2018 Paradise Campfire printed on Hahnemühle Platinum Rag © Christina Z. Anderson
Today we share the research of Christina Z. Anderson on papers for palladium printing.
Why this research into these papers?
I have always loved research, which to me is a treasure hunt ending in understanding and wisdom. I also love to blab my discoveries with anyone who will listen. I never knew twenty years ago I would be a professor one day, but in retrospect it all makes perfect sense. My father used to say, “If you can’t explain Einstein’s special theory of relativity to a boy scout, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” My particular “voice” has been to translate my research into terms that will intrigue a college-level student. The bottom line is to catalyze creative growth in others, and if that means spending weeks testing papers—which for me is really fun—and that research will make someone’s creative life easier, it’s a win-win.
Paper for Palladium Printing by Christina Z. Anderson
Almost all papers nowadays are buffered with alkaline calcium carbonate to make them more archival. Alkalinity is not good for most alternative processes like salted paper, Vandyke brown, platinum/palladium, and cyanotype. This is true of cyanotype especially. Cyanotype will print dull blue gray and fade in the presence of alkalinity during processing and in storage.
When writing Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice I included an extensive paper chapter, sharing my results from testing 136 papers with the process. I wanted to differentiate the papers that worked “out of the box” versus those that needed acidifying or even eliminating. A 10% sulfamic acid paper presoak will remove the calcium carbonate in an alkaline paper, but it is an added processing step that many do not wish to do, especially when there are so many papers that don’t need it. Of the 136 papers tested, there were close to 100 “keeper” papers that printed right out of the box or worth the acidification.
In a semester-long palladium intensive class spring semester at Montana State University, one of the assignments was a paper testing unit. My thought was that that if a paper performed well with new cyanotype (Ware’s formula) it would be fine for palladium. New cyanotype will detect an unsavory alkaline paper a mile away.
We tested about ten different papers in the class, and I was quite surprised to find out that some papers that performed well for cyanotype did not for palladium and vice versa. With the palladium process it wasn’t only a question of alkalinity. Thus began another round of paper testing, this time with palladium. Luckily, I had saved at least one sheet of every paper I had tested for the cyanotype book.
With cyanotype chemistry costing pennies an 8˝ x 10˝ print, paper experimentation is half the fun with little risk. Not so with palladium. At $5 in palladium chemistry for the same size print the task was a bit daunting! I decided to “take one for the Gipper.” At the price of palladium today, the testing I completed would cost students $600 in chemistry alone so at the very least my students would financially benefit if I did the testing myself.
At the end of this next round of palladium paper testing, I modified my original misassumption that all new cyanotype papers and palladium papers are interchangeable. Palladium, although sensitive to buffered papers as is new cyanotype, is not nearly as sensitive (and not in storage either). Fifteen papers that required pre-acidification to work well with new cyanotype did fine with no pre-acidification in palladium. Nine papers that did not require pre-acidification for new cyanotype required it for palladium. I surmise other factors aside from alkalinity must be involved. Such things as paper absorption, paper sizing—kind and how much, and paper’s ability to retain humidity are some factors that come to mind. All in all, I narrowed it down to fewer papers suitable for palladium printing, which also came as a surprise.
All this paper goodness was just too fun not to share, hence this article. There is probably nothing in this article that will be news to an inveterate palladium printer. The information is more for the “layperson” palladium printer, one just getting into the process for the first time, or someone like myself who practices palladium printing as one of four or five processes of choice, not the process of choice. If palladium was my main process of choice, I would most likely stockpile just a few favorite papers for all my work (e.g. a cold press, hot press, and thin paper offering). Another reason to stockpile a well-performing paper is that changes in papermaking occur at the manufacturer level that are not shared with the public, and stockpiling avoids surprises, or disasters, when a paper is subtly (or not so subtly) changed without warning.
There are a few papers that are designed specifically for palladium printing: Hahnemühle Platinum Rag (HPR), Bergger Cot 320 gsm and 160 gsm, Arches Platine 300 gsm and 145 gsm, and Legion Revere Platinum (also Ruscombe Mill’s Herschel Platinotype, easy to buy in Europe but pricey to ship to the States). These papers are trouble free. I hazard a guess that platinum/palladium printers even use one of the top three: HPR, Cot 320, or Platine. If new to palladium printing, start with one of the papers mentioned above and get a handle on it before paper exploration. Then, when ready to explore other papers, purchase one sheet at a time of a new paper and test it. It’s not a huge financial commitment if the paper doesn’t pan out for your practice, climate, water supply, etc., as it did for mine.
