Making a Lith negative - traditional darkroom ideas

A lith negative gives the creative darkroom user many printing options. Heather Powell explains how they are made.

|  Darkroom Printing
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Words and Pictures Heather Powell

Lith emulsions have special features that make many forms of image manipulation possible. You can make extreme Black & White images with finer detail sharpness than is possible with line film. Secondly by controlling exposure and development, it is possible to achieve a brownish-yellow and black image - this tends to be the most popular form of lith printing, that can give quite an artistic, almost painting like effect. The final type of image that you can make produces a colour image. This is achieved by combining the previous two effects. You achieve tinted mid-tones and tonally distorted shadows. You can also sandwich negatives together and offset them to make bas relief pictures, expose halfway through development to solarise them and print at extremely high contrast for graphic effects. (some of these processes are covered as other techniques here in ePHOTOzine.

There are different ways and different definitions of lith printing. It can be quite a confusing process, with many different options available. The easiest way is to make negatives onto lith film.

Lith film is an extreme form of line film, which produces very high contrast images. This works in conjunction with special lith developer. It is available in 35mm format, which can be loaded directly into the camera and exposed at ISO6, or, more commonly, 5x4in sheet film, the process for which is detailed below.

From an original black & white negative, you will produce a lith positive, which in turn will produce a negative print. If you contact the lith positive onto another sheet of lith film, you will produce a lith negative, which in turn will produce a positive print.

The process of making these positives and negatives is very similar to making a contact sheet. The most effective images are those that have a strong visual impact and have a good tonal range. The full process is as follows:

1 Select an image that has strong visual impact and a good tonal range.

2 Prepare the materials. You will need sheet lith film and lith developer. A contact-printing frame will also be needed. Make sure the glass is clean as any marks will be evident on your new negatives.

3 Place the original negative into the contact frame.

4 Make sure you are only working with a red safelight as lith film can be affected by orange safelights.

5 Place a sheet of lith film under the negative making sure that you have it the right way up, the emulsion side of the film being the lighter side and Make a test strip, in the same way you would if making a normal contact sheet.

6 Process the film in the lith developer for 2 to 3 minutes. Ideally the temperature of the developer should be 20C, the same as when processing normal black & white film. If it isn't, the development time might vary (longer if colder, shorter if warmer).

7 Rinse in stop bath.

8 Place in the fixer. Watch until the white areas become clear. These are the silver halide crystals in the film.  As a general rule, the fixing time is twice the amount of time that it takes for the white areas to clear.

9 Wash the film thoroughly and leave to dry.

10 Clean with film cleaner spray and a soft cloth, if needed.

The process is now complete and you have produced a lith positive, which you can use to make a lith negative print. If you want to make a lith negative, repeat steps 5 - 10 but replace the normal negative with the lith positive that you have just made.

Once you have the lith positive and negative, trim them down to the size of a normal 35mm negative. It is then possible to print from then as you would a normal negative.

Not only can you make straight prints but also you can sandwich the lith positive and negative together to produce a different effect again. By combining either of the two liths with the original negative, even more combinations are possible. See our techniques on how to make a bas relief and posterised print.

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