Using oiled tracing paper as positive for heliogravure

Looking to add texture in negatives? Jose Garcia Fuertes finds out that oiled tracing paper does the job as positive for heliogravure.

Writer and photography / Jose Garcia Fuertes


Oiled tracing paper negative
Left: Hühnerleiter tracing paper positive. Right: Hühnerleiter final copperplate print.

As a “low budget amateur photographer and printer” I missed the texture I could get making direct carbons or gum prints using OHP transparent film for printing the negatives. My heliogravure prints always looked too contrasty although I tried all kind of curves and adjustments on the scanned image. That was too much digital work for a process that is supposed to be analogical. Pictorico film is only for inkjet printers, so it was no choice and other milky films for laser printers are hard to get here. And then Luis Hernandez gave me the hint on his heliogravure blog, where he mentioned that the photographer Tony Catany did not want his photo paper print messed with any kind of grease to use it as positive. As I had some tracing paper lying around, I decided to give it a try.

Postive negative with oiled tracing paper
Left: Hospitalet tracing paper positive. Right: Hospitalet final copperplate print.

I discovered that not only the tone range will increase, but also that it is an easy way to get texture into a heliogravure print if I use oiled tracing paper as positive when exposing the gelatine tissue. Easy and cheap, that was what I needed.

I start scanning a film negative at 1200 to 2400 dpi, invert and mirror it. Then I adjust the image size to the plate size and print it on a laser printer at 600 dpi on 90 gr. tracing paper. I pure some drops of sunflower seed cooking oil on one side of the paper and spread it smoothly with kitchen paper and plot the excess of oil. Then I repeat the same process on the other side of the paper. This way the paper will get a little more transparent and the blacks will get somehow darker. Rubbing the printed side a little bit stronger will lift off some toner and may be you will get some artefacts on the final print (I love them). Finally I let the positive dry over night.

Paper negatives using tracing paper and oil
Left: Terry Crossley tracing paper positive. Right: Terry Crossley final copperplate print.

When I expose my gelatine tissue under the tracing paper positive I add half of the time I normally use for transparent film positive, that means that it will take 1.30 minutes to get it well exposed while the positive on transparent film takes only 1 minute. If the oiled positive is dry enough the gelatine will adhere to the resin dusted copperplate with no problem. Etching and printing the plate is the usual way.

Jose Garcia Fuertes was born in Madrid in Spain in 1960 and lives in Barcelona. He likes to call him a “low budget amateur photographer and printer”, getting all his knowledge from Internet. In 2008 he made his first tries in Cyanotypes, and afterwards in Van Dyke prints, Salted paper, Gum and Direct Carbon prints. He has been working on heliogravure prints since 2012.

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