If any of you out there have ever done alternative process printing, you’re probably aware of the increase in technical difficulty that comes along with making bigger prints. Each size up adds a new wrinkle, especially when it comes to getting an even, consistent coat. It certainly helps to have a good paper that facilitates a consistent coating via sizing, baryta, or other pre-treatment. Another very important step is using the right brush. I’ve become very fond of the Richeson 9010 “Magic” brush for a good reason – the Richeson brushes have earned their name “magic” by the way the bristles are designed, they just make it easier to coat evenly and smoothly without disturbing the paper surface. They’re worth the price you pay for them from the savings in coating time, reduced re-prints, and hair not pulled out in frustration.
Especially when getting into platinum/palladium printing, most novice printers are extremely cost-conscious. After all, a basic pt/pd kit to make roughly 30 8×10 prints costs in the range of $200 today. And that’s just for the chemistry. However, you’ll quickly learn that there is such a thing as false economy. While printing at smaller sizes, it’s fine to try and economize on your coating solution to see if you can still coat the entire image area. If you under-coat, it’s painelss enough to toss a bad print and start over. All that goes out the window when you start printing bigger than 8×10. Better to be generous with the chemicals until you KNOW your requirements for your paper and your image size, otherwise you’ll be throwing away blotchy, uneven print after blotchy uneven print until you get one. A couple extra drops of palladium or platinum “wasted” will cost you far less than an entire 14×17′s worth that turned out poorly. I was printing some 14×17 prints this week and I realized at the current prices for materials, I was somewhere in the region of $30-40 per print, my cost. You don’t want to mess that up.
When I coat prints that big, I usually mask the edges of the coating area for several reasons. One: I’m using a 3″ or bigger coating brush. Watercolor wash brushes that big are not precision instruments capable of stopping on a dime and not slopping chemistry around. Two: I like nice clean white borders on my paper unless I’m aiming for that ragged, handmade look. Three: the masking tape helps keep the paper in place while coating so it is easier to brush on an even coat of emulsion. One of the challenges of masking is preventing the paper from adhering to the masking tape and tearing when you lift it off. To that end, I’ve found that the 3M “delicate surface” blue painters tape works best. It’s still not a 100% solution, because even when I’m being what I think is careful, I will have the odd occasion where the tape sticks to the paper a little too much and a layer of the paper surface comes up with the tape. I prefer masking with tape during coating to using rubylith to mask while exposing because the rubylith mask just prevents the emulsion from being exposed. You still have to clear the unexposed chemistry out of the paper and if your paper is particularly binding and/or your clearing bath is insufficient, you’ll end up with a rather embarassing looking stain on the paper around your image area. The 3M tape is cheap enough, don’t skimp and try to go cheap. Throw away your tape and pull new strips with each print – again false economy if you try to re-use it, as you run the possibility of contaminating your new print with old chemistry. At potentially upwards of $40 per print, is it worth it trying to save money on $0.10 worth of tape?