How To: Make a Lith Print
People familiar with my work will know that I absolutely love lith printing. Sometimes it is the perfect process to make a dull, flat negative come alive. And, as with standard black & white printing, the variations you can achieve from one single negative are almost endless. Lith printing is often a refreshing change from getting frustrated over paper grades and burning in times, and it is an extremely useful tool for all printers to employ from time to time.
What is it?
For those of you who don't know what a lith print is allow me to explain. Its basically a print made on black and white paper which results in very high contrast prints with blocked up shadows, delicate highlights and colourful mid-tones. Lith prints tend to have a very gritty/grainy look in the lower mid-tones/shadows. For examples of lith prints follow this link and see the examples below of some of my prints:
As you can see lith prints can breathe a whole new life into an image. I have a few shots i've taken that when printed look quite dull and boring but that I really love when lithed. What you may find surprising is that many lith prints are untoned yet colourful. Colour is a natural by-product of the lith process. Different papers combined with different ratios of developer at different temperatures yield different colours. There is an almost endless combination of variables in the lith process that can produce different colours and textures. This can be extended even further by toning the prints but i'm not going to go into that too much in this article - we've got enough to talk about already!
When I first started looking into making lith prints I did a lot (and by a lot I mean a looooooooot) of research online. As the weeks went by I noticed the two same names cropping up over and over again - Wolfgang Moersch and Tim Rudman. Both of these gentlemen are pioneers of lith printing - trying out every kind of paper and developer at every temperature and dilution; seeing how each print reacts to different toners and even hand colouring the prints. Tim Rudman has a booked called 'The Master Photographer's Lith Printing Course' which is THE tome to read. If you are serious about getting into lith printing then this is the book to buy. The website of Wolfgang Moersch has some extensive articles about various lith processes and even an area where you can purchase his own brews of lith chemicals and toners. You can get to Tim Rudman's site here and Wolfgang Moersch's here.
The following is just some the basics of lith printing, i'm sure ill write further articles about it in the future.
So, lets begin by talking about what gear you'll need.
Equipment-wise the only thing you will need other than your regular darkroom materials is lith developer and lithable paper. There are a variety of developers available; as already mentioned, Wolfgang moersch makes and sells his own, but Rollei and Fotospeed also make them. Personally I use Fotospeed LD-20 many people have mentioned that they don't see much of a difference between that and the Rollei lith so it's really up to you which you buy..
Papers are a bit trickier. Some papers with lith nicely, others wont lith at all, some will kind-of lith. The main lithable papers which are still currently produced are those made by Foma. Many regard Fomatone (particularly 131) as the best as it can yield a wide variety of colours based upon developer dilution/temperature/age etc. Fomabrom is also good but seems to give a "grittier" feel to the print which i'm quite fond of. The Adox MCC papers also lith, as does Ilford Art 300. I source the majority of my papers on ebay as you can still get hold of out of production papers that lith nicely. Recently I won some Agfa MCC 118 16 x 20 which liths beautifully and also some Fomaspeed N 313 which is also quite nice. A friend also gave me some old Sterling paper which has nice qualities when lithed. Basically if you see a paper you have to hit the internet and see what people say about lithing it. One thing I can say is that Ilford papers do not lith very well. That MGIV RC VC you have sat on your shelf isn't going to work i'm afraid. The only Ilford papers which lith are Art 300 and (if the developer is heated to around 45oC) FB Warmtone, but I haven't tried either of these so i cant comment. In some countries Slavich papers are also available. Sadly since Foma changed some of their paper emulsions recently Slavich Unibrom is the only remaining truly lithable paper still in production. And it is a hard paper to master!
First off I should mention the "Two Golden Rules" of lith printing as devised by Tim Rudman. They are as follows:
1. Highlights are controlled by exposure, shadows are controlled by development.
2. Colour, texture and contrast are related to grain size in the emulsion - which is related to development.
That may not make much sense now but i will explain in due course - just keep those statements in the back of your mind.
So, you've got your developer and your paper. The first thing you need to do is mix your developer. Everyone has a different ratio they like to mix at which they've decided on after months and years of experimenting. Your best bet is to start at 1:9. Your developer will come in two parts, A and B - so mix 1:9 A and 1:9 B with water (i.e. if you want to mix 2ltr mix 100ml A with 900ml water and 100ml B with 900ml water). You can vary the ratio to make the solution stronger or weaker to fit your needs (this will also have somewhat of an effect on print colour). I tend to mix my developer with 10ml A, 10ml B and water to make it up to around 1 litre. Once you've got it all mixed up into a working solution pour it into your tray. Just keep this process at 20oC for now until you get more experience; higher temperatures speed up the developing process but that's not too important right now.
If you have looked into doing lith printing before reading this article you may have heard of something called "old brown". Old brown is basically old, used, expired developer that you add to your freshly mixed developer. Let me explain - your developer will have a very small window wherein you will get optimum prints both in colour, contrast and detail. It may take some time for your developer to reach this stage and you may only get three or four prints before this window passes by. By mixing old developer with your fresh batch this window will arrive much quicker than if you were just printing normally. One of the advantages of Fotospeed's LD20 developer is that once reached, this window can last for quite some time. You would normally add some of this old brown to your developer (i usually add 60ml to about 2 litres of working solution but you can add any amount you like - it's good to experiment) but seeing as this is your first mixture of development you wont have any. The best thing to do is find some old fogged paper, expose it to room light for a few seconds and then leave it in the developer to go black. This will get your developer working and get it ready to receive that lith paper.
