I’m keen that disappearing photographic techniques are catalogued for future enjoyment. The Gelabrome process is a variant of the Carbro process. There seems to be very little on the internet about it and very few, if any, current alt-pro artists using it. I have had a few attempts, but so far the gelatin has come away from the substrate and I have got the initial mother picture contrast all wrong. But I will persevere, as I think the outcome could be stunning, and easier (theoretically) than Carbro or Carbon.

The Gelabrome Process


Georgia Procter-Gregg F.R.P.S.

With many thanks to David Lewis, who shared this article with me.

 Tony Cearns.

Mrs Georgia Procter-Gregg, FRPS. A Gelabrome (and Bromoil) pioneer – photographer unknown

To make a gelabrome, a suitable enlargement is stretched onto a board and coated with a thick layer of pigmented gelatin. When this coating is dry and hard, the print is removed from the board and processed, with slight modifications, as one would process a non-transfer Carbro, except that a single bath sensitizer is used. For pigment, the use of Windsor & Newton Black India Ink #951 will produce a rich sepia image.

The method of working described here is suitable for making Gelabromes on standard Kentmere Art Document paper, grade II. Trials using Ilfobrom Matt are promising, but a much darker print is required.

For first experiments, choose a rather soft negative, and make a fully controlled enlargement, leaving a margin of not less than (2.5 cm.) on all edges. This print should be a little darker in the lightest areas than one would consider normal for the subject. Kodak developer D-163 diluted 1:7, and a development time of 5 minutes at a temperature of 68F. should produce a suitable print with a full range of middle tones. After a brief rinse in plain water the print should be fixed for 10 minutes in 20% plain hypo solution. For consistent results it is best to use fresh developer and fix for each print. Five fluid ounces (about 140cc) of each solution is enough to develop and fix a whole plate image if flat bottom dishes are used. The print should be rinsed after fixing, and then washed in running water for at least one hour.

When washing is complete the print should be surfaced dried between flufless cloths and mounted at once on a flat board, using gum strip paper tape on all edges, overlapping the corners. Allow the print to dry naturally and protect from dust. When dry and stretched, examine the edges to make sure that the print is firmly held, otherwise it will swell and buckle when the warm coating is poured onto it. It is quite usual a little swelling and ridging to occur a few minutes after coating, but by this time the gelatin should have set sufficiently for its evenness not to be affected, and the paper will smooth out again when dry.

For coating one requires distilled water, Davis gelatin (as used in cooking) and Windsor and Newton Black India Ink #951. The coating should extend about one half inch (1.3cm.) beyond the edge of the picture, and a light pencil guide line should be ruled at this distance. Then, to find the amount of coating required for that print, the whole of the area inside the guide lines should be calculated, in square or square centimeters. A quarter fluid ounce of coating is required for every 6 square inches ( a near equivalent is 7cc. for every 38.5 square cm.): thus, a print with an area of 60 square inches will require 2 ½ ounces of coating. Make a note of the total amount of coating for all the prints to be coated, and measure this amount of distilled water into a jug. Then for every fluid ounce (28.41cc.) allow 20 drops of india ink and one half-teaspoonful of gelatine (a ½ teaspoon measure filled level holds about 31 grains or 2 grams of powdered gelatine). Using the example given above, four prints, each with a coating of 60 square inches will together require 10 fluid ounces of water, 200 drops of india ink and 10 level half teaspoon Of gelatine.

To make up the coating, first pour off a little water into a small vessel and add the ink to it. Stir the gelatine gradually into the rest of the water, cold, and leave it for a little while to soften. Stir again, gently, and then stand the jug in hot water, which should be replaced when it cools, until the gelatine is completely dissolved and all the little bubbles have risen to the surface and dispersed. The ink and water mixture may now be strained into it. An easy way to do this is to put a small piece of cotton wool, moistened and squeezed out, at the bottom of a funnel and to pour the ink mixture through it. The temperature of the completed coating may be raised once more before allowing it to drop to 81F. This is just above the temperature at which the gelatine will begin to set; at a higher temperature it is difficult to control. The whole of the made-up coating may be strained at a temperature of about 100F to remove any traces of dust or sediment.

