A how to guide for Salt Printing part two-An alternative photography process

Continuing on in my how to on salt printing series I will finish up in this post on the rest of the equipment that you will need to start making your prints. You really don’t need as much equipment to get started as in developing film so it is relatively easy to get set up to do salt printing.

lets dive right in to the rest of our gear:

The transparency sheets

After a great deal of research online I finally came across the Pictorico line of transparency sheets. I had to read a ton of really old forum conversation threads and amazon reviews to find out that this is what you want to use. These sheets are made for working with alternative photography processes so you are going to want to spend the money and get them as they do work in inkjet printers.

One thing to note when using them is to always hold them up to the light and inspect them before use. Once in a while just like with your paper there will be some kind of anomaly they may interfere with your image. After several packs I have come across one or two sheets that couldn’t be used because of some random spotting. It’s rare but it does happen.

One other thing to note that when printing on these I always set my images to print at a higher dpi. With my digital work I always go with 300 dpi but at these lower settings with negatives and transparencies I found you will see more lines from where the print heads move across the transparency sheets. For my salt prints I use 600 dpi and I have never had any issues with it. You could go higher than that but for me 600 has worked great.

Something to tack your paper too

This piece can be simple and cheap but you will need something to tack your paper too in order to keep it flat while coating and drying your paper. Here I am using a Styrofoam block I had lying around the house with some basic thumb tacks.

You really could use anything for this purpose but it should be flat and something easily thrown away as you may get chemicals on it. This thing was cheap and it serves its purpose.

A smock of some kind and safety glasses

You are going to want to wear something over your regular clothes to minimize any chemical spills you may get on your clothes. I am always careful and handle the chemicals with safety in mind but accidents happen and you want to be prepared. Here I am using an old chef’s jacket I had in my closet. In my day job I am a chef and had this lying around but it’s heavy with long sleeves and it just works. Again you could really use anything for this purpose. The safety glasses are self explanatory. You really don’t want to screw with your vision so you will need at least some minimal protection in case of spills or splashes.

Developing trays

For salt printing you only need two trays, One for washing your print in water and one for your fixer. It doesn’t matter what color they are really but I used a white one for my water wash and a grey one for my fixer. These are cheap and you can find them anywhere.

Odds and ends

In this image are some odds and ends you will need including:

  • rubber gloves-you really want to be careful mostly with the silver compound as it can stain your skin black. These are a necessity and give you protection from handling the chemicals.
  • LED yellow safe light. You cam buy these in any hardware or building supply store and they are not very expensive. I chose yellow but you could use red also. I chose LED lighting for its efficiency and long-term usage. Again here we are adapting modern technology to a very old process.
  • squeegee you can find these anywhere….Amazon, hardware stores or janitorial supply stores. You don’t have to spend a lot of money it just has to be of decent quality as you will be using it to get water off your prints which will be essential for proper drying of your paper. This one I got on amazon for around $7.00.
  • Measuring spoon – You only need a to measure teaspoons for your fixer and this simple one I bought at the grocery store works well. Just label it and keep it away from your other kitchen utensils…only use it for your fixer.
  • Tongs- I bought a pair of really cheap tongs and two is all you will need to salt print. You need one for the wash and one for your fix and while I notice their shortcomings as a cheap alternative to more expensive ones they have performed well for over a year now.
  • Face mask – The chemicals for salt printing are nowhere near as bad as collodion is but there are vapors present and you do want to protect yourself. These have been adequate so far but in the future I will get the respirator type to exercise even more caution.
  • Two small mixing cups – You will need two small cups for portioning out your salt and silver solutions. We have tons of these little medicine cups around with a four-year old in the house and they are perfect for measuring out your chemicals. Just be sure to properly label which is which, I use one for the salt solution and the other is for the silver.

One quart container with lid (not pictured)- While it’s not in the picture you can get plastic or metal one quart containers for mixing paint at any hardware or home improvement store. I use one to mix one quart of fixer that I keep on hand for making prints.

I saved the exposing light for last because it will require a lot of explaining as it has been a thorn in my side since I started salt printing. Here is some images of the light I am currently using and then I will get in-depth about why it is such a pain in the ass…..

This is a cheap way to have something on hand to expose your salt prints. UV exposing boxes cost thousands and all they are really is just wooden boxes with fluorescent light fixtures put inside them. This really isn’t economical for most people and unless it’s LED lighting your wasting electricity. I wanted LED’s to save on power consumption and I needed something small, light weight and portable that didn’t cost thousands of dollars. The original box that I built consisted of an 11×14 shadow box frame with LED strip lights mounted inside with a power plug. Strip lighting is great because you can cut the strips and make it into any shape that you want only the cut strips need a connector to attach them together. This set up while cheap proved unusable for a few reasons..

  • The LED strip lights are too under powered with exposures taking over an hour to complete. Better than using the sun but still not good enough.
  • The connector strips used to attach one piece of strip lighting to another are the weak point in that scenario. You only have so much length of the strips and connectors before you start losing power, It gets weaker the longer the strips and the more connectors you use. The strips can be quite flimsy and it can be difficult to get a solid connection making shorts common with this setup.
  • Unless you mount the strips right next to each other you will have strips of over and underexposed spots on your salt prints. Not acceptable to make quality prints.
  •  I abandoned this approach as it’s cheap but does not work very well.

Eventually I came across these LED floodlights that are used for concerts and lighting shows. These lights are great because the are cheap, LED and efficient meaning short exposure times and you can just plug them in and go. This particular unit covers a 5×7 area which is the size I like to print at however after about a year of using it I am finding some drawbacks that has required some hacking of the light unit…

  • The LED’s are mounted in a small square in the center and reflected outward with a metal insert under the glass of the light. Using the light as is creates hot spots in your exposure in the center if the light is too close to the glass of the contact printing frame. To mitigate that I moved the light away from the glass a few inches and through some testing have found that this spreads the light to far out creating really light exposure on the edges of your image area. That’s just not good enough for prints that will be exhibited or sold. I want an even exposure. I have experimented with several distances and can’t quite get the even exposure I am looking for.
  • I did a test where I turned all the lights off and flipped the light so it was shining towards my face with the glass from my contact printing frame for reference. The goal was to see where exactly the light was shining at different distances. This way you can see where exactly the light is shining and how far it is spreading or falling off from the center and at what distance it does the fall off at. Sure enough my the distance I was exposing at is wrong, This light likes it around an inch off the glass which gives a nice 5×7 exposing area with no fall off.
  • The LED’s in the center are another problem as that’s where they are at their brightest and at one inch off the glass does cause a hot spot in the center of your exposed image. My solution right now is to simply cover the LED’s with small squares of copy paper to reduce the light’s intensity and evening out the exposure. I have not as of yet made an actual print this way, I am only in the experimenting phase.
  • These floodlights have a glass covering over the LED’s with a black border on the glass with an interior silver reflector. Both of these together get reflected onto the image when held at certain distances. I never noticed it before as currently I am exposing prints with the lamp about three inches away but up close the lines from the shape of the reflector are clearly visible.

All of these issues coupled together make exposing a big pain in the but however they can be overcome. Currently I am tinkering with removing the silver reflector and the glass top and that should solve the issues. I really want this light to work 100% as it is a good cheap alternative to spending thousands on an exposure table which would make the process financially unworkable. I will report back when I can get to making some prints with my hacks on this light.  So there you have it, Two posts covering everything you need to start salt printing!

See part one of this series right here! The header image in part one is an example of what is wrong with my lighting setup….That image shows a nicely exposed center but at the edges is where the light really falls off. That tells you that I am holding the light too far away.

Leave a Reply