© 2010 Carissa

How to Make a Salt Print

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called Contemporary Photography, a class where we learn lots of alternative printing processes (same class I made Mr. Pinhole for). Well, I was recently assigned to teach and give the class a demonstration on the Salted Paper Process, or salt prints. I figured, why not share this information with all of you? (So, you might read through this and think that it’s totally boring, and that’s ok. I just thought there might be someone out there who is interested in alternative printing processes and would find it useful. I won’t be offended if you don’t read through the whole thing ;) haha) It’s actually quite simple, and something you can do from your own home! All it takes is a little table salt and a few chemicals…

First Step: Making the Salt Solution. You’ll need Sodium Chloride (aka table salt), distilled water, a glass rod, some sort of heating tray, containers for the measuring and mixing the solution, a tray or pan to pour the finished solution into, and the paper you will be printing on.

  • Fill the hot tray with water and turn the heat on.
  • Measure out 500 mL of distilled water and 10.0 g of Sodium Chloride.
  • When water is near boiling, put a container into the water and pour the water and Sodium Chloride in.
  • Mix together your distilled water and Sodium Chloride with a glass rod.
  • After the salt has completely dissolved, pour it into a tray.
  • Totally submerse the paper into the tray, flipping it over several times until its completely wet.
  • Hang to dry.

Second Step: The Silver Nitrate Solution. You’ll need Silver Nitrate, distilled Water, a glass rod, heating tray, containers, an eye dropper, the dried/coated salt paper from Step 1, a glass plate, tape, and scissors.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Silver Nitrate is a really dangerous chemical. Don’t do this where kids could get into it, and be sure to take protective measures. Seriously, if you’re not careful, it could blind you or burn your skin. I’m not telling you this to scare you, because as long as you are careful and respect the chemical for what it can do, you’ll be just fine. But you should really use gloves and goggles during this part, and avoid contact with eyes and skin. (This is my cheese face.)

  • Measure out 10 g of Silver Nitrate and 100 mL of distilled water.
  • Warm the water in the heating tray like before.
  • This next part is the tricky part. From here on out, you need to do the rest in the dark, or if you have a red light, a place where the paper will not be exposed.
  • When water is warm, GO INTO THE DARK. It is imperative that from this point on you do everything in the dark, as the solution you are making will be light sensitive.
  • Once in your darkroom, mix water and Silver Nitrate together with a glass rod until dissolved.
  • After your solution has been made, take your fully dried and coated salt paper, and tape it to the glass plate on all four corners. (This doesn’t have to be done in the dark, as long as the solution stays in the dark).
  • Take your paper, the glass plate, and the eye dropper into the darkroom.
  • Get some solution in the eye dropper, and make a line across the top of the paper with it.
  • Immediately, use the glass rod to softly run the solution over the entire piece of paper.
  • Switch directions and continue as necessary, applying more solution if needed.
  • Another option is to use a foam brush, which will give your picture a textured look from the brushstrokes, as opposed to smooth from the glass rod.
  • Once the paper is evenly coated, lay it out to dry, still keeping it in the dark.

Third Step: Exposing the Paper. You will need your coated paper from Step 2, the negative you a planning to use, a glass plate, sunshine or another strong UV light source, and tape and scissors. (Sorry I don’t have any pictures for this section, as I did mine all in the dark…)

  • There are actually several options for exposing your paper, including UV lights and actual sun exposure.
  • I used a UV bed that we have my school, but direct sunlight works the best.
  • Take your completely dried paper, and place it onto the glass, coated side up.
  • Place the negative on top of the paper, emulsion side -the duller side- down (making it emulsion to emulsion).
  • If desired, you can tape them into place to ensure proper registration.
  • Once secured, take your materials outside into the sunlight or to whatever light source you are planning on using.
  • Exposure times will probably never be exactly the same. Different factors (strength of light, contrast of negative, etc.) make it difficult to know exact times. You will have to experiment.
  • But a good way to know it’s done is when it becomes difficult to see the image, because of the darks of the negative (where the sun is not shining through as much) and the darks on the paper (where the sun hit and the final image will be dark).
  • Also, keep in mind that you will need to expose the print to look much darker than how you want the final product, because it will lighten significantly during washing and fixing.

