darkroom-based photography

Experiments with Bromoil printing using Foma emulsion

The underlying spirit of this blog is to share my failures in the hope that other photo-cognescenti can avoid some pitfalls. I have spent quite a few hours trying to learn the Bromoil process and I think I am now making a little progress, although there is still some way to go … Here I share my experiments with bromoil printing using Foma emulsion.

My previous posts (here, here and here) described my attempts at using various papers. However, I found the papers gave inconsistent results so I decided to work on coating papers with Foma emulsion. Here is my method:

Paper

I decided to try Bockingford Hot Press paper as it is a local rag paper at a reasonable price. I chose Hot Press to give me a smooth result and a weight of 300 gsm so that the paper could withstand long soaks.

The first task was to find the grain of the paper. By cutting a strip off the length and another strip off the width, and then soaking them in warm water, the paper curls along the grain when it dries (and wash-boards against the grain). Having found the axis of the grain, I cut the paper to the relevant sizes and put a notch at the bottom right hand corner to indicate the grain direction.

I also allowed at least an inch of margin on all sides of the cut the paper so that the final picture did not suffer from edge artefacts.

Emulsion

Under a red safe light in the darkroom, I coated the paper along the grain axis with a flat, smooth paintbrush, after melting the emulsion at 38 C in a water bath. I found that two coats were necessary.

The coated paper has to be treated gently, since no hardeners have been added. The gelatin coat is easily damaged, so even when washing prints, it is best to do them individually. Gloved hands are better than plastic tongues.

Exposing the negative

I found the emulsion to be fast and quite contrasty – about grade 3.5. Obviously Foma is a fixed grade emulsion, so the challenge with using it is to work out how best to control the contrast. This I do through print development (and appropriate image selection).

Printing

I made up Selectol-Soft to process the prints, which I diluted more than normal and then printed by inspection. I then used a normal stop bath and a non-hardening fixer (Hypam).

Tan and bleach

I tanned and bleached for 10 minutes then washed then re-fixed. I use Gilberts from Wet Plate Supplies.

Inking

After superdrying for 1 minute, I soaked the prints for 10 minutes at 18 C. I then inked using a soft brush and a dense sponge after placing the print onto damp blotting paper to slow down the dessication process. I use G&C #1796 and Senefelder ink. I found that the ink needed a little thinning with Linseed oil. Perhaps in the Summer this would not be necessary.

The ink is taken up by the emulsion very easily, so only tiny amounts are needed. It is best to do several sparse inkings rather than fewer, thicker ones. Also the highlights clear with little effort. With some of the previous papers, I had to pound the paper to clear the highlights. Foma coated paper would not withstand this treatment.

I also found that the matrix dried out quickly, so I needed to re-hydrate quite often, approx every 10 minutes or so and also to re-dampen the blotting paper.

Results

The results are promising. I had quite a few attempts which produced results that were too contrasty. Lengthening the soak times has helped. However I would prefer softer results as I want to move towards Bromoil portraiture.

Bromoil – Abandoned Farm House, North Dakota

More work required

The things I will now work on:

  • softer brushes
  • two bath print development to further control contrast
  • sizing the paper into baryta to give a smoother emulsion coating
  • adding a hint of colour

Final remarks

I seem to be on a reasonable track now. The end goal will be to produce my own emulsion from gelatin and silver nitrate and halides for both Bromoil and Lith work. Another ‘can of worms’ I expect!

6 Comments

  1. Austin

    This is a great article, thank you! I recently got into bromoil and have been using David Lewis paper which has worked quite well. The issue is that it only comes in 8×10 so I have been looking into ways to do something larger which led me here. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

    • Sidewayseye

      Thanks Austin and good luck.

  2. M Carter

    I’ve been doing Bromoils with Liquid Light and Foma. Foma’s a far superior product IMO, but it’s not always available. I’ve been rod coating and learned to get a factory-like finish; I have a masking kit and use that to tame the contrast, but if I shoot specifically for bromoil, I expose and develop for grade 3.5 and things are much easier.

