Chromoskedasic Sabattier: a step-by-step guide

Chromoskedasic sabattier is an experimental silver gelatin techqnique developed in the 1990s and carried out in a traditional darkroom. Megan Crawford explains the process.

Writer and photography / Megan Crawford

Chromoskedasic Sabattier by Megan Crawford
“Remnant; Burn. Gold toned chromoskedasic sabattier, 2015. Megan Crawford.

Overview of the sabbattier photographic process

Chromoskedasic sabattier (chromo for short) is a darkroom process that was developed in the 1990s. In short, the process lifts the silver halides in gelatin silver paper to the surface, thus resulting in a multicolor, metallic sheen on what would otherwise be a black and white print. Colors and patterns that appear cannot be diligently controlled, rendering chromo to be an experimental and image specific process.

There are three key figures in the foundation of the process: Dominic Man-Kit Lam, William Jolly, and Alan Bean. The combination of their work, from articles to research to printmaking, led to the chromo process in use today. I learned everything I know about chromo from Christina Z. Anderson— this article would not exist without her (or her incredibly helpful Experimental Photography Workbook, which I would highly recommend if you’re getting into experimental darkroom work).

Chromoskedasic Sabattier chemistry
Chemistry needed for the Chromoskedasic Sabattier photographic process.

Supplies for making Chromoskedasic Sabattier

  • Black & white gelatin silver paper: Paper type (fiber based, RC, cooltone, warmtone, etc.) will have different effects on the final print. Illford warmtone is ideal for chromo, but I’m personally fond of Illford RC pearl— the texture translates nicely to metallics.
  • Activator and Stabilizer: Activator and stabilizer are the two chromo specific chemistries you will need. You can find both of them at Do note that this chemistry smells strongly of ammonia.
  • Standard darkroom chemistry: Developer, stop, fix, and hypo.
  • Brushes: I’m personally a member of the “dunk it in the tray” team, but you can brush chemistry onto specific portions of the print. Calligraphy brushes work best for this, as they can hold a decent amount of chemistry without making a mess.
Chromoskedasic Sabattier
Mt. Siyeh; Burn. Gold toned chromoskedasic sabattier, 2015. Megan Crawford.


  • Developer
  • Water
  • Chromo tray 1
  • 500ml warm water
  • 125ml EcoPro developer solution
  • 250ml activator
  • 125ml stabilizer
  • Chromo tray 2 (optional)
  • 900ml warm water
  • 100ml activator
  • Water
  • Stop
  • Fix
  • Water
  • Hypo
  • Water

Chromoskedasic Sabattier Process

  1. Expose the print as you normally would. Keep in mind that chromo affects the highlights of a print.
  2. Develop the print for a shorter amount of time, until it’s just developed.
  3. Rinse the print in water
  4. Place the print face up in the first chromo tray. Chromo is a delicate process. Anything that touches the surface of the paper (tongs, gloves, the tray itself) will leave marks on your print. Be sure to agitate the print for the first 30 seconds. As the print sits in this tray, you’ll start to notice the silver plating out as a dark, opaque grey. It will look like you messed up, but that’s what you want. The rate that the print plates out depends on how warm the solution is (the warmer the better) and how exhausted the solution is.
  5. If the print looks as desired after Tray 1, you can skip Tray 2. If you want the print to have a greater range of colors, submerge it into Tray 2 and bring it out into room light. This is where color shifts will occur: greens, blues, pinks, coppers, etc. will slowly appear at this stage. This is the point where, if desired, you can add brushwork to your print.
  6. Brushing 20% stabilizer onto the print will result in darker colors going pale.
  7. Brushing 20% activator onto the print will result in those darker colors returning to a darker tone once again.
  8. Brushing paper developer onto the print will result in the print “silvering out” to cool-tone metallics.
  9. Once the print is where you like it, rinse it with water and continue the development process as usual. Handle your print with care. It’s best to not print a full image. Leave yourself margins to be able to transfer the print. As I mentioned earlier, anything that touches the surface will leave a mark.
  10. Do not squeegee the print— dry it face up. Once the print is dry, you can treat is as a standard gelatin silver print.
Chromoskedasic Sabattier comparison
Comparison of a digital image to a final gold toned chromo print. 2015.
Chromoskedasic Sabattier comparison 2
(left to right) A gold toned chromo print under tungsten light, the same print scanned, and the original digital image. 2015.


  • When in doubt, check the temperature of your chemistry. Tray 1 requires 80°-105°F (27°-40°C) temperatures to work best.
  • The pH of the developer directly correlates to the tones you get. Higher pH levels tend to be more warm tone, lower pH levels tend to be more cool toned.
  • Chromo prints tend to dry down about one stop.

Guidelines, creative ideas, & miscellaneous ramblings

  • If you’re new to working with chromo, start with a test strip. This will allow you to clearly see how the chemistry interacts with the paper.
  • Allow yourself to be creative. Take prints out in room light, sprinkle powdered developer onto a print, experiment with different light sources and brushes. As it is with almost any other process, chromo can be printed in combination with other processes. The process is as vast as you make it.
  • Note that while chromo prints are beautifully metallic in person, they do not scan well. How a chromo print appears depends on the light source hitting it. A print that is completely copper and gold in person may scan as dull cool tones.

The beauty of chromo is that there isn’t one right way to do it, and it relies heavily on the printmaker letting go of control. Let the process take you where it may.

Megan Crawford is a photographer from Montana, has a background in history, which led her to explore alternative processes. Take a look at Megan Crawford’s gallery.

Learn more about Liquid emulsion and Silver gelatins
Silver Gelatin: A User’s Guide to Liquid Photographic Emulsions

Silver Gelatin: A User’s Guide to Liquid Photographic Emulsions

by Martin Reed, Sarah Jones

A practical art book illustrating the use of liquid photographic emulsion.

The Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion Print: Creating Your Own Liquid Emulsions for Black & White Paper

The Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion Print: Creating Your Own Liquid Emulsions for Black & White Paper

by Denise Ross

A cookbook of simple, basic recipes for making black and white printing paper and paper negatives.

5 thoughts on “Chromoskedasic Sabattier: a step-by-step guide”

  1. So as I’ve been researching all of this, I came across this:

    “The colours do tend to fade in the final fixing process if using an ordinary black and white fixer, a bit like Lumen prints, I have therefore taken to stabilise them I an week Sodium Thiocyanate solution.”

    Is he referring to Sodium ThioSULFATE as a fixer or is he actually using Sodium Thiocyanate? I’m having considerable trouble finding Sodium Thiocyanate here in France and if there is a substitute for this to make an appropriate “weak” fixer I’d be grateful to know.


    ~~ Dennis

  2. I have used the Moersch chemistry with good results, but getting it in the UK post Brexit is tricky. The stabiliser is it just Ammonium Thiocyanate or does it have other things in it too?

  3. Awesome and interesting! As a chemist, I’ll do my own experiments and vary the chemicals. I found out already, that the activator (potassium hydroxide solution) can be altered to an ammonia solution (stinking!), which gives more brownish, maroon and yellow hues. (The ion radius of ammonium and potassium is nearly the same.) Sodium hydroxide solutions seem to work very much slower and not so colorful. Will have to do further tests.
    Keep on with your wonderful works!

Leave a Comment