Fourth Step: Rinsing and Fixing. You will need Sodium Thiosulfate, Sodium Bicarbonate or Ammonia, distilled water, and a few trays. (I would actually suggest mixing up these solutions while you wait for your paper to dry after Steps 1 or 2).

  • Mix together 1000 mL of distilled water, 100 g of Sodium Thiosulfate, and either 2 g of Sodium Bicarbonate or 2 mL of Ammonia. (I used Ammonia). This makes your fix. Pour it into a tray.
  • Once the fix is made and in a tray, fill two more trays with water.
  • After the print is exposed, put it into the first tray of water for about 15 mins. This is to get rid of all the unexposed silver. You will actually be able to see the extra silver coming off.
  • After the initial rinse, move your print over to the fix. Only leave it in for about a minute. This is enough to fix it, and the longer you leave it in the lighter the picture becomes.
  • Finally, move your print to the third tray of water and leave it for about half an hour, to wash off any and all extra chemicals.
  • Hang it to dry.
  • You’re all done!

That probably seems like a lot. But I promise it’s really easier to do than it is to read. And that was just the most basic form of salt printing. You can also size the paper (dipping it into a gelatin solution before the salt solution) and that will give your picture a lot more contrast. You can tone your images, too, which will give them a different coloring than just a regular salt print. If you’re interested, here are a few common recipes…

A few alternative salting options: Gelatin Salting- Mix together 8 g gelatin, 18 g sodium citrate, 20 g ammonium chloride, 1000 mL distilled water. Fauver’s Gelatin Salting Formula- Mix together 20 g citric acid, 20 g, Kosher salt, 4 g Knox gelatin, 1000 mL distilled water. Both of those include sizing and salting in one, so you technically skip a step and have nice and contrasty pictures!

A few toning options: Gold-Borax Toner (warm/reddish color)- Mix together 800 mL distilled water at 100 degrees, 6 g borax, 12 mL 1% gold chloride solution. Palladium Toner (reddish-brown to slate gray)- Mix together 450 mL distilled water, 2.5 mL sodium chloropalladite (15% solution), 2.5 g sodium chloride, 2.5 g citric acid, Distilled water to make 500 mL. Platinum Toner (warm brown/gray/yellow)- Mix together 450 mL distilled water, 1.5 mL potassium chloroplatinite, 2.5 g citric acid, 2.5 g sodium chloride, Distilled water to make 500 mL.

So there you have it! Here is the print I will be turning in. I sized it and salted it separately, and used a gold toner on it. (Although scanning never does it justice..) Fun stuff :)


13 Comments

  1. xavier fumat
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm | #

    can you tell me if you have had any experiences with the silver notrate solution gong bad? Idid the gelatin salting method and used my silver nitrate which I mixed 6 months ago and kept in a dark bottle. I got a lot of grainy areas as well light pinkish areas after exposing, developing just made it official! Any thoughts?

  2. Carissa
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm | #

    Hi Xavier! I’m sorry to say I haven’t had experiences with bad silver nitrate. But you say you kept it in a dark bottle… Where was the dark bottle stored? Did you keep that in a dark place as well? Any exposure to light, even just overhead fluorescent lights, will start to expose it. Unless you kept it locked in a totally sealed room and didn’t get it out until you used it for your salt print, I would imagine it would become a bit exposed during those six months. Also, did the silver nitrate have an expiration date on it? I don’t specifically remember learning about how long it would last, but I know that we were encouraged to use fresh solution for each new project. I don’t think I ever used anything older than 2 weeks. So yeah, sorry if this wasn’t much help! But I would suggest using fresh solution next time. If it still comes out the same, the grain might be from your negative, and the pinkish color could possibly have to do with your sizing (gelatin) solution. Good luck!