There is a bit of paper snobbery in my recommendations. It is one thing to print cyanotype with abandon on all sorts of inexpensive papers: coffee filters, grocery bags, newspapers, or pad papers from big box stores. The chemistry is cheap! When using $5 worth of palladium chemistry per 8˝ x 10˝ print, the paper should be worth the chemistry—made with specified materials and to archival standards. Though I tested the cheaper big box store pad papers—and found a number didn’t print as well in palladium as they did in cyanotype—I eliminated them from the list. I am leery when a paper manufacturer doesn’t specify a paper’s content. I don’t know enough about conservation issues to say how long this or that print will last on this or that paper, so I play it safe and snobby. My guess is any paper will probably outlive us, but after that I hope our palladium prints won’t become a conservator’s nightmare should, perish the thought, we become famous one day. Thus all papers on the list have specified content of cotton, cotton rag, linen, esparto, bamboo, kozo, gampi, alpha cellulose, and sulphite (Wyndstone specifies recycled chemical wood which may or may not be the same as the other vellums which are 100% alpha cellulose).
How exciting it is to experience a new “keeper” paper, presenting rich, dark, bittersweet chocolate brown-blacks in the developer instead of mealy, dull, grainy brown! Not all good papers do this. For an unsuitably alkaline paper, the ~1% oxalic acid soak does wonders. Take a mere rounded tablespoon of oxalic acid and stir it into a liter of water. Soak paper in this for a couple minutes and hang to dry without rinsing. It’s a quick dip and dunk procedure. When you see a paper like Legion Coventry Rag go from unacceptable to awesome, all of a sudden an added oxalic bath step seems like no big deal. I have separated the papers that work out of the box from those that need this 1% oxalic acid soak in the lists below.
At the end of this article is a paper list with where to buy them online. I believe strongly in supporting your local art store, so first check if the paper in question is available locally. Next, buy from the companies that support us alt pro enthusiasts, e.g. Bostick & Sullivan and Freestyle for instance. I also do a lot of business with Talas and love them. I just found Acuity papers and the company has excellent personalized customer support. If I need to go Big Box, I love Dick Blick. Happy paper shopping!
Best of the best
Read no further if you could care less about paper experimentation. These are natural white, hot press, and 100% cotton papers made for platinum printing. I use HPR most for its more reasonable price, the ability to print front or back, and the exposure speed, scale, and color in both cyanotype and palladium.
- Hahnemühle Platinum Rag (HPR)
- Arches Platine 300 gsm
- Bergger Cot 320 gsm
- Legion Revere Platinum
Best of the best thin papers:
You can’t go wrong with the lightweight versions of Arches Platine and Bergger. They are thin but not too thin, and smooth as all get-out. If I were to choose one thin paper, it would be the Platine 145 gsm. However, Clearprint 1020H is half the price and bright white 100% cotton. Other favorites if a more textured paper is desired are St. Armand Old Masters in Frobisher White for a delicate eggshell-cold press textured choice; Twinrocker papers in T (text) or HT (heavy text) in May Linen or Cream; and Velke Losiny Prague for a beautifully bumpy, thinner cold press choice.
- Arches En Tout Cas: paper offers a two-for-one; one side is hot pressed, one side is eggshell textured. Creamy natural white, prints warm.
- Arches Platine 145 gsm: prints with a long tonal range and is delicate and smooth.
- Arches Text Wove: wonderful feel, very thin, slight cream color, eggshell-like, with a woven, fine grained, cold press surface.
- Bergger Cot 160: very similar to the Platin 145 gsm but slightly thicker in weight.
- Bienfang 360: tissue-thin but sturdy and solution does not soak through. It is 100% cotton but a bit lightweight for my tastes and dries a bit wavy. Clearprint 1020H is an equivalent lightweight cotton paper but a brighter, thicker, sturdier paper.
- Clearprint 1020HP: this prints smooth, sharp, bright white. Inexpensive for 100% cotton!
- St. Armand Papers: the watercolor papers are bright white and very textured for that handmade look. My favorite is Old Masters in Frobisher or Ivory, a thinner, crisp paper still with a beautiful handmade look but much less cold press texture.