At this point I better tell you something about the development of lith prints. Its isn't like standard printing in that your image appears evenly and you pull it after a minute or so. When developing lith prints something called "infectious development" occurs. What you will see is that the blackest points of your print will slowly start to appear. These will gradually get darker and darker; as they do the midtones will start to appear and get darker, followed finally by the highlights. Once the shadows hit black development increases rapidly. Very quickly the black in the shadows spreads whilst the midtones and highlights still develop at the same rate. At some point your shadows will reach the maximum black you want them to be and you will need to snatch the print from the developer and very quickly put it into the stop bath. There is no set amount of time for this - it depends on your developer strength, amount of old brown used, developer temperature, developer exhaustion and the paper. For example, my Fomaspeed N 313 takes bout 8 minutes of developing before I get the print I want whereas my Agfa MCC 118 takes over an hour!
Golden rule number one now comes into play. Highlights are controlled by exposure. Expose a test strip of your paper and develop it in standard developer (i use Ilford Multigrade). Pick the exposure that has the highlight detail you want in your print (regardless of dodging and burning - remember you aren't using any filtration so the contrast will be less than you're used to). Once you have picked the time you think best you are going to need to massively over-expose your print. The more you over-expose your print the less contrast you will get but the more highlight detail you will have in the end. An over-exposure of 2 stops is generally speaking the minimum amount you would do. This would give you massive contrast with very little detail in the highlights. You can go up to about 5 stops of over-exposure with most lithable papers. I tend to stick to around 3 to 3.5 stops unless the particular image I want to create requires more.
Let's take a look at a print example to explain. This is a print I made using Fomaspeed N 313:
As you can see the shadow on the side of the left arm of the chair is totally blocked up. Before the arm of the chair got completely blacked out there was lovely detail - clearly I have kept the print too long in the developer. In order to get more detail in the highlights and midtones but still retain detail in the arm of the chair i would have to over-expose the paper even further - perhaps even 4 or 5 stops (as opposed to the 2.5 stops used here) and snatch the print sooner. Ill put that simply - the more you expose, the more highlight and midtone detail you get before your shadows block up. This leads to an almost endless amount of variations you can get from one single frame on a negative. Make it grittier with detail everywhere, make it super-high contrast so only the shadows stand out. Anything goes, it's up to you.
When over-exposing your paper it is best to extend your exposure time rather than alter the f-stop on your lens as you can maintain image sharpness by using the optimum f-stop. In the appendices of Tim Rudman's book mentioned earlier there is a chart outlining the over-exposure times for various exposures. Here's a link to a chart i made based on that.
So, over-expose your paper by whatever f-stop you deem fit bearing in mind that the more exposure you give the paper the more highlight and midtone detail you will get. Try to picture how you want the final print to look in your mind and work towards that. Once your exposure is complete slip your paper into your developer. There is no point using a timer as you have to judge development by eye. Keep rocking your tray intermittently and watching your paper. At some point you will see an image start to appear - it could be 5 minutes, it could an hour or more. Your image will continue to build up until suddenly you will see little grains of black appear. These will spread and spread quicker and quicker until they fill up your shadow areas. It's ok to bring your safelight down close to the paper to look at it but do this at the very last minutes or you'll fog your paper. When your print hits the point where your shadows are how you want them to be pull the paper from the developer as quickly as you can and put it into your stop bath. Stop, fix and rinse as normal then take your print out into the light.
Hopefully it's just how you want it. There should be nice cool blacks in the shadows, delicate highlights and colourful midtones. As mentioned earlier different papers go different colours - yellows, golds, browns, purples, blues etc (remember golden rule 2 - colour, texture and contrast are related to development). If the print isn't how you imagined it then think about what you need to do to change it; perhaps increasing or decreasing exposure to vary detail. Again, Tim Rudman's book is invaluable in that Tim shows how one print looks as exposure time is increased and snatch point (the point at which the print is removed from the developer) is delayed.
Lith prints react very well to toners. Selenium toner can vary print colour dramatically from golds through to browns, blues and purples (depending on the paper of course). It is best to pick a print you aren't happy with, drop it into the toner and leave it there for an hour or so - watching how the print changes colour. Make a note of these times for future reference. Beware that some papers show very little change (particularly resin coated paper). Gold toner turns prints a very soft, delicate blue which can be very appealing. All the usual split toning rules apply - selenium and gold together are a particularly nice combination on some prints. I'm not going to go into much detail about toning in this article as it's long enough already. Look out for an article about it in future, as well as an article on lith 2nd pass lith.
If you have managed to make it to this sentence then i salute you! Hopefully this article has helped you on your way to making your own lith prints. Looking around on sites like Flickr really does inspire and help you find new things you can try with lith. I haven't looked back since starting - I absolutely love it and i'm sure you will too. As always if you have and questions or queries please feel free to comment and ill get back to you.