  3. Bill
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:27 am | #

    One thing that was never mentioned: what does the salt add to the final print? Why not just sensitize paper with silver nitrate and print on that? Many years ago, I experimented with coating my own glass plates (I have an elderly 5×7 Graflex with plate holders). This was largely gelatin and silver nitrate, although I recall having to leave it for a few days to “ripen” before coating the plates. It wasn’t a threat to Kodak, but it worked. So…what role does salt play? Thanks for posting such detailed instructions. Long live the wet darkroom!

  4. Dan McGowan
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 4:48 am | #

    When do you use the toner part of the process?

  5. Ian
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm | #

    Pure silver nitrate does not “go off”. My supply is over 30 years old and is still OK. So, I do keep it in my darkroom but in a clear jar.
    Same with the solution in distilled water but unlikely to make it at home without getting some contamination.
    Bill, Silver nitrate is not sensitive to light but it will pick up sodium chloride from the paper, gelatine, etc etc.
    you do not need to use complete darkness unless you are drying or storing the sensitised paper for later use. a red light is adequate. the sensitised paper is not as fast as purchased photo paper.

  6. Carissa
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm | #

    Hey Dan! You can tone your picture either before or after fixing it.

    Hi Bill! I’m not exactly sure what all of the scientific reasoning behind using salt is, but I do know that without it, there is only a very slight image. The salt helps to make the image stronger.

    And Ian, my apologies if I’ve given slightly incorrect information. I don’t claim to be an expert at this process by any means! It was just a process I learned while I was in college a couple years ago, and I shared what I was taught there.

  7. Posted October 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm | #

    I think this sounds amazing…I have never attempted anything like this before. I started with a 35mm but just had my stuff developed, and then quickly moved to digital. I would love to try this. I think you would you have done more than just shoot a photo. I have always been jealous of those that were “dark room” educated. So I am excited to try this! Excellent and very informative message.
    Thanks for sharing…
    Teresa

  8. Meghan Colleen
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 8:28 am | #

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am so excited to try this out.

  9. Posted June 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm | #

    Hey! This is the third time visiting now and I really just wanted to say I truley enjoy reading your blog website. I have decided to bookmark it at delicious.com with your title: Dulce Photography » How to Make a Salt Print and your Website address: http://dulce-photography.com/blog/2010/03/04/how-to-make-a-salt-print/. I hope this is ok with you, I’m trying to give your excellent blog a bit more coverage. Be back soon.

  10. Posted October 9, 2012 at 8:23 am | #

    thank you so so much! i’ll be trying this in the next few weeks :-)
    we’re exploring alternative processes in my photography course, but i don’t know if we would do this! now i definitely will.
    thank you once again, you explained everything so clearly.

  11. DM
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 4:36 am | #

    Many thanks indeed for taking the time to explain this. I’m reading a book about a photography exhibition at the moment, but the glossary definition there of salted print, although correct, doesn’t bring it to life the way you have.

  12. Kim
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:50 am | #

    the silvernitrate solution by itself (or just silvernitrate and water) is not light sensitive. you can mix this in daylight, and store it in daylight. it is first when mixing the salts with the silver that you get a light sensitive solution. so you don’t actually have to go into the darkroom until after the silvernitrate is mixed, and you are ready to coat your paper.

    great tutorial! nice work! and the picture turned out beautifully!

  13. Posted August 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm | #

    Great effort Carissa, it is so nice to see that people are prepared to share…your information and pictures were wonderful….look forward to more posts from your site…keep up the great work, Robert

7 Trackbacks

  1. [...] your own painterly photos, try it with this salt printing primer. Experiment with textured paper for added dreaminess. Just remember: your print isn’t [...]

  2. [...] been exposed, and after washing and fixing, you’re done.You can find a more in-depth tutorial over at Dulce Photography, or browse some more sample salt prints in this Flickr group.(via Photojojo)Image credit: [...]

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