Making a bromoil print

A description of the bromoil process.

Always be careful when handling chemicals. Read the health and safety instructions.


Brief overview

Bromoil processVery simply, the silver image in a black and white print is replaced by an ink image. The three basic steps are as follows:

  1. Make a conventional black and white print on a fibre based bromide paper, (grade 2 or 3) washing and drying in the normal way.
  2. Bleach/Tan the print, fix, wash and then dry. The image should almost disappear. This is called the matrix.
  3. To print, soak the matrix for a few minutes. Remove all traces of water from both sides of the matrix. Ink-up the print.

Image above: From left to right: Print – Matrix – Bromoil:

Bromoil process

Tools:

  • Usual darkroom equipment i.e. enlarger, dishes etc
  • Glass Base
  • Brushes (Shaving brushes, Pastry brushes, spotting brush etc).
  • Paint Roller, The small type with a foam rubber and sheepskin rollers (as used for decorating).
  • Pencil eraser, scalpel
  • Ink (1796) Black
  • Kitchen towels
  • Cotton wool Pads, Cotton wool buds
  • Newspaper

Process

1The print
Kentmere Document Art paper is a good starting point (in the UK), about 8 inches x10 inches is ideal. Leave a clear margin of about half an inch all around to allow for handling. Try to start with an image that’s not too harsh in contrast. Aim for details in the shadows with veiled highlights. I have found that most modern developers are OK but fixers need to be chosen more carefully. Avoid anything containing hardeners, wash thoroughly. The print can then be dried and stored, or bleach-tan can be undertaken right away.

2Bleach Tan
Soak the print for 5 minutes and then place in a solution of 1 part bleach-tan stock solution and 10 parts water at 65 to 70 degrees F. Constantly rock the dish for a full 10 minutes, even though the image may disappear sooner. Depending upon the density of the print and the make of paper, I have found that the strength of the solution may need increasing. I have gone up to 1 part stock to 5 parts water on very stubborn prints. Wash the print thoroughly and fix for 4 minutes, wash again and dry.

This is then known as the matrix and can be stored indefinitely, ready for inking.
All credit for this bleach/tan solution must go Britain’s premier bromoilist Gilbert R. Hooper FRPS. The solution is known as Gilberts. I have tried a number of bleach and tan solutions with varying degrees of success or failure. Gilberts however has never let me down to date. It is much simpler to use, as it is a combined bleach/tan solution. A stock solution is made as follows:

Gilberts stock solution

  • Copper Sulphate 50g
  • Potassium Bromide 50g
  • Potassium Dichromate 2.5g
  • 10% Sulphuric Acid 20ml*
  • Water to 800ml

* The sulphuric acid is to stop the solution from clouding in hard water areas. If you live in a soft water area you may not need to add this. Having no sulphuric acid and living in a very hard water area I have resorted to using clear pickling vinegar. It seems to work fine, if you can stand the smell.

Bromoil process3Inking the Matrix

  • Soak the dried bleach-tanned print, (matrix) in water for about three minutes. Wipe off all surplus moisture, (both sides – most important). Pieces of kitchen towel are very efficient in this task. Ink will not adhere if any droplets of water are left.
  • Take a peanut size blob of ink. Spread the ink onto the glass with a palette knife. Continue spreading until only a very thin layer is present. Stipple the ink with the brush and make a second patch of ink on the glass. Only take ink from this second patch when inking the print. This will ensure that the brush is not overloaded.
  • Stipple the print in a walking action across the paper dabbing, dragging and lifting.
  • When the image cannot be improved – it will look muddy with a thin layer of ink all over – stop inking* and wipe all over with a wet cotton wool swab. The cotton wool pads ladies use to remove cosmetics are ideal. This will migrate the ink and clean up the image.
  • Dab off all surplus moisture on both sides as before, and continue inking, repeat until the inking session is finished.
    Leave to dry then re-ink if necessary, again starting by soaking the print and repeating the above process.

    I sometimes re-ink up to four or five times, although a print can be finished in one hit. When inking is complete leave to dry for a couple of days and then finish.

    Any white spots can be re-inked or spotted. Dark areas can be lightened with a pencil rubber or scraped with a scalpel to insert highlights.

    Note: only use the scalpel on dry prints. The sheepskin roller can also be applied to clean the print. Wet cotton wool buds can also be used to lighten highlights.

*Note: The print can be gone-over with a roller at this stage, although some Bromoilists frown upon the roller. My own feelings are: anything that improve the image is OK.

Conclusion

Results will depend upon the brush type, the pressure the ink is applied, and the technique of the individual. Because the print is hand crafted, it is unique; no two images will be the same. For me, that is the beauty of the Bromoil process.


4 Comments

  1. Katie Lancaster
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi, having read your article and being new to the bromoil process I have found that Kentmere Art Document paper is no longer in production. Do you recommend any other papers that will work well?

    Thanks

  2. Barbara
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Check with David Lewis.

  3. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Excellent page on this technique. Thank you and good luck.

  4. Posted August 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Papers I have successfully used that are still in production:

    Ilford MG IV
    Kentmere Fineprint
    Slavich Unibrom (no longer available in the U.S.)
    and my favorite …
    Fomabrom Variant IV 123

    Also, note that you can used badly fogged paper:
    http://glsmyth.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/more-1113-w-36th-stairs-original/ – so badly fogged that this is paper that would normally be tossed
    http://glsmyth.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/more-1113-w-36th-stairs/ – although using fogged paper can limit your options, careful planning can make use of paper that otherwise would only find the trash can

    Cheers –

    george

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