16 Steps to Create a Vintage Salt Print

In the world of Photoshop, there are so many digital photo editing techniques available to create stunning images, but sometimes it’s nice to return to the darkroom. There are a lot of really great darkroom techniques that we’re forgetting about, like vintage salt printing. What’s salt printing? Well, it was big in the mid-1800s, and the technique involves coating sheets of paper with silver salts. It can still be done today, in your own darkroom. GPV Photography offers a step-by-step video to create the classic look:

The Salt Printing Process

1. Choose the photo you want to print.

2. Make any edits you want using your choice of editing software.

3. Print the image onto transparency film to produce a negative.

negative print

4. Prepare your paper (suggested: Bergger COT-320 pure cotton rag or similar) for printing, making sure the smooth side is up.

5. Pour a small amount of the salt solution (in this case, a 2% sodium chloride mix) into a cup.

6. Brush the salt solution onto the paper, coating it evenly.

salt print process

While you’re waiting for the paper to dry, put the negative into the exposure frame and prepare your darkroom. When you’re ready, continue with the next steps:

7. Pour a small amount of silver nitrate into a cup. Remember to be very careful when handling silver nitrate. Under safelight conditions, brush an even coating onto the paper. As the silver nitrate begins reacting with the sodium chloride, it will create silver chloride. Let it dry.

8. When dry, place the negative, ink-side down, on top of the paper and put it in the exposure frame.

9. Place the frame under a bright UV light source.

uv light source

10. Wash the print for a few minutes to remove excess silver.

11. Rinse for 30 seconds in a weak salt solution. Then wash again for about 10 minutes.

12. Transfer the print to another tray. Fill with gold chloride toning solution. Leave the print in the gold toner for at least 10 minutes to preserve silver print for posterity. Then wash the print again.

13. Fix the print in standard sodium thiosulfate fixer (hypo).

salt print in darkroom

14. After washing the print again (for at least 10 minutes), rinse it in a solution of sodium sulfite to better remove the fixer. Then… wash again!

15. Squeegee the print—front and back.

squeegee print photo

16. Hang the print to dry. It might look a little on the light-side right now, but it will dry darker. It will also change color when dry.

If you follow these steps, you can create your own amazing salt prints. You can always change up a few things, too, like how you prepare the image for the negative or float the paper in silver nitrate instead of brushing it on, to give it your own personal touch.

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