Making black, making white

There are many things to like about carbon transfer printing (and at least as many to dislike about it…). One of them is that essentially, you’re making the black and the white separately and then marry them when making the actual transfer. The black is the tissue, the white is the final support. Combined, they make for a continuous tone image. Pretty neat if you consider that they start out as pure black and pure white!

Yesterday, I ran out of decent tissue for 8×10″. I have some experimental tissue left over, poured on all sorts of support materials to see if they worked. They all do, to an extent, even 80gsm copier paper. But I splurged on a big pack of Yupo some time ago and it really is so convenient that I’m not going to bother with anything else for a while. Alright, I’ll keep pouring my 4×5″ tissues onto expired RA4 paper that I had lying around anyway. I actually like that even more than Yupo for tissue making. Well, long story short, it was time for another batch of tissue, and there were a few things I wanted to try out anyway, so I mixed up the following glop recipe:

  • Talens India ink: 1% w/v
  • Gelatin (generic technical grade): 8% w/v
  • Sugar: 5% w/v
  • Glycerin 86% solution (drugstore): 0.25%

Of course, another thing to like about carbon transfer is that you can make your materials out of stuff you pick up in supermarkets and stationary supplies stores.

Anyway, I made two batches of 500ml each, identical, which poured me 16 8×10″ tissues and 6 smaller 4×5″ tissues. My 8×10″ tissues are in fact only slightly larger than 8×10″; probably around 8.75″ x 11″ or so. I need to be careful to make them big enough, because the edges of the gelatin tissue don’t work particularly well. They tend to thin out and transfer/adhesion issues usually pop up if I try to expose tissues all the way to the edges. I hope that the addition of glycerin to this batch (first time I’m trying this) will help in maintaining good contact between the tissue and the negative during exposure even if the tissue is very dry.

So here’s the black:

Tissues everywhere! They tend to end up pretty much all over the place in the final stage of drying. I hang them to dry on a clothesline for the first 12-24 hours or so and usually then move them to various free spots around the top floor for the final stage.
Still curly, which depends a lot on relative humidity and of course glop recipe.

Now for the white, because coincidentally I also ran out of final supports. My favorite at the moment is Laurier etching paper from the Dutch manufacturer Schut. It’s a pure white (bleached) cotton rag paper, 250gsm, with a coarse but random texture on one side and a slightly finer texture on the other side. I use the finer side mostly, because it gives the nicest rendering of small details. It’s a very absorbent paper, which makes it less suitable for processes like Van Dyke etc.

I have been experimenting a bit with acrylic medium for sizing, it has given me staining problems in the highlights and some imperfect transfer issues and bubbles here and there. Also, I tend to get small shiny spots on the otherwise matte surface, which probably has to do with bubbles forming during application, for which I use a foam roller.

All considered, I like an old-fashioned gelatin coating best at this point, even though it’s a little more work. A 5% gelatin load works nicely, I find, and I prefer hardening with chrome alum (3ml of a 5% solution per 100ml of sizing solution) because the paper is ready for use directly after drying, and the gelatin still swells nicely which helps to make the transfer.

Out of 500ml of gelatin sizing, I got exactly 24 sheets, each sheet being ca. 25 x 28 cm (ca 10×11″), at around 25ml of sizing solution per sheet. This works out to ca. 1g of gelatin per sheet.

So now I’ve not only got the black in its final stage of drying, but also white strewn all over the place! Tonight I’ll be able to make the first print with the fresh materials, I wager. Not bad, a 24-hour turnaround.

Laundry day!

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