- Twinrocker Papers: papers come in weights from TT (thin text) T (text), HT (heavy text) LA (light art, and A (art). TT is very thin. I recommend no thinner than HT and May Linen and Cream are my favorite colors. The names refer to the color of the paper. You can choose to have them calender one side so you have both a hot press and a cold press surface in one sheet; it only costs a bit extra.
- Velke Losiny Prague: Prague is thinner, softly bumpy, crisp and my favorite of the Velke Losiny offerings.
Washi/Thai/Asian papers that work well with no acidification:
My favorites are Awagami Gampi for its glossy look, Heavy Kozo for a cream fibrous choice, and Sumi-e for a sturdy washi.
- Awagami Platinum Gampi: a very glossy, unique, sturdy Japanese washi that does not soak through to the back when coating; expensive but worth it. Available from Freestyle Photo.
- Hahnemühle Sumi-e: natural white, smooth and fibrous surface, thirsty paper that must be coated with a brush and perhaps thin solution with 50% water, incredibly sturdy for a washi, you can hang it to dry! Student-friendly price compared to other washi and excellent protective packaging (paper is interleaved between sheets in a sturdy pad—don’t accidentally print on the interleaving paper as my students have!).
- Japanese Mulberry/Heavy Kozo: cream-colored paper, ever so slightly shiny on one side and the other is ever so slightly fibrous, thick for a washi, absorbent, remains flat through processing. Available from Bostick and Sullivan.
- Legion Masa: a bright white (too white?) machine made washi that has a smooth and a fibrous side. It’s a good “starter” washi for student use since it’s inexpensive, but it abrades easily. It prints well in palladium aside from the abrasion issue, but I prefer other thin, bright white papers, e.g. Clearprint 1020H.
- Legion Thai Kozo: thirsty paper, must be coated with a brush and perhaps thin the solution with 50% water, prints deep and dark. It looks like a typical washi.
Other papers that work well with no acidification:
Favorites: Rising Drawing Bristol in plate finish for an ultra-smooth sturdy, choice.
- Garza Papers: comes in sheets as well as beautiful notebook pads. They are cold press natural white papers, very soft, velvety and absorbent. I prefer Drawing to Ink/Pen.
- Khadi Papers: very natural looking, cold press, great for the handmade look with the deckle edges, different weights from quite delicate to thick.
- Legion Rising Drawing Bristol: the plate finish is the smoothest paper ever. Slightly cream in color and prints sharp.
- Magnani Acquerello Portofino: I am surprised this paper printed well in palladium because it printed splotchy and not so good in cyanotype.
- Ruscombe Mill Herschel Platinotype: a 100% linen paper with a textured flat pebbly surface, thin, very crisp and sturdy, pricey because of the linen. Hard to find in the States, though.
- St. Armand Papers: if you want cold press texture, this is the company.The watercolor papers are bright white and very textured for that handmade look.
- Twinrocker Papers: papers come in weights from TT (thin text) T (text), HT (heavy text) LA (light art, and A (art). My favorite is LA in May Linen or Cream. As said above, the names refer to the color of the paper; have them calender one side so you have the choice of both hot press and cold press.
- Velke Losiny papers: Moldau and Moravia are very sturdy, bright white, handmade papers, very textured cold press like St. Armand.
Vellum papers that work well with no acidification:
Vellum papers have a certain charm if transparency is important or if you are gold leafing under the print, a process that Dan Burkholder invented. Vidalon is the thinnest, very inexpensive and readily available in pads. Canson Opalux Vellum is sturdier but more stubborn to work with. Wyndstone is thicker than Vidalon, easier to work with than Opalux, but harder to locate. Pergamenata is not as transparent, more like a speckly, milky paper that is in a class by itself.
- Canson Vidalon Vellum
- Canson Opalux Vellum
- Wyndstone Vellum
Papers that work well with 1% oxalic acid:
This is a long list, but I can simplify it for you: if I did multiple processes, I would choose those papers that print well in multiple processes. If I only printed palladium I would gravitate toward papers that don’t require acidification as these do. That said, I do print multiple processes and do keep multiple papers stockpiled on hand from this list, three specifically: Fabriano Artistico because it is a great paper for gum printing which is one of my processes of choice; Hahnemühle William Turner which is a velvety mildly cold pressed choice that prints a deep bittersweet chocolate with excellent Dmax (a measurement of the darkest the dark will get); and Rives BFK 280 gsm because it is soft and velvety in feel and also prints deep chocolate brown.
