Here I look at using paper negatives as carriers for bromoil and oil printing …


One of the limitations of oil prints is that the final picture has to be the same size as its parent negative because the oil printing process under UV light is by contact printing. So traditionally, to make a 8×10 oil print required you to have a 8×10 negative which required a 8×10 view camera. Let’s call this the ‘size limitation problem’.

In today’s digital-enabled photography this is no longer the case. Using a smart phone or 35mm camera you can produce 8×10 digital negatives which can then be contact printed to make a 8×10 oil print.

But what options exist for those, like me, who do not want to get into digital printing? This post looks at how I have tried to solve this problem.


Traditional approach

The traditional option would be to use Ilford’s ortho copy film. You would project your 35mm negative onto 10×12 ortho film to produce a 8×10 film positive, (allowing for some margin), then contact print this onto another sheet of of 10×12 ortho to produce a 8×10 contact negative. One would then print this up as normal for an oil print.

The snag is that this is expensive. In March 2023, 25 sheets of 10×12 ortho film costs £255, i.e c. £10 per sheet. It would be more than £10 per sheet given the need to use some film for calibration and allowing for some mistakes. One 8×10 picture would therefore cost between £20 and £30, given that at least two 10×12 sheets would be required for each picture (an interpositive and an internegative). Perhaps £40 per picture. That’s expensive! It certainly prohibits experimentation.

Alternative approach

An alternative is to use paper negatives since photographic paper is cheaper than large copy film. 1

But using paper negatives brings into consideration a number of other factors that need to be considered. These are:

  • Paper negatives bring to a picture a particular look. This may detract or enhance the final picture, depending on taste.
  • Paper negatives tend to produce high contrast pictures with shorter range mid-tones. As bromoils and oil prints are higher contrast anyway, it may be that the result will be too contrasty.
  • Paper negatives tend to be fragile when wet, which may be a problem for some alt process techniques.

Against these, there are advantages to paper negatives, the main one being the almost limitless ability to control local tonality by using pencil shading.

Adjusting local tonality with pencil stippling – see final image of this article

In the following experiment, I use paper negatives to produce bromoil prints by way of example. The results may be valid for oil printing as well, but that depends on whether and how UV light penetrates paper negatives.

Traditional bromoil prints do not suffer from the size limitation problem, although nowadays it’s hard to find large bromoilable papers. Lewis paper, for example, only comes in the 8×10 size. More and more, bromoilists are making up their own papers using Foma, or turning to oil printing; so my experiments are relevant, even for bromoil.


Overall approach

I took a 35mm film negative (HP5 taken on Nikon F3 with 50mm lens) and enlarged this onto grade 3 ilfospeed RC 5×7 paper. I selected RC paper because it is fast to work with and you can strip the paper down – (more later). I chose 5×7 paper to keep the cost of the experiment down. After developing the 5×7 inter-positive, I contact printed it to another 5×7 RC sheet to produce an inter-negative. I then contact printed this onto bromoilable Lewis paper and developed and inked it in the normal way.

Inter-negs and inter-positives

The RC inter-positives and inter-negatives were treated in one of three ways: A straight paper pos or neg with no physical alteration; a paper pos and neg with the back of the paper removed; and finally, a paper pos and neg with the back removed and the infil paper pulp removed from the middle of the RC paper. The paper was removed using wire wool. Great delicacy is required, but it’s quite straight forward. The paper neg needs to be wet and the wire wool motion, circular.

Stripping the backing off. It is best to strip off the whole edge by pressing down on the ruler rather than from a corner.

Here is a straight scan of the picture on RC paper (no tonal adjustments made). The image is of a farmyard just down the road from me:

Straight print – Storeton House Farm

I then produced the following:

  • A straight paper negative print – a print on Lewis paper from a straight paper negative and a straight positive, contact printed
  • A Bromoil picture on Lewis – a bromoil directly from the 35mm film neg.
  • A Bromoil on Lewis from a straight paper negative and positive, contact printed.
  • A Bromoil on Lewis from a paper negative and positive, contact printed.
  • A Bromoil on Lewis from a paper negative and positive with the RC paper plastic back removed, contact printed
  • A Bromoil on Lewis from a paper negative and positive with the RC paper plastic back and pulp paper centre removed, contact printed

Qualifications and Method

It’s important to bear in mind that this is not a scientific experiment. It’s not possible to control all of the variables, not least the bromoil inking process which varies with humidity and, indeed, mood.

The idea of removing the plastic backing off the paper inter-negative and inter-positive is to increase the translucency of the paper negative 2 . The intention behind removing the inner paper fibres of the paper with wire wool is to further increase translucency. It’s an open question whether this is at a cost to the aesthetic qualities of a paper negative, as I imagine that the paper fibres help to give character to the print and possibly increase the light scattering within the negative to give a more even result. We shall see.

Here are the pre-exposed inter-negatives in their stripped forms on my light table for comparison:

I estimate the fully stripped version (picture on the left, above) to have at least 30% more translucency than the unstripped paper neg.


Below are the scanned results done in a rough and ready way straight off the scanner. Because quite a bit of work is involved here, the bromoils have also been done in a rough and ready manner, each one done at a single sitting using a brush.

First is the straight print from a paper neg against the reference straight print . As you would expect the contrast has been boosted. The contrast of the straight print could have been matched with VC paper, but we mustn’t forget that the paper neg approach affords a great amount of local tonal adjustmmet through pencil shading on the back of the inter-neg and inter-pos: more precise with practice than split grade printing.

Next is a straight bromoil from the film neg against the straight print from a paper neg. The bromoil is quite soft and reflects the inking technique that day.

Next is the bromoil from a paper neg compared to a straight print from a paper neg. Quite similar as the bromoil image takes on the paper neg tonal characteristics (obviously).

Next is the bromoil from an inter-neg and inter-pos which had the plastic backing of the RC paper removed. It is referenced against a straight print from a paper neg. Quite like the result.

It has that ‘very old’ quality about it. Here it is enlarged:

Bromoil from paper neg without back

Below is a bromoil from an inter-neg and inter-pos that has been totally stripped of its backing and paper filler. I estimate that the neg and pos were 30% more translucent, judging by the enlarger exposure times necessary.

Bromoil from a totally stripped paper neg


I think there are two points that come out of this experiment.

Firstly, the bromoil technique affords such a wide range of ‘looks’, depending on skill, that making a bromoil (or oil print) through a paper neg doesn’t make for a sufficiently distinctive look. So, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the difference between the looks of the above examples.

Secondly, the use of paper inter-negs and inter-positives give two advantages:

  • We can use paper inter-negs and inter-positives to enlarge from small format film negatives to 10×12 (say) intermediaries for contact printing. This is much cheaper than using ortho copy film.
  • Using paper inter-negs and inter-positives gives us the chance of making very fine tonal adjustments.

Against these, the resulting contrast of making bromoils and oillies from paper negs may be too much for many scenes. I have used grade 3 ilfospeed RC paper. It may be better to drop down to the grade 2 or to use multigrade RC paper set at grade 1 (or lower).

The next test will look at what problems there might be in making oil prints from paper inter-negs.

  1. By the way: If you would like to learn how to produce prints from paper negs derived from film, the best person to help you is Andrew Sanderson. You can find him here
  2. See ‘ Peter Frederick, (1980) ‘Creative Sunprinting’, chapter 2; Focal Press, London

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