Digital negatives for salt printing

I have been doing some experimenting (Epson 3880 and K7 inks) and I can’t achieve a satisfactory density/contrast in my negatives for salt or albumen prints. Doing a test for minimum black and my highlights are significantly fogged. I purchased the new HD-PK hoping for more density but still not satisfactory. Before I switched to the PiezoDN system I was just using the Ultrachrome inks on the Epson 3880 and I used the matte black inks which allowed me much more contrast in these processes. I have looked through the forum and have seen several times where people are instructed not to use the matte blacks for negatives. The only answer I found for why not is that the blacks could smear off. I never had that problem with the ultra chrome inks. Is this something unique to the Piezography inks? Is there another answer to why not to use Matte ink that I didn’t find in the forum? Or another question, is anyone working in salt that is able to get a decent amount of density in their negatives using HD-PK?

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I’m probably one of those you came across who wrote about Epson MK rubbing off because it always has in every single test I’ve done with it ever since I first saw Ron Reeder recommending it probably 15 years ago. It was also very gritty compared to Epson PK. On top of that, it produced way more density than necessary for my maximum exposure scale palladium prints. Even Reeder eventually abandoned MK for PK with Epson inks.

Either of the Piezo PK versions, standard or HD, can produce significantly higher density than you need for salt printing or any other process. I get in the vicinity of 3.5 - 4.0 Dmax with both.

We really need more information from you to help diagnose this though. You wrote “Doing a test for minimum black and my highlights are significantly fogged.” The test should be for minimum exposure to reach maximum black, and should ideally be done using a Stouffer 21- or 31-step tablet. Many people (many people) misinterpret the results and seem to think that continuing to increase exposure will continue to deepen the Dmax. It does not, but it does introduce all kinds of problems. We have been down that road several times on this forum. I was surprised at how much overexposure some people were giving - 2 stops or more in a couple cases. You should also be doing one step at a time in the calibration process, not looking at highlights when you are testing for Dmax.

What procedure are you using to determine your exposure time? Are you using a Stouffer step-tablet for this?

What is your exposure light? In my experience, direct sun exposure produces the lowest contrast with salt prints. Overcast, shade, and artificial UV sources all produced significantly higher contrast.

(I should note that I have only made salt prints from original large format film negatives that were a bit too contrasty for palladium, not from digital negatives.)

If you are already making PiezoDN negs for salt, which curve are you starting with?

Have you attempted to linearize the curve yet?

Is your wet processing consistent?

Depending on your answers to all the above you may need to make a custom limit for your master curve.

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Yes. I read several of your posts and they are very informative. Thank you for responding. In the past I didn’t use the MK for any other process than salt and albumen. These two just seem to need so much more density to get a good print. For my palladium I was also using PK. I have used Stouffer step wedges in the past and am not adverse to using them again. I was basically doing a film base fog test with a piece of pictorico. First instance where I could get the blank transparency film to disappear was my starting point for exposure. After successfully getting to that density, then I tried to print a Colorport 256 step image for the i1Pro. The highlights started fogging much earlier than I expected. I cut my time in half and tried again, still fogged. So I cut it in half again and still pretty fogged but my blacks also started to look weak. I am using one of the UV boxes that B&S sold from Edwards Engineered Products.

I used to be pretty indifferent to salt because the prints always looked super flat to me. Then I started making some wet collodion negatives and re-intensifying them to get more highlight density. (specifically developing them for salt) Using these negatives I was getting salt prints that I absolutely loved. Ironically I printed these collodion negatives in the sun light and they are still the best salt prints I have ever made. Trying to duplicate them in my UV box I haven’t been as happy. I can’t seem to get anywhere close to the results I get with collodion negatives with digital negatives. I used the 3880-PiezoDN-Master.quad to print the negative. I was just beginning the linearization process but stopped because I wasn’t happy with my results. Just for curiosity I took that same negative (just to rule out that I had done something stupid in printing it) and printed it with palladium and got a very nice linearization completed with it. I am gelatin sizing the paper and using ammonium chloride and a 15% solution of silver nitrate. I am pretty consistent with my processing. I only leave out gold toning when I am working out the kinks.

Any pointers you have I would gladly try.

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First thing is to print a Stouffer and see if you get fog on that. I think your decision to cut back on exposure was a good one and I suspect you will end up finding the correct time to be something close to the first time you cut it in half or maybe a bit less. If you do get fog on the Stouffer, you will have to figure out if it is from exposure or some sort of chemical fog. A Stouffer 21-step has a density range of 3.05 which should be more than enough for salt printing.

Second, print one of the collodion negs that you like the sun-exposed print of using the EEP box. Try to match the shadow rendering to determine the correct exposure. (This time will not be relevant for digital negs.) This will give you a direct comparison of the difference in how the 2 light sources print. It could be significant, but maybe not. Either way it’s a good thing to know.

Third, if chemical fog can be ruled out, and you nail down the proper exposure time, the next thing will likely be to print the Limiter target and make any adjustment that might be needed there.

PS - What’s your name?

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My name is Travis Lovell. I guess my username isn’t obvious. I should update my profile.

I will try running some prints with a stouffer step wedge and see what I get. Would you do your tests with just the step wedge or would you place a piece of pictorico over half of it to see how that base would affect exposure and compare the differences?

The comparison of some collodion negs in different light sources is also a good idea.

I might be a little confused on your last suggestion. I went back and read the manual again about using the limiter and it discussed using this method when you need a thinner negative than what they have already done R&R on. Isn’t my problem exactly the opposite and I am looking for greater density? What am I missing so I can understand better?

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Hi Travis - that’s what I would have guessed, but I didn’t want to be mistaken.

Here’s how I set it up:[attachment file=31248]
This is easy with the 4x5 Stouffer, and gives you a lot of useful information both visual and measurable. The small strip type is less more difficult to interpret.

The example in the manual for adjusting the limit of the Master does indeed show using it to lower the limit, but it can go in the other direction too. Remember that the way PiezoDN works, Dmax on the negative (step 1) is fixed and extremely high, so when you adjust it you are modifying ink limit at step 2 (and above) not step 1. For most processes there is a long steep decent from step 1 to step 2, which is also why the Limiter target is 256 steps rather than the usual 129. (Of course you can use 256 or more steps for linearization too, but it’s not necessary.) You can try to let the linearization process handle this, but when it’s a large shift it’s probably wiser to make a custom limited master first.

By the way, you noted that you are omitting the toning step for the linearization process. Be sure that your toning method doesn’t shift the final values much otherwise your linearization won’t be linear.

One more thought: If you have a film (transmission) densitometer, check the actual density of step 1. It should be over 3.2 or so.

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