- Arches Aquarelle: crisp, smooth, sharp paper; lots of gelatin size. It has a long tonal scale but the paper needs good technique to make it work; it can get splotchy when acidified.
- Arches Cover: this is a very soft, absorbent, slow paper that needs pre-acidification and perhaps more solution when coating to print well.
- Arches Johannot: I do like the velvety feel of the paper surface; it has some linen content.
- Bockingford: a very thick, sturdy paper with a cold press surface, available in a nice assortment of colors. When acidified, I see why people like this paper. Great Dmax and sharpness for a cold pressed paper. It handles a bit “posterboard-y” for my tastes.
- Canson Edition Etching: fast paper in exposure, smooth, creamy white, textured, but it needs acidification and it can print splotchy if not careful. Although it is often sold for alt it is not my favorite. I would prefer Canson Heritage.
- Canson Heritage: Nice velvety texture. When acidified it prints dark and rich but it also prints a bit speckly so if I had to choose between this and Winsor Newton I would choose WC which printed darker, cooler, and smoother.
- Fabriano Artistico: now I understand why people would take the time to acidify this paper. It looks great with palladium, smooth, dark, and sharp. Of the Fabriano offerings listed here, this would be my first choice.
- Fabriano Rosapina: Acidified it printed beautifully but it does abrade easily so watch rubbing the surface with anything too hard, even the brush! It had a deep Dmax in the high 1.40s.
- Fabriano Tiepolo: smooth and warm colored, worked great acidified.
- Fabriano Unica: a nicely textured paper, smooth and bumpy at the same time. The color is a peachish-ivory. When acidified it prints smooth and dark.
- Hahnemühle Bamboo: ever so slightly cream colored with an alluring pebbly texture. Hahnemühle Bamboo works fine if acidified but there are other Hahnemühle offerings I would choose before this: Platinum Rag first which doesn’t need acidifying, William Turner second which is gorgeous but does need acidifying and offers a minimally cold pressed texture.
- Hahnemühle Cezanne: this is a nice paper, sort of eggshell-textured. Color of the paper is slightly cream. Ditto above.
- Hahnemühle Lanaquarelle: works fine if acidified, ditto above, but more readily available than Cézanne or Bamboo.
- Hahnemühle William Turner: a white paper with a soft, pebbly texture not quite cold pressed but not smooth. Velvety in feel. Clears rapidly. Prints a beautiful deep dark with a Dmax in the high 1.40s. I wish this paper came unbuffered to give us a cold press/textured offering in the “papers for platinum” category.
- Indigo 100% cotton: very textured, with a distinct woven pattern, cream colored, a good choice when you want a handmade look. When acidified it prints a beautifully nubby dark chocolate.
- Legion Bamboo: This comes in 105, 265, and 530 gsm. The 105 is too light to acidify well (and the paper needs acidifying) but the 265 gsm is a perfect weight. Do not buy the 530 gsm; too thick, like posterboard. The paper prints smooth with a slight pebble texture. For an eco-friendly paper acidified it is a good choice like Stonehenge.
- Legion Coventry Rag: the paper is quite absorbent to solution. It clears fast. Slower and higher contrast than other papers.
- Legion Domestic Etching: a slow paper but the color is a nice yellow-cream and the texture is a very fine, like eggshell, so the paper has potential.
- Legion Lenox 100: good price but Lenox’s tendency is to rip off at the corners so it would not be my first choice of paper—I would choose Stonehenge—but I like the smooth surface and the cream color.
- Legion Stonehenge, Stonehenge Aqua, Stonehenge Colors: a very smooth, slightly textured paper. Acidified I can see why people use this paper for the price and the quality. The Aqua is harder sized and comes in pads. Colors gives color choices and comes in pads.
- Magnani Pescia: when acidified it prints nicely dark but watch abrading the surface as the paper fibers rub off the top leaving scuff marks.
- Magnani Revere Book 175 gsm: prints well in both palladium and cyanotype and has a beautiful eggshell texture and bright, cream color.
- Rives BFK 280 gsm: this paper has a feltlike softness and excellent wet strength. Acidified it prints fast and dark and smooth. Of the Rives papers listed here, it would be my first choice.
- Rives BFK Heavyweight 175 gsm: even though labeled “heavyweight” this paper is thinner than Rives BFK 280 gsm. Nice cream color and velvety feel.
