Darkroom Digest: My Platinum Print Developer

September 14, 2016  •  7 Comments

I get a lot of questions about my platinum prints and how I achieve my "look".  Long story short, it comes down to a few variables, with my choice of a developer being central to my creative expression.  In addition to creating platinum/palladium and palladium prints, I also create the sought after pure platinum fine art print.  

First, I should explain what "pure platinum" means in my world.  I made the decision after creating a variety of platinum prints to only use platinum salts for my fine art gallery prints.  This means that I do not use any palladium salts in my prints which are known to make it a little easier to make Pt/Pd prints, and also it produces a different aesthetic (e.g., tone, dynamic range, etc.).  I have created several hundred Pt/Pd and Ziatype prints over the years too.  I have also tested Pt/Pd with Na2 as the restrainer in the sensitizer and Potassium Dichromate in the developer.  

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Warming my Potassium Oxalate developer for platinum printingWarming my Potassium Oxalate developer for platinum printingSubscribe to my free Newsletter and never miss another article or update.

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After a lot of trial and error over time, I have settled on separating the restrainer from my platinum sensitizer.  In other words, I don't use Potassium Chlorate in my sensitizer, and I don't use Na2 because this would only be relevant for Palladium printing.  

I use Potassium Dichromate in Potassium Oxalate in varying amounts to control my contrast.  This is the traditional approach dating back to the very beginning of platinum printing.  I made my decisions based solely on print quality and my creative interpretation.  I now have a highly controlled process for creating my pure platinum prints that allow me to pre-visualize in the field when I am exposing my films.  

If you go back and read the old literature about using Potassium Oxalate in Potassium Dichromate, you will find that photographers used a wide range of dilutions.  I settled on a 10% solution for my restrainer in a 25% solution of my developer.  Then for each "grade" of developer I mix the restrainer by volume to achieve different contrasts.  I have a total of 8 developers that I use ranging from very contrasty to extremely thin. Based on the negative that I am printing, I select a starting developer and then based on feedback, I make modifications until I am able to produce that print that I have in my mind.  

I have formally tested Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film, HP5+, and FP4+ as my negative mediums for my platinum and platinum/palladium printmaking.  I use a custom built UV printer to expose my platinum prints.  I created a video workshop where I walk photographers through every step in the design and build process to create their own UV printer for a fraction of the cost of a commercial version.

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You can view and purchase my limited edition Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine ArtTM gallery prints or my Platinum Histograph Heirloom MiniaturesTM from my online gallery. You can visit my Platinum Printmaking page to learn more about how I create my Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine Art Prints. 

Follow me on my St. Francois Mountain Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine Art Print Project where I am photographing the St. Francois Mountains that were formed by volcanic and intrusive activity 1.5 billion years ago.  By comparison, the Appalachians started forming about 460 million years ago, and the Rockies a mere 140 million years ago.

-Tim Layton 

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Tim Layton
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Platinum Histograph Heirloom Prints & MiniaturesTM
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Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Adrian, thanks for the comments and question. Comparatively speaking, platinum is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, analog printing methods. The cost of platinum hovers around $1,000 USD per ounce. On the up side, collectors regularly pay a lot more for platinum prints over silver gelatin prints. It also is a contact printing method, so it requires a negative, however you decide to make it, to be the same size as your print. You will also need a reliable UV light source vs. an enlarger or incandescent lamp to create consistently good exposures. It isn't a process that most pursue, for the obvious cost reasons, and also the difficult nature of creating high-quality prints. Let me know how else I can help or answer any more questions.

Adrian K(non-registered)
Hi Tim,
Platinum printing sounds expensive... can you give us an idea of costs? Is it much more expensive than traditional printing?
Jim Hamstra(non-registered)
How much 10% Potassium Dichromate do you add to Potassium Oxalate for contrast control? I know you would have various dilutions but what is the range. Is it like using Sodium Dichromate where there are only a few drops to 100 cc.

Thank you, Jim
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hello Jim, I am happy to connect with another platinum printer... stay in touch.
Jim Hamstra(non-registered)
For years I have used various dilutions of Sodium Dichromate in Potassium Oxalate as my sensitizer for my Platinum/Palladium prints. I have tried to make pure Platinum prints with the same developer but have not been happy with my results. In using the 10% solution of Potassium Dichromate for contrast control what is the range of Potassium Dichromate to Potassium Oxalate that you use.
Thank you for your help.
Cheers, Jim
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