The board on which the prints are mounted should be leveled, using a spirit level and small window wedges. A note, in pencil should be made on the margin of each print of the amount of coating required for that print, a small beaker with a pouring lip, and, at a temperature of 81F., poured onto the print, where it will form a pool. While pouring, a paint brush, wetted and squeezed out to remove air bubbles, should be used in the free hand to draw the coating up to the guide lines and into the corners. Continue pouring without a pause until all the coating is on; it should flood evenly over the area required, and will begin to set almost at once and must not be touched. A little practice with a plain gelatine and water mixture poured onto a piece of cardboard will give one the feel for this coating procedure.

When all the prints are coated they should be left to set and hardened. If there is any risk of dust, cover them with a board set on blocks, allow the air to circulate over the surface. The coating will take a long time to dry, maybe 48 to 60 hours. The coating itself should not develop mould, but mould may occur from moisture penetrating the board under the print. If this problem should arise, as a precaution, the prints may be insulated from the board by mounting them over squares of plastic covering material e.g. (Fablon) the size and shape of the prints to be mounted.

When the coating is quite dry, the prints should be removed from the board and stored flat in a dry place until it is convenient to process them. To remove, slit the Gumstrip tape all round, at the edge of the print, taking care not to cut into the paper. The remaining Gumstrip should be left on the print. It is easily removed at the next stage.

Processing – Processing a Gelabrome is similar to processing a Carbro, and the method described here is based on the instructions for Carbro received from Canadian photographer, David Lewis.

This stage consists of soaking in cold water, sensitizing, putting aside for half an hour in a cold place while the sensitize

ing solution works, washing off the surplus coating in hot water to reveal the image, clearing and hardening in a chrome alum bath, washing and drying. The prints are dealt with one at a time; the time taken for each, excluding the final wash, is just over an hour. Work may be carried out in weak daylight.

Now, the above in detail, starting with the formula for the sensitizing solution, which should be made up just before starting work, and which will process three or four Gelabromes.

Potassium Ferricyanide                   4 grams

Potassium Dichromate                     3 grams

Potassium Bromide                          2 grams

Succinic Acid                                1.1 grams

Potassium Alum                              .5 grams

Distilled water                             250 cc.

Working temperature 60F or 15.5C

The acid is useful to control contrast and density. Half the quantity will increase contrast; double the amount will give a softer, lighter image, brown rather than sepia. However, prints that are too dark, rather than too contrast, can be improved – and perhaps saved – by using less Indian ink in the coating. Cutting the ink content by half (10 drops per fluid ounce instead of 20) can still produce a very acceptable Gelabrome.

To make up the sensitizer, stand the vessel containing the distilled water in hot water, and when it has warmed a little, dissolve the chemicals in order given. Then cool to the working temperature of 60F. The whole amount of the solution is used for each print. And processing a batch of prints should be continuous, as the sensitizer deteriorates in a few hours.

To make up the chrome alum hardening bath dissolve 3 grams of chrome alum in 500cc. of luke warm water, then allow to cool. This solution is used cold – not above 60F. Prior to sensitizing, the prints is to be soaked in cold water at about 60F and this bath should be prepared.

It will be noted that the sensitized print is to be put aside in a cool place for half an hour. It is worth while standardization the temperature of the lay-by way period, and this is easily done by making a small “ice table”, using ice packs – Nordic Brand or similar. Two of these should be frozen overnight and for use should be placed side by side in a shallow tray, and covered first with a sheet of thin plastic foam and over this again a piece of glass large enough to take up the sensitized print, plus a good margin, to support a developing dish upside down. This is to prevent the warmer air in the room from reaching the print. The effective cold area is approximately 9” X 7” (23cm. X 18cm.). With the cold water bath and the sensitizer ready at 60F., the ice table prepared, and the chrome alum solution cooling ready for use later, senstising may begin.

