may provide just as good solutions for certain things, but sometimes (if you're like me) I enjoy treating myself to something very special and it's nice to know where to go in such cases.

Hope this helps!