Papers for the Bromoil process

George L. Smyth gives us a rundown on which Bromoil papers to use and what to consider when choosing paper for printing Bromoils. Updated in May 2021 since the world around us, including papers change.

Writer and photography / George L. Smyth


There was a time when photographic paper was made specifically for the Bromoil process. They were very easy to use and produced wonderful prints. Things became more difficult in the 1950s when the manufacturers began supercoating the paper. This is a clear hardened gelatin layer that lies above the emulsion that protects the paper from scratches during processing. With the advent of digital photography, many papers favoring the Bromoil process have gone away.

“The addition of the supercoat makes the process more difficult for the Bromoil printer because this hampers the swelling of the gelatin upon which the process depends. But things have never been easy for this time-consuming, labor-intensive process. Finding the right paper is essential and fortunately, there are several papers that can be used.”

Ilford MG Fiber Classic

Bromoil papers Ilford MG Fiber Classic
The most readily paper available, and a proper successor to the discontinued MGIV. The paper bleaches without a problem. Ilford papers have always struggled against toners and this extends to holding the ink, as vigorous brushwork is required to work it.

However, by increasing the temperature of the soak to 85° F (30° C) the supercoating can be softened, which makes clearing the highlights easier. The paper exhibits more contrast than one might expect, so it may need to be exposed with less contrast than normal.

David Lewis Bromoil Paper

Bromoil paper - David Lewis Bromoil Paper

David Lewis describes his paper thus: “David Lewis’s Bromoil Paper is a double weight non-supercoated chlorobromide paper with a printing speed of ISO 320. The paper has a thick emulsion with a smooth matt surface and has a normal contrast (grade # 2). This chlorobromide emulsion produces incredible gradation of tone and shadow detail when developed in amidol. After bleaching the emulsion produces a coin-like relief, reminiscent of the bromoil paper from the 1930’s! It is the only photographic paper on the market today that has the coin-like swelling relief.”

This is the only paper that is readily available and is made specifically for the process. Once the paper starts to accept ink it soaks right into the paper and has a tendency to stay during the second soak. This offers some additional possibilities, allowing one to use a sponge to clear the highlights during the soak, then the brush to continue building contrast following the soak. The only real disadvantage with this paper is that it is only available in the 8×10” size.

Foma Fomatone 133 Classic VC FB Warmtone

Bromoil papers - Foma Fomatone 133 Classic VC FB Warmtone
This paper works with the Bromoil process, but requires a change of ink. The ink most often employed is probably Senefelder 1803, a very thick ink that only comes in tins. When the paper is soaked for a second time the ink is almost completely removed, regardless of the softness of the brush used. I was able to get decent prints by increasing the initial soak temperature to 85° F (30° C) and switching to Senefelder 1796 ink, which is considerably thinner.

Liquid Light

Not a paper, of course, but this emulsion has the ability to hold up to the abuse of the brush. I highly recommend using Senefelder 1796 ink, as the 1803 version simply does not work.

As I occasionally make my own photographic paper, spreading emulsion to a 5 mil thickness is not a problem, but may be for those without the experience. I do not know how well or poorly Liquid Light will work if the emulsion is spread using a brush.

Fogged paper

Fogged bromoil paper
More 1113 W 36th stairs, Bromoil process print by George L. Smyth.

As photographers leave the film realm for the advantages of digital photography, they no longer have use for their old photographic paper. By the time they come to this conclusion, oftentimes the paper they give away has no use to other photographers, as it has become fogged. This is not something that should necessarily deter the Bromoil printer.

The ink in a Bromoil print does not depend upon the silver in the paper, but the swelling of the gelatin. Indeed, the silver is removed in the bleach process, at which point the gelatin is swelled in relation to the sliver content. As long as there is enough variation between the base fog and the darkest shadow elements to make out an image, it should be possible to use the paper.

Fogged bromoil paper by Gerorge L. Smyth
More 1113 W 36th stairs – original image – by George L. Smyth.

Above is an extreme example of a print that was made from fogged Agfa MCC118 that was given to me. As this paper offered variable contrast, I exposed it with the magenta in the enlarger head at its maximum and the yellow turned off, offering the highest contrast possible. The addition of Benzotriazole to the developer helped minimize the fogging. To the right is a straight print made from this paper, which shows how severely fogged it actually is. Who would have thought that paper destined for the scrap heap could still be used?

George L. Smyth is an American photographer who specializes in the Bromoil process and is a regular lecturer on pinhole photography.

15 thoughts on “Papers for the Bromoil process”

  1. I have a fair amount of Ilford Warmtone semi-matt fiber but it is many year old and remains in my freezer, as I have not had reason to use it. Perhaps they have updated their paper to produce a problem? The old warmtone worked, but (for me) not nearly as good as their regular multigrade.