With the cold water bath and sensitizer ready at 60F., the ice table prepared, and the chrome alum solution ready for use later, sensitizing may begin.

Place the print in the cold water, coating upwards, and soak for 9 minutes. After about 4 minutes the Gumstrip can be stripped off and removed from the water and thrown away. After 9 minutes, the sensitizer, being held at 60F., should be poured into a dish, and the print drained briefly and slid into the sensitizer face up. The water bath will be needed again after sensitizing and should be retained. Sensitizing should continue for 2 ½ minutes and the solution should be kept moving over the surface of the print. After 21/2 minutes the print should be drained for 10 seconds and then passed through the water bath two or three times, and as three minutes comes up, counting from the start of sensitizing, the print should be drained again and transferred to the ice table, placed face up on the glass, covered with the dish, and left undisturbed for half an hour. The sensitizer is retained for further use, and should be put by in a cool place.

The next step is to prepare hot water bath at 103F. to receive the print when the lay- by period is over. A clean cold water bath will also be needed. After the half hour lay-by, the print should be taken from the glass (replace the dish at once and later clean the glass) and placed into the hot water. It should be held under the water by opposite corners and agitated with small, jerky, circular movements to loosen the gelatine by the action of the water, which will quickly become black and the print will be invisible. The margins should be clean in three to five minutes, and one may bring the print to the surface of the water and remove the pencil guide lines by rubbing gently with the finger. Do not touch the pigmented area. The washing down should be continued, agitating as before. After five or six minutes washing may be complete, but it is best to continue for 10 minutes to be on the safe side.

The method of lightening selected areas of a Carbro, by pouring onto the surface a thin stream of hot water, may also be used for lightening heavy areas in a Gelabrome. However, unlike the Carbro the surface of which at this stage must on no account be touched, the Gelabrome is amenable to control with a sable paint-brush; supported on one hand. The paint-brush is wetted and wiped to remove most of the water and then applied lightly to the print. It is necessary to go very carefully and to learn by experience how much pressure can be applied. An extra minute or two in warm water will make little or no difference to the image. However, it will soon become apparent that a considerable amount of tone adjustment can be accomplished at this stage, even to deliberate over-printing with a view to selective correction during the wash-out. In this case work will be prolonged, and it is advisable to put the Gelabrome into cold water after the initial 10 minute wash in hot water, and to lift it out onto the glass, or any other suitable flat surface, for the brushwork, swilling with cold water when necessary to clean the surface of loose ink. The hot water bath is not used again.

When this stage of the work has been completed, the Gelabrome should be washed briefly in clean cold water and transferred to the chrome alum bath and left for 6 minutes. This is followed by a wash in running water for 20 minutes, after which the Gelabrome is hung up to dry. Do not touch the picture area, but after a minute or two run the fingers along the lower edge to remove the water collected there. Repeat this two or three times. Dry naturally, away from strong light. Fixing will follow in a few hours – or preferably in a day or two, when the image has dried out thoroughly and hardened.

Fixing after a short soak, should be in a 10% plain hypo solution to which may be added one grain (.065 grams) of potassium metabisulfite for each fluid ounce (28.41 grams) of hypo solution used. The Gelabrome should be fixed for 3 ½ minutes, and the temperature of the pre-soak and fixer should be between 60 and 65F. A final wash for 20 minutes, in running water, completes the process, and the Gelabrome should be hung up to dry as after sensitizing, but this time, when about half dry, it should be stretched once again on a board with Gumstrip, to smooth the surface and facilitate spotting. Small, light blemishes can be spotted out with dilute Indian ink when the Gelabrome is dry. After removal from the board, the remaining Gumstrip  should be trimmed off, otherwise cockling may occur, and the Gelabrome should be stored flat until required for mounting. Gelabromes may be dry mounted.   

One thought on “Gelabrome

  1. Gelabrome is not a process I have heard of, so thank you for mentioning it.
    Carbro I have heard of, but never tried and probably unlikely to.
    I believe that Sandy King is an accomplished Carbro printer.

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