Darkroom: Lithographic Printing (Lith Printing)

October 14, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

This darkroom session was very exciting and I am very happy to share my first ever Lith Print with you. While still a completely black and white process it results in a print with colors! Yes, colors in a black and white photograph, and that can be just the beginning. So let's dive right in.

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What is a lith print? Lith is an abbreviation for lithographic. And what I am sharing with you today has to do with applying the lith method to a darkroom paper during the printing process. Normal development goes through two stages: a short induction period (around 15 seconds depending on paper, developer, temperature, etc.) and an autoacceleration period. The development completes in about 90-120 seconds (again depending on variables).

For lith printing, a very dilute special developer is used resulting in a very long induction period that is in minutes, not seconds. Based on variables like temperature it can be from about 5 minutes to over half an hour. In my case, I had t wait over 10 minutes at 20°C for anything to appear. I guess when one gets used to it it will be more natural but the first time caused a dose ox anxiety. Did I mix the developer the right way? Since I've had it for over a year, did it oxidize? But then things start showing up and anxiety turns into excitement.

At 20°C things continue to go slow despite what's called infectious development. It causes the development to pick up speed exponentially. Blacks start showing up quicker and quicker and eventually mid-tones start joining in. Unlike the regular development process there is no fixed time with the lith method. One has to wait until the blacks look great and then pull the print out of the developer and go straight to the stop bath. That point is called a snatch point. Only experience and a lot of experimentation helps fine tune this point. It does not help that the fiber based paper also suffers from a dry down effect where a wet photograph appears brighter than a dry one. As a result, the print needs to be snatched a bit ahead of the blacks going deep black.

This technique does not work with all photo papers. Many modern multigrade papers with added developers are not usable and the selection of lithable papers is dwindling. I need to enjoy this technique while we have some papers and who knows, maybe posts like this with get more people excited about it raising demand for such papers and keeping them around long-term.

Let's leave theory behind and see what I actually went through to get my first lithographic print. I had a photo in mind for more than a year so my selection process was quick. I just had to reach into my 2019 binder, locate the right film strip, and load it into the enlarger. The photo was captured with a Nikon FE with a 28mm pre-AI lens on Ilford FP4 black and white film and I believe I had an orange filter mounted on the lens since the sky was beautifully blue with fluffy clouds floating by.

The first step was to get a regular print. I measured my dark and light points with a meter and set an f-stop to give me an exposure between 10 and 20 seconds. However, I had this process figured out based on printing on Ilford multigrade papers, not the Foma Fomatone 132 paper  I was using here. I also did not want to open the lens up beyond f/8. After two test strips, I landed on 35 seconds at f/8. It appears the Foma paper needs more light but it is hard to draw conclusions based on a single print. I also did not properly account for the dry down and ended up with a darker print. For a regular black and white print, I will have to go back to the darkroom and improve upon that.

Chautauqua Belle, Traditional Black and White Darkroom Print on Foma Fomatone 132 PaperChautauqua BelleTraditional Black and White Darkroom Print

Chautauqua Belle
Traditional Black and White Darkroom Print on Foma Fomatone 132 Paper

I have cheated with this scan of the 5x7 print and increased the overall brightness to what I would like it to be. The print unfortunately did not feature any whites, just light grays.

Alright, let's get to the exciting part. For a lith print, the recommended starting point for exposure was 3 stops over. I opened the lens up from f/8 to f/4, which accounted for 2 stops, and doubled the exposure time from 35 seconds to 70 seconds to add the third stop. I developed the print in a 5x7 tray filled with 200 ml of diluted developer (Arista Liquid Lith Developer, 4ml Part A + 4ml Part B + 192ml water for a 1:24 dilution). As mentioned above, I was a bit nervous when nothing was happening for minutes. I actually thought I saw something several times but it was not there. It was just wishful thinking. I should add that all of this is done under a dim red safe light as the paper is only blue sensitive. So while one can see it's not really bright, everything appears darker than it really is, and there is no color perception.

But somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes I could start seeing the top right of the ship's canopy and the lamp posts showing up. I was slightly rocking the tray back and forth the whole time to insure the paper always had fresh chemicals to respond to. Eventually I decided to snatch the print at 27 minutes, quickly submerged it in the stop bath, and then to the fixer. At this point, I could not really see any obvious difference between the earlier regular print and this lithographic print. Sure, contrast and tonality appeared different but not in any dramatic fashion. All looked black and white too.

After about a minute in the fixer I turned the light on for a quick inspection on the result. Wow! All of a sudden all of my uncertainty melted away. Maybe the print was not perfect but it looked absolutely gorgeous to me. For my first attempt, I was very happy. It worked and there was definitely color in the print. And the increased contrast of this process also held the highlights brighter and as such the lith print did not lack whites. What you see below is what I was looking at.

Chautauqua Belle, Lithographic Darkroom Print on Foma Fomatone 132 PaperChautauqua BelleLithographic Darkroom Print on Foma Fomatone 132 Paper
Chautauqua Belle
Lithographic Darkroom Print on Foma Fomatone 132 Paper

Encouraged, I repeated the process one more time to get more out of the developer. Things went a bit slower and in the end I pulled the print sooner to see how a brighter rendering would look. And then I tried a third print. And nothing. Absolutely nothing came up even 30 minutes into development. It was only then that I considered the capacity of the dilute developer.

I use Kodak Dektol for my normal developer and dilute it 1:2 or 1:3. That provides a lot of developer in the tray. My lith developer was diluted 1:24 and I only had 8ml of the actual developer in the tray. I guess I have determined that at minimum, I need 4ml per 5x7 print. Unfortunately, it's not so easy as the tray size, temperature, and other factors influence the speed of exhaustion.

That variability got confirmed for me since I went back one more time to get a few more copies of this print. This time, I mixed 1 liter (20+20+960) into an 11 x 14 tray and pre-heated it to 30°C to speed things along. The first individual print went much faster, the second one not so much. Then I developed two at once and unfortunately, I was back at almost half an hour. This was the point to determine why. I should have taken a temperature reading to see if I was back down to 20°C or if the developer exhausted after just 4 prints. Since I used five times more developer I was hoping for 10 prints. Maybe the temperature dropped on me, maybe the larger tray caused faster oxidation. The higher initial temperature definitely sped up exhaustion. I don't know, that's for next time to figure out. I may also need a heating pad under my tray to keep the temperature higher, especially with the winter season coming.

Thanks for reading along and sharing in my excitement! I hope you liked the behind the scenes story. If not, I hope you like the result. And if not, I thank you for being here anyway.

Enjoy The Beauty That Surrounds You! #etbtsy

Do you enjoy reading my photography blog? Would you like to see more photographs from Buffalo and Western New York? Visit my Buffalo Cityscapes and Buffalo & Western New York Landscapes and enjoy! For more darkroom prints, head over to the Darkroom gallery. Please, let me know if you have any questions about any photo products offered, or not offered, I will be happy to help! For a quick reference to all photo galleries and collections as well as all photo products currently offered through my site, please, visit the Products page.

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Previously from the darkroom:

Road Trip 2018 Darkroom Print: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Park, New MexicoOrgan Mountains Desert PeaksRoad Trip 2018 Tree Phalanx Postcard, Birdsong Park, Orchard Park, NYTree PhalanxBirdsong Park Road Trip 2018 Darkroom Print: The Livery, Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Park, New MexicoThe LiveryRoad Trip 2018

Road Trip 2018 Darkroom Print: Van Patten's Mountain Camp, Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Park, New MexicoVan Patten's Mountain CampRoad Trip 2018 Road Trip 2018 Darkroom Print: Magnolia Gas, Route 66, Tucumcari, New MexicoMagnolia GasRoad Trip 2018

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