    I am a little confused as to the swelling issue to which you are referring, and would be unique in my experience. It sounds like you are saying that the paper is swelling too much to be useful – is that the case? I have never seen that in a paper, only the opposite. 2 minutes does not sound to me to be nearly enough time for the paper to properly saturate.

    Are you sure that you are not using RC paper? If so, then I have never found any RC paper that works with the Bromoil process and would be surprised to see anyone make a reasonably successful print on such paper.

    If the issue really is too much swelling (I would think that with only 2 minutes it would be not enough swelling) then you could try Senefelder 1796 ink to see if that offers acceptable results.

  2. I am going to refresh the topic… Is somebody around using recent ilford warmtone semi matt paper? I am facing now problem with inking (my ink: Senefelder’s 1803): I have tried to find the correct soaking time and temperature, and noticed that only 2 minutes (no matter weather 30, 25 or 20 centigrade) gives any chances to obtain any relief on the surface of paper. And the effect of primary inking is acceptable, but not the best. Even 5 minutes of soaking, produces overswelling – so inking is very problematic and after another 5 minutes, impossible to see any difference from the white margins.

  3. @ James Mickleson Disregard my previous post as there has been an interesting development. I was talking to a member of the Bromoil Circle and he had had this problem with Ilford papers. His solution after much experimentation, was a 15 minute soak at 30 degrees and dry with a hairdryer. Then re-soak for one and a half minutes and ink. I decided to try this out on an old partially inked matrix, (not Ilford) that I had abandoned because of the spotting problem. The procedure reduced the spots significantly, but not completely. I then thought a higher temperature may do the trick, so I soaked for 5 minutes at 45 degrees. After dabbing off the moisture I inked and the spots vanished almost completely, only a tiny area remained, which was easy to spot out. It seems the hot soak helps resolve the problem.

  4. And if you do find a paper that works well then make sure that you can get the same batch – I was once burned on this.

    In noting that there are no papers made for the Bromoil process for some reason I completely forgot the David Lewis paper (linked above in the list of papers), which if you are looking for the 8×10″ size may work quite well for you.

  5. @ James Mickelson If the marks are like small irregular splashes, then yes I have seen this with Ilford Classic, Foma 113BO and more recently Slavich Unibrom. See:- https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/51032239013/in/dateposted-public/

    I’m sorry to say it is almost impossible to ink-out/disguise the marks. No amount of soaking/re-soaking etc will fix it. I even tried fixing out some paper and coating with potassium dichromate, (Oil Print method) and the marks still appeared, which leads me to the one common denominator – potassium dichromate, the only chemical to be used in both processes. I know a number of people who are having these problems. Interestingly older batches of the papers mentioned, are fine, the problem seems to be confined to newer batches. What George says about manufacturers changing something, is I believe, spot on, (excuse the pun). The only suggestion I can make, is use the paper for something else and try another paper. I wouldn’t certainly wouldn’t buy a large batch of any paper until you have proved it works OK.

  6. I have read of your problem but not encountered it. The first thing to recognize is that there are no papers specifically made for Bromoil (with the exception of the single run of Imago). This means that companies can (and do) change their papers to improve the characteristics they feel are important for the majority of their users. Bromoil is not even a second thought. It is possible that they may have changed something that causes this problem.

    The only other thing I can think of is that you consider lengthening your soak time in case there is variability there. I soak mine for 7 minutes at 72 Fahrenheit (about 22 Celsius), and for the run of paper I have this seems to work well. Increasing it and/or increasing the temperature may be things that could help with the issue.

    Cheers –

    george

  7. Good morning, glad you u po dated this post. I have h ad a lot of trouble using the Ilford Classic. After creating the matrix, when the ink is applied there are areas that do not take ink and develope as white spots and large areas of white which will not take ink. Any suggestions?

  8. Tony –

    Interesting and unfortunate to read. He sold me paper without having attended a workshop or purchasing a kit.

    Cheers –

    george

  9. Sadly the David Lewis paper is only available to those that have attended his workshop or purchased a full Bromoil kit.
    A number of us in the UK were interested in a bulk purchase but sadly no luck.

  10. Time passes and this is the case with each of the papers I wrote about in this article. I am going to try to maintain a list of reviews of the papers available for the Bromoil process that I am able to get my hands on in the form of a blog.

    https://BromoilPapers.wordpress.com/ is the location of the blog and the first review is of Foma Fomatone Classic VC FB Warmtone. This will be followed by David Lewis’ paper as well as Imago paper.

    Cheers –

    george

  11. I seriously doubt it if only because I believe that it will be way too thin. The ink I use is too thick to go into a tube and is available in a can.

    Cheers –

    george

  12. Cindy – I don’t know of a paper of that name by Kodak (or anyone else). Foma has a number of other papers but I have not tried them. I like to work with a small number of papers so that I can understand their idiosyncrasies and take advantages of their strengths.

    Cheers – george

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