A Method for Making Oil Pigment Prints
By Ernest J. Theisen

The following is a method that I have developed for myself to make Oil Pigment Prints for transfer. I am pleased to share it with you.

Those of you that have studied the history of the Bromoil Process remember that bromoil was invented so that a worker could make oil prints with out having a large negative. That meant that photographers that used small format cameras could make oil pigment prints using their enlarger and bromide paper. This process was named Bromoil, a contraction of "Bromide" and "Oil" However to make a bromide photograph into a oil pigment print one must go through several additional steps, namely; making the enlargement, bleaching/tanning the bromide print to make the matrix.






Below is an example of a transfer print made from an oil pigment print.

Photo copyright 2000
by Ernest J. Theisen

  To make oil prints however, one just needs a large negative and "oil paper".
Oil paper is paper coated with gelatin. Unfortunately oil paper is no longer available however it is very possible to make oil paper by various methods of paper coating. It is a time consuming and messy process and I have never had much success with hand coating.

Oil pigment prints look just like bromoil prints. The difference is; if you coat your own paper with a gelatin mixture you can use most any kind of paper for the support, with your choice of color and texture. Oil prints are contact prints therefore large negatives are required.

If you do not use a large format camera, 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 or larger, you will most likely want to make an enlarged negative from your small format negative. There are many ways to make large negatives and many articles on how to do that. Until recently most all the methods for making enlarged negatives involved having a darkroom.


"Eagle Peak"
Oil Transfer Print
9 1/2" x 7 1/4"
GC &I Dark brown lithographic ink
Receptor paper: Arches #300 lb hot press

  Personal computers, scanners, PhotoShop (or the equivalent) and high quality ink jet printers (Epson as an example), have made it possible to easily produce enlarged negatives for bromoil, gum, casein etc. either by using overhead transparency material (viewgraphs) or paper negatives, without a darkroom.

Silver bromide photographic paper consists of a support material (usually rag paper or a plastic material), coated with an emulsion mixture; silver bromide, gelatin and other stuff. It follows then, that if we removed the silver emulsion with fixer we would be left with oil paper. Oil paper that we could coat with a bichromate solution and expose under a large negative. This is what my experiments have been concerned with these last several months. And I have now had enough success that I what to share my results with you.

Some of the papers I worked with gave better results than did others. I do not know why. It could be the thickness of the gelatin coating, the age of the paper (I used paper I had lying around) or something in the emulsion mixture the remained after fixing.

It took me a while to figure out the correct mixture for the sensitizer. I used Ammonium Bichromate and Potassium Bichromate in my experiments. I settled on Ammonium Bichromate. It is easy to get, it is cheap and it is a bit faster than Potassium. I learned that the percentage of water to Bichromate follows the same rules as for gum printing. There are lots of articles written on that subject so I do not need to go into that. I start with a saturated solution and cut it with an equal amount of distilled water. That works for most of my negatives and it is a good starting point.

So the process goes like this:
I start with perfectly good silver bromide paper and immerse it in plain fixer. I use Kodak Rapid Fixer and leave out the acid. I use two baths, three minutes in each bath. From there into a hypo clearing agent, wash and dry.

I tape the dry sheet of (now) oil paper to a piece of mat board and coat it with the Bichromate solution using a 3-inch Hake brush. I dry this in a box (darkness) for several hours depending upon the humidity in the room. I remove the coated paper from the mat board and expose under a large negative using my UV printer. Negatives made from transparency material print in 7 to 12 minutes. Paper negatives made with Epson photo paper waxed or oiled, print in 20 to 30 minutes, plain paper, 30 to 45 minutes.

I treat the matrix like a gum print following exposure. Out of the printing frame into a tray of room ambient water face down for 20 minutes or so then into my print washer for 30 minutes until all or most of the Bichromate stain has left. This now becomes my matrix.

I dry the matrix and when I am ready to print it I soak it in 110-degree water for 20 minutes and ink it. I transfer the image onto Arches watercolor paper.

I have had success with fiber based Agfa and Forte papers. I tried Illford RC and some old Oriental RC paper and I did not get good results. This is not meant to be the end of the search and I am not eliminating RC papers. I just have not found one that works as well as the two I am using.

Keep in mind that I am using this process for transfer. You can use this method for making finished oil print and not go through the transfer process. It will look just like a bromoil print on plain photographic paper.

Why do this? Well it almost eliminates the requirement for a darkroom, and there is no bleaching process involved. The downside is you have to make an enlarged negative and you need an UV printer.

I am sure that other workers have done the same thing that I am doing. I am not claiming to have invented anything, I just never heard of anyone else doing it so I have been working alone.
I would be interested to know if anybody else is doing anything like this and I would like to share results.

Ernest J. Theisen. April, 2000

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