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Toning

 I find students still adhering to 70 year old recommendations without bothering to question them. You can’t really blame anyone, processes like fixing and toning and stop baths are pretty mundane subjects. In any case, I’m not questioning anyone’s moral fiber. I use the methods described because they’re an efficient, easier way to work.

 

The standard advice that’s been followed for toning prints is counterproductive. What’s that? Add toner to a hypo clearing bath. I still see recommendations for it. That’s counterintuitive. Selenium toner has hypo in it.

 

This has been recommended because a hypo clearing agent is mildly alkaline solution. Toner must work in an alkaline environment. But there’s a better way to do this and it gives you a faster wash time too: use a bit of balanced alkali[1] to create a toning bath – barely 1/3 teaspoon per 4 liters of toner (1 gallon). Add the selenium toner to this. After toning, use a separate hypo clearing agent bath for the toned prints, then washing will be about 10-20% more efficient. Test with HT-2 solution or course.

 

Papers[2]

 

Ilford papers and films are pre-hardened. I use alkaline fixers with these materials – it gives you a faster wash: about 20 minutes in a tray or suitable washer. Lots of people don’t believe this. Fine. Don’t believe it. But I’ve been doing it for about 24 years and it works fine. I like making things easy. Multigrade paper doesn’t tone significantly – for me. It does tone but – at the moment - slightly. I add 30-35 milliliters of toner to each liter of water (with alkali added) and tone for 7 minutes.

 

But I don’t alkaline fix Foma papers. Foma papers – at least Variant paper – isn’t pre-hardened. Alkaline solutions soften the emulsion excessively, and it will lift off the edges of the paper. Not good. I use hardening fixer for Foma papers (and films). And it’s critical to not add excessive balanced alkali to a toning bath when you use Foma papers because the emulsion will still soften.

 

Foma Variant seems to be to be the exact same formula as the old DuPont Varigam paper[3] (Variable Gamma). The color is the same, it seems to tone the same, and of course no emulsions were pre-hardened back then. Even the box looks the same. (Varigam used to come in those dark blue boxes.) I add 25 ml of toner to each liter of water and tone for 5-6 minutes. Variant tones considerably, and rapidly – to a beautiful cool purple.

 

Process

 

When I explained this on a UK large format blog, some conqueror who’d worked for Ilford attacked me as though I’d just tried to dynamite Parliament. Unbelievable. But I know that for most of my time in photography, lots of photo science was dedicated to the idea of finding explanations that sounded good, whether or not they mattered at all, or were even true.[4] The RIT course “Materials and Processes” was a classic application of the academic principle, “if you don’t comprehend something, name it.” (Teach what the ingredients of a developer are, but nothing about how this affects prints. They didn’t know . . .)

 

Anything I write on this website works because I’ve done it. I don’t claim to “make angels dance on the head of a pin,” as Lowell Huff used to say. I speak from practical experience and observation. I have prints that are very old and in good condition. That’s enough proof for me.

 

(I always wear rubber gloves to handle solutions. If you don’t, at least wear them when you handle toner. Toner gives off a little ammonia in the air, but you shouldn’t touch it.)

 

In regular fixer[5] - alkaline or hardening - I fix prints for 3 minutes – tops. I don’t count prints and mark it on the fixer bottle, I test the fixer. If a small strip of sheet film clears in 1 minute to about 1 minute 30 seconds, the fixer is usable.[6] When it takes close to 2 minutes to clear the film strip, the fixer is exhausted and I throw it away. That’s conservative and frugal too. (I fix film for 2-1/2 minutes to 3 minutes – not 5 minutes.)

 

During a printing session, I fix prints for 3 minutes and put them in a water holding bath. I use a sheet of Plexiglas to hold them down so they don’t float (or I put them upright in a Tide washer). When I’m done printing I put the water tray to the far left of the sink. I usually make about 12 prints per session, so I tone ½ the prints at a time. In the next tray is “plain” sodium thiosulfate (regular) fixer with sodium sulfite added – sulfite is a preservative; the hypo will last longer this way.[7] In the next tray is the toning bath and the last tray is plain water.

 

Pick up ½ the prints and agitate them in the hypo. Do it briskly. After 3 minutes, transfer the entire pile to the alkaline-toner tray. Agitate through them once quickly – they might tone unevenly otherwise. After that, use moderate agitation. Then  they go in the water tray to the right. When you’re finished toning, dump the toning solution and the first water tray, and pour the fixer back if you’re reusing it.

 

I then agitate all the prints in a hypo clearing bath for 3-4 minutes. If you’re using Foma paper, work carefully during all this – the emulsion will still be soft. When you’re done with the hypo clearing agent, place the prints in another water bath and agitate through them.

 

If the prints were acid fixed, in a print washer I wash them with a still wash for a hour, run the washer for 20 minutes, another still wash, then run for 20 minutes to finish up. This might be overkill. One hour with a 20 minute run time may be plenty. The HT-2 stain is very faint after (1) still-water running-water wash cycle.

 

If pre-hardened prints were alkaline fixed, I hypo clear, and then agitate through them in 2 clean water baths, and wash them in a Tide print washer for about 20 minutes. You can also wash them in a tray: agitate through the pile in clean water. Dump the water (hold the prints gently while you do this). Repeat 10 times. It takes about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how many prints you have. Six changes of water with agitation is probably enough, but I always do 10.

 

Test all your wash procedures initially with HT-2 solution. Water composition, and your working methods all affect wash times, yeah?

 

When the prints are washed, I hang them on clothespins over the sink, then place them in blotters. I take the stack of blotters to the workroom and transfer the prints – face up – onto plastic screens. Blotters are hung up to dry afterwards.


[1] I get mine from Artcraft chemical - https://artcraftchemicals.com/

[2] I refer to fiber base prints here.

[3] Originally Defender Varigram, developed in 1942.

[4] Kodak sold silos full of D-76 not because it was the best film developer, but because it was the most profitable.

[5] Sodium thiosulfate instead of ammonium thiosulfate (rapid fix).

[6] Your water may be different than mine. Test.

[7] I use this fixer only for toning and after about 4-5 sessions I throw it out. For Foma papers, I use a hardening fixer here.

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