How to make a paper negative from a photograph

You have a photographic negative on paper, from, let’s say a pinhole camera. You want to use it to make cyanotype or other alt. procs, so it needs to be made more transparent… how do you do this?

Writer / Malin Fabbri

Oiling the paper

This only works with fibre based papers, not Resin Coated.

  • Spread out a newspaper and then a blank piece of white paper on top. Place the photograph on top, face down.
  • Using a brush or a paper towel, apply oil (you can use olive oil, sunflower oil, mineral oil or crisco light) to the paper to make it transparent.
  • Use a blotting paper (or a squeegee if you’ve added way to much oil) or dry paper towel to remove any excess oil.

Oil is the easiest method to use, but be careful not to stain the material you are printing your final print onto. If you are planning on using your negative a few months or a year later, wrap it in plastic to prevent it from drying out. If you find your negative has dried you can re-oil it, although the result may be somewhat uneven. Oil may also change the contrast of the photograph.


Waxing the paper

This only works with fibre based papers. You can vax the paper with beeswax or paraffin. Beeswax tends to flood less than paraffin. This will make it more transparent. Do this:

  • Spread out a newspaper and then a blank piece of white paper on top. Place the photograph on top.
  • Heat up the back of the paper negative with a hot iron.
  • Rub the beeswax or paraffin evenly over the back until the paper is covered with a very thin layer of vax.
  • Repeat the process until your paper negative is transparent enough.
  • Iron all of it. If you see vax floating around you need to wipe the excess off with a paper towel.
  • Let the paper cool and repeat the procedure at the front of the photograph.

Even though wax is a little trickier to use than oil, the advantages are that the wax doesn’t dry out. You also avoid getting oil stains on your print.


The “peeling method”

This only works with RC – Resin Coated paper, because it has a protective plastic layer which fibre based paper doesn’t have.

  • Get a tray big enough to submerge your print in.
  • Pour over hot, but not boiling water over the print in the tray.
  • Wait for 2-5 minutes for the water to soak in, make sure the print is submerged.
  • Push the print down in the tray and rub the corner of the print inwards towards the middle, and try creating a lift of the paper in the corner.
  • When the backing starts to separate carefully pull the two surfaces apart, under water. You can use your nails or a pair of tweezers. If you feel any resistance, let the print soak a little longer.
  • When you’ve pulled the paper apart and you still have some paper traces left stuck on the plastic layer, you can soak it a little longer and just rub it off.
  • Place on a flat surface to dry.
  • To make it even more transparent, use the “Vax method” above.

The photocopy negative

This will produce a very crude negative, but it may be worth experimenting with.

Using a photocopier either:

  • Photocopy your negative onto a transparency (a see through plastic film used for Overhead projectors).
  • To make your negative more dense, make 2 copies and tape them together one on top of the other.


  • Photocopy your negative onto a piece of paper
  • Use the “Oil method” or the “Wax method” above.

Hope this works for you. Happy printing.

NOTE: The information in this article was collated from various sources, then tried and tested. If you have more variations on how to make negatives, please don’t hesitate to contact us, and we’ll add these too.

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5 thoughts on “How to make a paper negative from a photograph”

  1. in a book that I recently acquired, called Ilford Multigrade papers, as manual for the darkroom, it talks about using Ilford papers to make a paper negative, through doing a contact print, emulsion – to – emulsion with their papers, the principle suggestion was to do touch up work at a larger size rather than the actual negative, then once done with the touch-up work, simply do another contact print to create a positive. they express that this can be done with regular multigrade papers, and that RC is better in that it doesn’t have the paper grains, that Fiber based does. – I vaguely remember making positives on a transparent material in my high school photography class, and I still have the transparency, but I have no knowledge of what material was, plus this was in the 80’s

  2. HI, just wondering how to make pure beeswax paste, (thats soft enough to spread on print) to put on my salt prints to preserve then.

  3. @Sam You get it onto paper by printing a positive in the darkroom onto photopaper, or more commonly, by using paper in a pinhole camera, which will produce a negative image. This you probably want to reverse to a positive, then you can use the methods above.

  4. But how do you get a photographic negative on paper in the first place? Is this a special type of photo paper? I’m confused. Paper is not the same thing as film, so what exactly do you mean?

  5. I have a Geoffrey’s paper negative.don’t know if its fibre or resin coated. Am not confident about doing a DIY job, can you advise of anyone who could do this process for me.
    Peter Jackson

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