    One observation I’ve had is the paper is almost “too good”, and I’ve been adding a bit of hardener which allows you to work the print a little harder. With just a 5 minute soak, that coin-like relief of the image is impressive, even with a bit of hardener. Most bromoilists I’ve read just use regular rapid fix, apparently the “thiosulphate only” isn’t really necessary. Heck, you don’t even really need to super-dry the matrix with liquid emulsion, but that’s a quick step so I tend to do it. Cool to see someone else going down this path!

    • Sidewayseye

      Thanks, that’s interesting. Thanks for looking in.

      One of the difficulties I have is spreading the emulsion. It’s a little lumpy and I’m not sure how high a temperature I can risk when melting it. Also, I can see the brush marks and I am reluctant to go to 3 coatings as the Foma emulsion is quite expensive here. I have been thinking to ‘size’ the paper but I don’t known whether this will interfere with the inking.

      When you say that you expose for grade 3.5, do you mean you use a 3.5 filter on your enlarger?

      Very interesting about the hardener since I have only used sponges and wet paper to apply the ink. Are you using the hardener that comes with the kit?

      I don’t think superdryng achieves much and potentially risks damaging the paper.

      • M Carter

        Yeah, you want it smooth as cream; it looks just like heavy cream when it’s ready to go. I melt mine in a stainless film tank, so I can have the lights on while setting up. Also, only melt what you need, each time you heat it you risk fog and changing rthe contrast (is what all the emulsion guys say anyway – Photrio’s emulsion and coating forum is really handy). I cut out chunks and weigh them and keep notes, like 22 grams of solid emulsion is enought for an 8×10 when rod coating.

        I do a version of the light farm’s wet paper coating: http://www.thelightfarm.com/cgi-bin/htmltutgen.py?content=22Jan2013 I have two strips of 1/2″ angle iron, painted gloss black with neoprene adhesive widow insulation on one side; I use a glass tube with tape wraps on the ends, and the angle makes a “channel” that the tube slides down to keep emulsion from pouring out the sides. I didn’t glue a “handle” to the tube, it’s 1/2″ diameter so it’s easy to hold. I also stick a wet towel in the freezer for 10-15 minutes and stick it in a small cooler; after I spread the emulsion, I spread the cold towel out, take the angles off the glass, and set the glass on the towel which sets the emulsion very quickly; then after a couple minutes I hang the paper to dry.

        Yes on the FOMA hardener, or I use Glyoxal with Liquid Light. I’ve even sprayed liquid emulsion on 30″ canvas with an HVLP gun, I had to build a darkroom spray booth for that!

        Expose/develop film for 3.5 – to test a film/dev combo, I set up a still life and shoot at box speed and slower, like 100 speed film I bracket at 80 and 50 ISO (esp. with Rodinal which doesn’t bring the shadow detail I want) – I throw my nice Mrs. in for skin tones:
        https://i.imgur.com/6HGPC7l.jpg
        I’ll usually setup the enlarger for like a 5×7 print with grade 2.5, and I take the leader or the blank border of 4×5 film, and find the exposure time that just hits max black on the paper (the leader is the max black the film in that particular developer can give) and do test prints without changing enlarger height or time. I find the ISO that gives the best shadows, and then I find the developing time that holds highlight texture (styrofoam blocks at F22 in the pic). But for bromoil, I just do those tests with a 3.5 filter and dial in the time – I save the test prints and notes in a binder, so for a given film/dev combo I can decide to develop for 2.5 or 3.5. To save emulsion, I’ll use Ilford RC paper (cheap and fast to work with) with a 3.5 filter and dial in dodging/burning. Then remove the filter and do some tests on the emulsion and find what the exposure difference is, usually with FOMA it’s close to the same time (pulling the filter opens the exposure up a lot) – FOMA vs. RC, highlight rolloff is smoother and there’s more delicate highs, but the drydown is heavy, they really darken up when dry so you have to compensate for that!

        • Sidewayseye

          Thanks very much for the detailed suggestions.

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