The Platinum Printing Process

For people who collect photographs, platinum/palladium prints are known for their beauty, archival stability and unique, one-of-a-kind print statement. Made from the salts of platinum and palladium, these prints are also called “platinotypes” or “platinum” prints. Platinum and palladium are noble metals on the Periodic Table and are resistant to oxidation. The platinum salt emulsion is imbedded into the fiber of the paper during the printing process.

As with most historical photographic processes, a platinum print is made by placing the negative and emulsion-coated paper in direct contact. Therefore, the size of the photographic print is equal to the size of the negative.

Platinum prints have a different “look” from silver gelatin or digital prints. All platinum prints have a matte, not glossy surface, because the sensitizer is absorbed into the paper rather than sitting on the surface. A platinum print also has a more gradual tonal change from black to white. To the eye accustomed to the punch of a silver gelatin print, a platinum print will often feel “softer” or lower in contrast. In reality there are actually more steps between pure black and pure white in platinum prints than in a silver gelatin print. This contributes to the deeper, richer feeling you experience when looking at these prints.

My platinum prints are made from hand-mixed and hand-coated emulsions. These sensitizers are mixed just prior to use, coated on the paper with a brush or glass rod. Once dry, a negative is placed in direct contact with the paper, and then exposed to “actinic” or ultraviolet light. Exposure to the light source takes a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on the density and contrast of the negative.

The image tone of a platinum/palladium print can vary widely in color. These prints can range from a cool, slightly purple black to split tones of brown and warm black, to a very warm brown. The proportions of platinum to palladium in the emulsion, choice of developers and the temperature of the developer control the final color.

As these emulsions are mixed and coated by hand no two prints are exactly alike. I like to think of them as “monotype” prints from the same negative. Some practitioners of these historic processes leave brush strokes plainly visible. My goal is to make prints as smooth as possible, but occasionally brush strokes can be seen in some of the prints. They should be seen as the marks of the artist.

Tillman Crane