Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A beginner's view of lith printing

As you may know, I've been doing some lith work recently.  It's proving interesting but there are a lot of variables which I'm trying to get to grips with.

I'm using Moersch's EasyLith developer - basically, this is lith developer for beginners.  There's an A and a B solution and you decide what proportion you want of each and dilute it heavily with water.  1:15 to 1:50 is suggested, which is quite a big range - so for example, 1:25 would mean 20ml A + 20ml B + 1000ml water.  Higher dilution means stronger exposure, longer development times and softer/more colourful highlights.  Lower dilution for less exposure which leads to more contrast in the print, less colour and undeveloped mid-tones. To start with the negative is heavily overexposed, by 2 to 4 stops.  The development stage then takes anything from 5 to 15 minutes and while it is very slow to get going, once the print reaches a certain point you get what is termed 'infectious development' and the shadows turn black quickly.  If you don't snatch the print from the developer at this point, the next shadow zone also turns black and any detail there will be lost.  So although you are stopping development before the midtones and highlights have fully appeared, if all is well these will spring to life in the fix.  This is completely different to the usual fix stage for conventional printing, where nothing visible happens at all  - everything has taken place in the developer.

One corollary of all that is that since you need to be able to see the print progress in the developer, you need to ensure that your safelight is indeed safe over the long period of time that the print will be in the developer.  Some people prefer to use a safelight torch which they use to check progress intermittently, rather than leave their main safelight on the whole time.

At first glance, lith developing seems like a black art - there are seemingly hundreds of different methods and while not all papers react to lith developers the ones that do would appear to have their own individuality with regard to how the finished print looks.  I read around the subject a bit but like all things in life there comes a point where you just have to get your hands dirty (or wet, in this case) and try it out for yourself - in my case with Foma MG 131 paper.

What can you expect from the process?  Ideally deep blacks, colourful mid-tones, white highlights and a print that looks very different to conventional printing.  It's early days but I have to admit it is a bit addictive.  Toning can add another dimension and again there are a hundred different variations, from the usual selenium to copper, gold, carbon - you name it.  You can re-bleach a conventional print and lith develop it, you can have a two-bath lith development process (with differing proportions of the magic potions), the list seems to be endless.

The two things that keep me awake at night (well, not really, but you know what I mean) are predictability and repeatability.  Like most things, predictability comes with a mix of knowledge and experience - if I have in mind how I would like my print to look, then what do I need to do in order to get there?  Sure, sometimes you get side-tracked in the darkroom and end up with something different to what you envisaged - usually that's a good thing.  Repeatability is always harder to get right in the darkroom, in my experience.  Even in conventional printing, if I get to a certain stage and then up-sticks for the night, the following day I never seem to be able to pick up from where I left off.

Enough talking - here's a scan of a print:

St Thomas' Church, Rathlin Island 2016
Maybe not a typical example of a lith print (if such a thing exists) but certainly very different from a conventional print of the negative.  Decent contrast and there is probably more colour in the print highlights than appears on this scan (at least on my monitor).   Now I probably should have been happy with this and moved on but no, the day after I went back to tweak things little here and there and make a larger print for the wall.  Let's just say the repeatability gremlins followed me around that day and things didn't work out as I expected.  I'll say more about that next time.


  1. OK! Thanks a lot for that one post, Michael.
    Addictive, huh? Not exactly what I seem to need right now to be honest, but I feel like I just need to get home and see if I got any lithable papers around the house somewhere.
    I just checked my norwegian online chemicals pusher, but they were out of lith printing stuff. They might be just that the next year for all I know, so I might need to put in an order from over the sea at some point. Have you tried other stuff than the Moersch Easy Lith thing, or would it be more or less the same goo in a different package you think?
    And since things obviously really seem to happen during the fixing stage, are we talking about some magic fix here or is any old normal fix just as good as anything else?
    As you might understand, this is untread grounds for me. Hope to give it a go some day. Would be real fun, as you seem to get someting out of it even though the whole process seem to live it's own life when it comes to repeatability and things like that. I've seen younger people than you saying the same thing, by the way.
    At least my hair turned gray years ago anyway, so I don't mind a bit of hassle with the old lith process... I think.

    1. Huh, so you still have hair, Roy? Lucky you...mine went south a long time ago :)

      Yeh, I know it's maybe beginner's infatuation and all that, but I'm liking the lith thing a lot. Perhaps it's the fact that there seem to be a boundless number of endpoints you can get to from one negative, depending on what route you choose to do down. Well, that's the way it seems to me at the minute, when I don't really know what I'm doing. Of course you can just do something and admire the outcome, however it turns out, but maybe sometime in the future I'll be able to look at a neg and think, 'Ah yes, I want that to go *there*' and then execute the process appropriately. But that's a long way down the line. For now, all I know it's a great way to play and have a helluva lot of fun.

      Fotospeed do a lith kit too - I haven't used it, but Bob Carnie uses it, so it must be good. Check out the Moersch website - there's a ton of information and some lovely example work there. Moersch do a big line in toning chemicals, too, by the way. They are going to be getting some of my UK pounds soon, converted at a horrible rate to Euros, that is :(

      Just normal fixer is fine - I use Ilford Rapid Fix 1+9.

      I'll say more about papers in the next post. We have some stuff going on here tomorrow, local elections and all that, but I hope to get the next post out soon, since I'm on a roll with this thing.

      Norwegian online chemicals pusher is a great turn of phrase - hopefully the web-bots can distinguish context between one form of chemical pusher and another ;)

  2. Haha, Michael. These days I actually find it a lot more convenient to just shave the top of my head instead of having to look at the more or less constant degrading of the situation up there.

    The best norwegian place to go looking for film and stuff will usually be a company called Fotoimport. They got a decent line of products for guys like me, but everything is not in stock all of the time. They seem to have had Fotospeed's lith kit in at some point, but they're out of it right now. I might just pick up the phone some day soon to check when they might get it on the top of their shelves again.

    Been out of blogland for a few days since I came back home, but you may read about it in the usual place some time soon :)

    I really love these lith posts!! And great examples and prints go with them as well, as expected.

    1. Thanks Roy always appreciate you taking the time to stop by and comment so constructively.