There are many alternative printing techniques, from cyanotype to salt prints and even with chlorophyll. Today we want to work with albumen print, a wonderful 1850s process that is still in use today. Who knew that eggs have so much potential, good for printing and delicious dishes.
When you read the definition of an albumen print, one can think: "Easy, let's try." However, be aware that this is not a simple printing technique. After a long time working on this project, and overcoming different obstacles, we finally got some decent results.
Invented in 1850, and commonly used in the late nineteenth century, the albumen print is a type of photographic print made from paper coated with albumen (egg white).
- 3 eggs
- 12 gr silver nitrate
- 6 gr citric acid
- 200 ml distilled water
- 10 gr of pure sea salt or photographic salt
- Kitchen net
- Non-Acid Watercolor paper pure fiber base
- Frame with glass for your print
- Strong clips or elastic band
To make 1 L of non-hardening fixer know as Hypo Fixing solution mix:
- Water at 52 Celsius
- 240 gr Sodium Thiosulfate
- 30 gr Sodium Sulfite
Mix 10 gr of salt in 100 ml water, and stir through. The salt solution can be preserved for a long time. Keep it in a dark container at room temperature, and avoid excessive temperature jumps.
Silver Nitrate solution:
Warning! This solution creates irreversible stains. No cleaning product can wash away the silver. Make sure to use a working station in steel or wood for this kind of work. You must use gloves, as silver will also stain your hands and it will take a few days before leaving your skin. Although it has only a small level of toxicity in the human body, it is not good to come into contact with it.
- 12 gr of silver ( you can find this ingredient in a chemistry store)
- 50ml of distilled water
- 6 gr of citric acid
- 50 ml distilled water
Mix thoroughly; until it is all well blended. Be careful with drips that fall around you.
Coating The Paper
Step 1: Separate the egg white from the yolk. Be very careful to not contaminate the two parts, together they are not suitable for printing. Then add the salt solution of one teaspoon for each egg, a teaspoon is about 4.9ml. Mix until the eggs have well blended with the salt solution and let it rest until the bubble bursts, overnight is preferred. Stir the mixed eggs through a kitchen net to filter the egg's density. Overnight resting will allow the consistency of the eggs to become more liquid thus when coating the paper it will be even and there will be less excess of eggs density creating uneven parts over your paper.
Step 2: To coat the paper the best way is to dip the paper into the tray and gently pull it out while delicately cleaning away the excessive albumen from the sides. Let it dry overnight - the more stable the coating on the paper, the less likely it will be that the layering will lift during the water bath and fixing stages. If you can, flatten the paper with clips, so that it will be flat for the next stage. Alternative coating techniques are with plastic brushed or cotton. What is important is that the paper absorbs the albumen evenly.
Step 3: The next step is crucial. For this, you must work without the light on, or with a safe light. Silver is light sensitive. Coating is one of the most difficult stages. There are different techniques and we have tried many before finding a satisfactory one.
Use a paint sponge roll that distributes the liquid evenly. The silver is extremely sensitive, and as soon as it touches the paper, it will leave a line mark. The main concern is to have enough solution to cover the frame and let it reveal the image. It is crucial that the paper absorbs the liquid and we avoid the formation of puddles. Naturally the paper will curl, so if you have previously straightened the paper, it will be much easier. Now that our surface is ready, let it dry in complete darkness.
Now it's time to expose a frame. Choosing the right sunny day to accomplish this step is important. Our solution is sensitive to the sunlight, which means that the intensity of the sun will determine the time of your exposure and the density of your picture. If you attempt to do this in winter, the exposure time can be up to 20 minutes in direct sunlight.
However, as the seasons progress, so do the chances of a warm sunny day, and in that case the exposure time drops to 5 minutes. A suitable negative for this kind of printing is a high contrast negative. For the sake of this tutorial we will give instructions for a day that has a temperature of at least 20 degrees celsius around noon time.
Carefully place your negative on your coated paper and attach the glass to it with clippers. Make sure that the negative is in good contact with the paper to achieve a sharp image. Start the timer for your exposure as soon as you get under direct sunlight. After your time has expired, proceed to rinse for 3 minutes with water at 20 degrees. Be careful to only partially open your faucet as strong water pressure will damage your print.
Fix with Hypo fixing solution, gently wash away all the silver residue by waving the tray for 3 minutes (see how the fixing is going and decide if it needs a little longer). It is perfectly normal to see the image getting lighter in colors, that means that the silver is washing away. It is important to use Hypo fixer, as the rapid fixers on the market are too aggressive for the albumen, and they cause the image to completely disappear. Now, rinse one last time, for another 3 minutes. Place the print to dry, making sure to straighten the paper as you do so.
If you have managed to get to the end of this tutorial and you are successful with your print, bravo! This was not an easy journey. Albumen can produce some fascinating images, sharp and ethereal. It is a wonderful technique that was used for a long time throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Needless to say that the more you practice the better you will get at it. The feeling once the print is dry and successfully fixed is one of overwhelming joy. Take it all in, you deserve it!
Have you ever tried an alternative printing technique, and which one is your favorite? Share in the comment bellow which process would you like us to try. Don't forget to upload your prints in our community