The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

How To: Tone a Print - Sepia - Part III - Next Steps

In Part I of my sepia toning tutorial we discussed the basics of sepia toning, and then in Part II we went on to look at the split toning technique.  In this third part of my sepia toning tutorial I would like to discuss a few further steps which can be taken before I pack you a bag, pat you on the back and send you off into the wilderness of sepia toning alone for your own adventures.


This is a interesting technique and gives you some extra control over your final tone colour.  You don't need any extra equipment or materials to do it and so it is a nice extra feather in your sepia toning cap.

When we think about the sepia toning process we understand that only when the print is in the print toning solution do we see a visible change to the print tone.  However, the toning bath can also be used to effect the print before t is bleached, albeit without visible results.

To pre-sulphide a print you simply add the print to the toning bath for a chosen period of time, then pull it, wash and go on to tone as usual.  The result is a much cooler sepia tone to your print when compared to a standard toned print.  This technique can be applied to a fully bleached and toned print as well as a split print.  With a fully toned print you should notice that both the shadows and the highlights of the print have adopted the cooler sepia tone but that the midtones remain grey (this is most prominent when used on a warmtone paper processed in a warmtone developer).

One thing you will notice with a pre-sulphided print is that the bleaching process is now much, much slower than usual.  To compensate for this you could try to use a stronger bleach solution than usual. 

Below is a print which has been pre-sulphided in the toning bath for 15 seconds then fully bleached and sepia toned.

Pre-sulphided for 15s then fully bleached and toned.

Now let's compare this with a print which has been fully bleached and toned as normal and see if there is a difference.

Top:  Fully bleached and tones.

Bottom: Pre-sulphided for 15s then fully bleached and toned.

As you can see from comparing the images above the pre-sulphided print has a much cooler overall sepia tone, which is especially noticeable in the near shore area of the print.  Personally, I think it gives the print a much greater sense of depth when compared to the standard fully bleached and toned print.

Below is the same image which has been pre-sulphided for 15 seconds but split toned.

Pre-sulphided for 15s then split toned.

As you can see from this print the shadow and mid tonality has been maintained via the split toning, and the pre-sulphiding has imparted a cooler sepia tone to the high midtones and highlights.  Compare this to the original sepia toned prints and you can see a striking difference!

Additional Steps

As well as pre-sulhiding there are a few more steps which can be taken if you are wanting to experiment further.

  • Pre-Developing - to pre-develop simply place your print into heavily diluted (around one tenth usual strength) print developer between the bleaching and toning steps.  As soon as you start to notice the print beginning to redevelop transfer the print to the toning bath.  As the toning continues the shadow tones will redevelop with a much cooler tone and appear "stronger".  One thing to note is that this will contaminate your toning bath with developer so if you are toning other prints during your session without pre-developing then tone your pre-developed prints last or mix up a separate batch of toner.  As always paper/developer choice and duration of the pre-developing stage will dictate your final results.
  • Triple Band Toning - for this process you simply need to follow the steps involved with split toning.  However, bleach for a shorter time and tone as normal.  After a thorough wash bleach again.  The parts of the image already toned will not respond to the bleach and the lower tones will bleach back.  After the usual wash the print is placed into the toning bath, this time with a different additive strength than the previous toning stage (meaning that the print has effectively been pre-sulphided by the first toning bath).  This results in a duotone sepia colour to the toned areas and the usual shadow/midtones in the unbleahed areas.
  • Reverse Split Toning - develop your print as normal, then bleach as you would for full sepia toning.  Use a more dilute developer than normal and partially redevelop the print.  As the development will be much slower than usual you can observe the print as it redevelops and snatch it from the developer once the highlight and midtones have redeveloped but the shadow tones have not.  Now, simply wash and tone as usual.  The shadow tones will take on the sepia colour whilst the midtones and highlights will retain their tonlity.

Final Comments

And that is all I have to say about sepia toning.  I hope you have found these articles helpful and that you now have a few ideas for yor prints and some new techniques to play with.  Next up in my toning tutorial series will be my favourite toner - selenium.

Until next time, happy printing!