Sizing substrates and papers – survey results

Sizing papers can make a difference to the final print. Photographers working in alternative photographic processes have shared their experience on which papers and substrates they size and which formula they use. You can also share your experience of sizing papers.

Sizing for…

Anthotypes and sizing papers

  • I never sized my anthotypes (from Rosie Horn)


  • I size most watercolor paper with a Knox gelatine-10% solution (from Andrew Glover).

Casein pigment prints

  • At one time I sized Koh-i-noor vellum and Strathmore 500 with gelatin for tri-color casein printing. Those were the only ones I found not to stain too much. But papers have changed and I haven’t printed casein for many years (from Sam Wang).

Cyanotype process sizing papers

  • These artists found no need to size cyanotypes:
    Rebecca Bushner – using Fabriano Artistico
    Gary Fabbri
    Malin Fabbri – apart from when printing on glass
    Steffani Frideres
    Andrew Glover
    Tyler Hewitt
    Rosie Horn
    Karl P. Koenig
    Neila Kun
    Keith Nourse
    Tatiana Parnikova – using Fabriano Academia 200 gsm
    Sam Wang
    Nan Wollman – using Rives BFK or Stonehenge
  • We used Archers cold press watercolor paper for all our production paper processing and never used any sizing.  The chemical solution was applied with a large paint roller and dried flat immediately under electric room heaters. Before standardizing this procedure, we tested a number of different papers and found the slick, hard hot press papers would not evenly absorb the liquid solution.  We also tried thickening the solution with a seaweed formula used in silk screening fabric dyes, but it was unsatisfactory, too (from Barbara Hewitt).
  • If you do not want to size, the papers to use are matte finish Epson ink jet papers.  The double sided is good because it does not curl as much.  It is now called Ultra Premium Presentation Paper.  At least, it works well for cyanotypes and the paper also allows augmentation of the images with a digital print (from Mary Shisler).
  • I tried various sizes and found that gelatin size of any sort on any paper hated cyanotype and vice versa. A starch size gave little if any trouble – tho little if any benefit, so why bother? I’ll add however, that folks who use cyano as the blue coat in tri-color gum do size (from Judy Seigel).

Gum bichromates

  • I use gesso diluted 1:4 with tap water to size papers for gum bichromate prints. Contrary to what I read in books, gesso does not change the surface quality of paper in significant ways, and is much easier to apply than gelatin size. I make all my gum prints on Arches bright white 140lb. cold press. I have tried 300lb Arches, but did not like the texture of the paper or the way the paper handled. (from Tyler Hewitt)
  • I primarily use Fabriano Artisco with gelatin size. I use a 3% gelatin solution with 20ml of formalin added per 1 liter. Size is applied by brush with one coating only. As I work with multiple gum coats I have standardized on sizing paper though I have worked with unsized Strathmore in the past (from Hamish Stewart)
  • I use RIVES BFK heavy weight, and only size for gum if I want the colors to match exactly, for four color printing with Knox gelatin dilution, soaked in paper or brushed on. (from Steffani Frideres).
  • I use watercolor paper and in my opinion for multiple prints some preparations are often necessary. I prepare the gelatin size solution dissolving 30g of gelatin per 1000ml of water. For single layer prints, I think it is possible to work without any sizing (from Alessandro Iazeolla)
  • I sized just about everything. My heart was broken when they took laundry starch off the grocery store shelves, but I did stock pile.  Every now and then I have found some old fashioned starch.  This stuff was the greatest.  Arrowroot is probably the closest.  For gum prints I followed the Steven Livick formula for gelatin.  I have used gelatin on glass as well as laundry starch.  If anyone can find it, I used the medium rather than the heavy formula (from Mary Shisler).
  • I use Knox gelatin for sizing all rag papers (from Neila Kun).
  • Gum bichromate (another drawback) always requires starch sizing, I use commercial spray starch (from Karl P. Koenig).
  • I mainly use Fabriano Artistico or Bockingford and I size both. The formula is 2% deionised ossein (photographic gelatin) or, when using acrylics for gum, a dichromated titanium white gesso. I also use a collodion size for platinum. On ceramic or metal I use acrylic size or gelatine with pumice powder. I also use  10% albumen size and an albumen arrowroot size for albumen printing. I  use the 2% gelatine size for gum, silver and iron based processes including platinum, which at these dilutions does not precipitate paltinum,  and my chrysotype rex and cyanotype rex processes. I also use a collodion size for platinum as this size reduces dry down. The dichromated acrylic gesso size, or substrate , for gum/acrylic printing,  provides lateral stability in the paper which helps with registration when gum printing (from Terry King).
  • I use Stonehenge #140 and I size it with Knox hardened with glycol. One time will work fairly well but I do two because I like my whites to be crisp and clean. I do love Bockingford #300 rough watercolor paper. but it requires at least 3 if not 4 heavy coats of gum to give clean highlights and even then magenta will have a tendency to stain. Being such a heavy and porous paper, it also requires wash baths of at least 40 minutes each X 4 washes for each color= a lengthy process that can’t be worked on in the evening after work. Another paper I like the texture of is Strathmore #140 watercolor paper. Yeah, the cheap stuff from a pad. I sized it with two coats of Knox hardened with Glycol (from Chrystal Jackson).
  • Recently I do not size papers for alternative printings (I make platinum/palladium, vandyke, cyanotype, gum prints). I like the way the image sinks into the paper and the feel of the softness of paper. Unfortunately it also limits the number of paper I can use in multiple gum without staining. The papers I routinely use for multiple gum include Rives Heavyweight, Fabriano 5 and Uno, and several other watercolor papers (from Sam Wang).
  • At present, I only size paper for gum printing, and then almost always with a 3% (Knox) gelatin hardened with glyoxal – my experience being that any/all papers are going to need a size for gum if you do more than one coat. (The glyoxal hardener is a separate 4 or 5 min. bath, followed by a rinse, not glyoxal in the gelatin, as seems popular today.) Meanwhile, I tried — EVERY cockamamie size for gum listed in every book and article published at the time: diluted liquitex, gesso, rabbitskin glue, gum arabic hardened with dichromate… and probably more.
    Which is not to say some of them couldn’t be excellent on certain papers for certain kinds of printing or styles, but that the gelatin was all-purpose good and reliable, so why dink around?
    The story, it seems, is that development of the first gum coat raises the nap & washes off any surface size left from manufacture, so 2nd coat is wretched if paper hasn’t been sized at the outset (from Judy Seigel).
  • I use watercolor paper and I prepare the gelatin size solution dissolving 30g of gelatin per 1000ml of water. For single layer prints, I think it is possible to work without any sizing.(from Alessandro Jazeolla).
  • I use knox gelatin and glyoxal to size. Sometimes when I am feeling pressed for time I do them together in one bath, rather than separately, and have not had any problems yet. The paper is Fabriano Magnani Pescia, I recoat up to 3 or 4 times max; after that all bets are off and I don’t have the patience anyway (from Marina Berio).
  • I use BFK Rives 140 weight paper with 3 coats of Knox plain gelatin sizing for gum dichromate printing. I harden with glyaxol. I tried just 2 coats of Knox, and had problems with pigment staining. Once I switched to 3 coats, I’ve had no pigment staining at all, even after 6-9 coats of pigment (from Mesa Somer).
  • Gum over cyanotype: I experimented with Fabriano Artistico extra white 250 and the gum and i found it stained greatly without sizing with gelatin sizing. I used the formula in chris anderson’s book using gelatin and gluteraldahyde. After do elaborate experiments with gum over cyanotype on vellum i highly discourage sizing vellum paper (from Keegan Fields).
  • I use papers that incorporate synthetic size such as Fabriano Artistico (Extra White) and Strathmore Imperial right out of the package with no additional sizing added. I only preshrink the paper. Pigment choices are limited to ones that will not stain those papers. With the exception of two images, all of my work displayed on this site is produced on paper with no added sizing (from Peter Blackburn).