- Rives de Lin: Rives de Lin acidified prints great. Handle carefully because it slightly abrades, barely imperceptible speckles.
- Rives Lightweight 115 gsm: this paper has a soft, velvety feel and an absorbent surface, and works well acidified, but I would choose Rives BFK.
- Ruscombe Mill Chateau Vellum: this is a pricey 100% linen paper, smoother, crisper, eggshell-like, finer grained than Herschel (which does not need acidification, though). It prints a cold black and warm midtones/highlights. More available in the States than Herschel.
- Saunders Waterford: I printed on sulfamic acidified Waterford and it was the coldest black of any paper printed to date. A real keeper. The black brown contrasts nicely with the ivory color of the paper.
- Schut Noblesse: acidified, prints dark and smooth and warm, but not so readily found in the States. Comes in pads, too. It is externally gelatin sized.
- Somerset Satin: the light texture, not quite cold pressed, is a nice choice to have. When acidified it prints deep and dark and smooth.
- Strathmore 500 Bristol: this is one of two Strathmore papers I find acceptable. It is ultra-smooth and conveniently comes in pads, readily available.
- Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor: this prints a beautiful dark chocolate, and this and the Bristol are both keepers. For some reason I have no luck with most Strathmore papers, whether their mixed fiber content or the sizing or alkalinity, but this one when acidified with 1% oxalic is gorgeous. Cold pressed, very white.
- Winsor Newton Watercolor: this paper rocks when acidified, deep dark chocolate and I prefer it to the Canson Edition or Heritage papers.
Papers and the links to purchase them.
Best of the Best
Best Thin Papers
Washi/Thai/Asian papers that work well with no acidification.
Awagami Platinum Gampi
Japanese Mulberry/Heavy Kozo
Bostick & Sullivan
Other papers that work well with no acidification.
Ruscombe Mill Herschel Platinotype
Vellum papers that work well with no acidification.
Papers that work well with 1% oxalic acid.
About Christina Z. Anderson
Christina Z. Anderson’s work focuses on the family snapshot, gender identity, the altered landscape, and the contemporary vanitas printed in a variety of 19th century photographic processes, primarily gum and casein bichromate, salted paper, cyanotype, platinum, and mordançage. Anderson’s work has shown internationally in 110+ shows and 40+ publications. Anderson has authored books which have sold in 40 countries—The Experimental Photography Workbook, Gum Printing and Other Amazing Contact Printing Processes, Gum Printing, A Step by Step Manual Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice, Salted Paper Printing, A Step-by-Step Manual Highlighting Contemporary Artists, and her newest release Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice; also Handcrafted: The Art and Practice of the Handmade Print co-authored with Sam Wang, Zhong Jianming, Sandy King. Anderson is Series Editor for Focal Press/Routledge’s newly-formed Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography series. Anderson is Professor of Photography at Montana State University where she teaches the experimental black & white darkroom and alternative processes.
Christina Z. Anderson
Thank you Christina for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about Christina Anderson please visit her page at Christina Z. Anderson.
Christina, thank you so much for posting and sharing your exhaustive discoveries! I have always thought that paper was the weak link in Pt/Pd printing. Even when paper mills present their new papers they change everything without declaring and we are on the chase down again to make it work. I remember the old Fabriano Artistic 300 gsm that was just beautiful to work on and then without notice, they changed everything leaving printmakers to start another journey and testing even sometimes with a little voodoo thrown in to find a paper that balances all your requirements.
Pt/Pd printmakers are now fortunate with latest papers that you put into your Best of the Best summary and I agree with your four papers of Hanna, New Platine 300 gsm Cot320 and Legion. In the thin papers this new Platine140 gsm is in my world and for the right project is just wonderful. It is extremely thin but the detail and as you said the tonal range is remarkable. There is one paper you mentioned that needs acidification before printing and that is Rives BFK 280 gsm. The texture is felt like, hard to clear. I believe this is because the paper was designed for traditional gravure where they presoak the paper and then put it into blotter paper overnight so that it is supple as it is being pulled through the press for the ink transfer and plate embossment. But with the right image in Pt/Pd well worth the effort to view the final image on such a lovely felt paper texture. Once again thank you for all your hard work and sharing!Stan Klimek
I found this information very helpful and I do not print in any of the processes you discuss. Still, it gives me options for my carbon transfer printing. Thanks for all of this work.