The following is a 21 step
guide to albumen printing that I have prepared. This is in no way a complete guide as
there are many variations on formulas and technique.
21 Easy Steps To Albumen Printing
by Mike Robinson
Preparing the Albumen
- Get some eggs. To Make 500 mL of albumen which is enough to
double coat about 50, 9 X 12 inch sheets of paper you need approximately 15 extra large
eggs (if you're clumsy get two dozen).
- Separate the eggs. Start with a small dish. Be careful not to
let any stringy bits get into the egg white. If any yoke gets into the dish, don't use it.
Pick out the debris and pour the egg white into a larger container. When you have 500 mL
of egg white stop.
- Add to the egg, white 2 mL of 28% acetic acid, 15 mL of
distilled water, and 15 g Ammonium Chloride.
- Stir, Stir, Stir, Stir until the albumen has been converted to
a froth. Use a bundle of quill pens to be authentic. One hour of stirring with an electric
mixer is ok if your can't find the pens.
- Let the albumen mixture settle, covered in a refrigerator for
24 hours. Then remove the froth that has collected on top. Filter the albumen through
cheesecloth and let it age at least a week. The older it gets the better.
Coating the Paper
- Get some paper. Clear Print Drafting Vellum or Strathmore
Artist Drawing - Plate Finish are good choices for coating. The vellum is easier to handle
when coating but the Strathmore is sized better. I suggest you practice coating with the
vellum and switch to the better paper when you get the hang of it. Double coating yields
glossier prints with more even coating and greater density but it is more difficult to do.
- Pour the albumen through a filter into a glass baking dish,
(Pyrex 10.5 X 15 X 2 inches). Float the paper on the albumen surface. Don't get any
albumen on the back of the paper, it will print uneven density in that area.
Check for air bubbles (break them with a glass rod or plastic toothpick).
If all bubbles are gone, start the timer and float the paper
for three minutes. With a smooth and steady motion pick the paper up out of the tray
starting from one corner. Hang it up along the long side. Blot off the excess as it dries
to avoid a thick edge.
- (For Double coated papers only) Immerse the paper in 70%
isopropyl alcohol with 3 % ammonium chloride added for about 15 seconds. This hardens the
albumen for the second coat. If you don't do this, don't bother double coating because the
albumen will wash off in the second floating.
- Refloat the paper a second time. Hang it up from the opposite
two corners this time for even results. Blot off the excess along the bottom edge. Its
better to sensitize as soon as its dry, however the albumenized paper will keep well if
you sensitize later.
Sensitizing the Paper
- Safe light tungsten. It's nice to be able to work with the
lights on! Avoid fluorescent light. Mix 37.5 g of silver nitrate with 250 mL distilled
water. This makes a 15% solution. Silver nitrate solution is not light sensitive until it
comes in contact with organic material, such as salted albumen or human skin. Wear
surgical gloves and eye protection! Silver Nitrate splashed in eyes will cause permanent
- Pour the sensitizer into a glass tray. Float the albumenized
paper on the solution for three minutes after checking for air bubbles. Slowly peel the
paper off the surface and hang to dry.
- Print as soon as the paper is dry. You can expect to loose
about 2 stops maximum density and speed if you wait until the next day. If you wait longer
than that you'll have to resort to citric acid preservatives and ammonia fuming to restore
speed and contrast. I doubt it's worth the effort.
- Find some sunshine on a warm day if you can. A high UV light
source is needed if you print indoors. Put a suitable negative of about 2.20 density range
in contact with the paper. Use a hinged back frame so you can check exposure without
disturbing registration. Print until the shadows are just staring to "bronze".
This means you've reached maximum density. If the negative is thin, print until the
highlights are about 1 to 1.5 stops too dark. The print lightens up during processing.
- Wash the print to remove excess silver nitrate. The wash water
turns milky when it reacts to the silver. After about 10 minutes the wash water should be
- Toning. This is expensive. Untoned prints are reddish in
colour. Gold toned prints have a pleasing purple brown colour. There are many formulas
available. I've tried Borax and sodium thiocyanate formulas and prefer the Borax toner. It
tones faster and used less gold. Mix 40 mL of Berg Gold Protective Toner (Part A only)
with 250 mL of distilled water to make a solution. Add 2.5 g of Borax and stir until
dissolved. Tone by inspection. (approximately 6 minutes) Overtoned prints will be a slate
gray in colour .
- Fix. Add 200g Sodium Thiosulphate (anhydrous) to 1L of
distilled water to make a simple fixing bath.
- Hypo Clear for three minutes.
- Wash for at least 1/2 hour.
- Squeegee dry and hang up or blot dry under weight. Albumen
paper is very curly and should be mounted according to conservator's procedures. You can
store the print in mylar sleeves with a mat board of the same size for support.
The main source for this information has been
The Albumen and Salted Paper Book:
The History and Practice of Photographic Printing
James M. Reilly
Rochester, NY 1980.
ISBN 0-87992-014-9 paperbound
ISBN 0-87992-020-3 cloth binding
Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints
James M. Reilly
Eastman Kodak Company
Kodak Publication No. G-2S
CAT No 160 7787
Fundamentals of Photograph Conservation: A Study Guide
K. B. Hendriks, B. Thurgood, J. Iraci, B. Lesser, G. Hill
Lugus Productions Ltd.
For further information on the process and workshops contact
phone: (416) 926-8181