  • I use Fabriano and no sizing is necessary (from Karl P. Koenig).
  • Sizing is a no-no as it will not let the oil/pigment seep into the paper as well, resulting in an inferior print (from Chrystal Jackson).

Image transfers

  • I find that Knox sizing is good for any paper when doing Image transfers

Liquid emulsion

  • I size glass and metal using gelatin and hardner. I work with liquid emulsions.
  • Liquid light works better without size on anything porous (from Steffani Frideres).


  • I don’t size anything (from Elizabeth Opalenik).

Palladium sizing papers

  • I have learnt  to appreciate the outcome when not  sizing my papers irrespective of the process, I work with Palladium, Gravure and Cyanotype on papers like Fabriano, Arches, Rives, Lanaquarelle just as well as I’ve been experimenting with lithographic papers like Zerkall and Hahnemühle. (from Lene Bennike).
  • I am currently using Cot 320 , Fabriano Platinotype , Cranes 90 lbs cover stock, Parchment diploma and Somerset satin. Usually I do not size these papers as I find them stable for my purposes. If I do Palladium over Cyanotype I will size for registration purposes using Richard Sullivan’s Hard Gelatin with a turkey baster (from Gustavo Castilla).


  • Works better without sizing (from Karl P. Koenig).

Platinum and Palladium sizing papers

  • I use Crane’s Diploma Parchment or COT-320 papers without sizing (from Nikolay Maslov).
  • I use Arches Platine for my contact prints. Normally I don’t size it as it doesn’t need it. To change a little the warmth of a pure palladium print I can size it with a 1% arrowroot solution. I use a 10cm width paint roller only on the coating side. Very fast, no bubbles and let it dry (from Philippe Ayral).
  • I do not size papers. I use Crane’s Weston, COT 320, old stock Strathmore 500, etc (from Sam Wang).


  • I find sizing Arches Aquarelle gives a sharper image for Salt and Van Dyke. Sizing formula used for Saltprints and Vandykes: I like to use an albumen size as it gives the paper a slightly glossy finish. The mixture is 80% egg white, 20% distilled water – whisk gently for a couple of minutes and skim off the froth. If using for salt prints also add 2 grams of sodium chloride. The mix won’t keep, so coat as much paper as you need and leave it a couple of days to harden properly. Albumen is supposed to go yellow with age, but how long that takes I don’t know. None of mine have  – yet. (from Keith Nourse)

Vandyke sizing papers

  • No sizing is needed say:
    Steffani Frideres – printing on both paper and fabric
    Tyler Hewitt
    Grace Taylor – using Stonehenge white and Arches
  • I use Archers paper with an arrowroot size for the Vandyke process.
  • I find sizing Arches Aquarelle gives a sharper image for Salt and Van Dyke. I have also tried gelatine size with Van Dyke, but had great difficulty subsequently applying an even coat of the Van Dyke mix (from Keith Nourse).

Vandyke brown

  • Vandyke brown never seemed to need a size, tho I haven’t tested those variables enough to claim authority on the topic (from Judy Seigel).


Thank you all for taking part and good luck with sizing papers and substrates!

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4 thoughts on “Sizing substrates and papers – survey results”

  1. I would like to try Gumoil printing and have read you should use unsized paper. I also read that many papers have changed. Can anyone recommend an unsized paper for this process that is still in production in 2014?



  2. I work only on the Carbon Transfer
    I prepare myself the Watercolour paper with the gelatin as 1864 and the result is pefect as the vintage Carbon

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