The following is a 21 step guide to albumen printing
that I have prepared. This is in no way a complete guide as there are many variations on
formulas and technique.
21 Easy Steps To Albumen Printing
by Mike Robinson
Preparing the Albumen
- Get some eggs. To Make 500 mL of albumen which is enough to double coat about 50, 9 X 12
inch sheets of paper you need approximately 15 extra large eggs (if you're clumsy get two
- Separate the eggs. Start with a small dish. Be careful not to let any stringy bits get
into the egg white. If any yoke gets into the dish, don't use it. Pick out the debris and
pour the egg white into a larger container. When you have 500 mL of egg white stop.
- Add to the egg, white 2 mL of 28% acetic acid, 15 mL of distilled water, and 15 g
- Stir, Stir, Stir, Stir until the albumen has been converted to a froth. Use a bundle of
quill pens to be authentic. One hour of stirring with an electric mixer is ok if your
can't find the pens.
- Let the albumen mixture settle, covered in a refrigerator for 24 hours. Then remove the
froth that has collected on top. Filter the albumen through cheesecloth and let it age at
least a week. The older it gets the better.
Coating the Paper
- Get some paper. Clear Print Drafting Vellum or Strathmore Artist Drawing - Plate Finish
are good choices for coating. The vellum is easier to handle when coating but the
Strathmore is sized better. I suggest you practice coating with the vellum and switch to
the better paper when you get the hang of it. Double coating yields glossier prints with
more even coating and greater density but it is more difficult to do.
- Pour the albumen through a filter into a glass baking dish, (Pyrex 10.5 X 15 X 2
inches). Float the paper on the albumen surface. Don't get any albumen on the back of the
paper, it will print uneven density in that area.
Check for air bubbles (break them
with a glass rod or plastic toothpick).
If all bubbles are gone, start the timer and float the paper for three minutes. With a
smooth and steady motion pick the paper up out of the tray starting from one corner. Hang
it up along the long side. Blot off the excess as it dries to avoid a thick edge.
- (For Double coated papers only) Immerse the paper in 70% isopropyl alcohol with 3 %
ammonium chloride added for about 15 seconds. This hardens the albumen for the second
coat. If you don't do this, don't bother double coating because the albumen will wash off
in the second floating.
- Refloat the paper a second time. Hang it up from the opposite two corners this time for
even results. Blot off the excess along the bottom edge. Its better to sensitize as soon
as its dry, however the albumenized paper will keep well if you sensitize later.
- Safe light tungsten. It's nice to be able to work with the lights on! Avoid fluorescent
light. Mix 37.5 g of silver nitrate with 250 mL distilled water. This makes a 15%
solution. Silver nitrate solution is not light sensitive until it comes in contact with
organic material, such as salted albumen or human skin. Wear surgical gloves and eye
protection! Silver Nitrate splashed in eyes will cause permanent damage!
- Pour the sensitizer into a glass tray. Float the albumenized paper on the solution for
three minutes after checking for air bubbles. Slowly peel the paper off the surface and
hang to dry.
- Print as soon as the paper is dry. You can expect to loose about 2 stops maximum density
and speed if you wait until the next day. If you wait longer than that you'll have to
resort to citric acid preservatives and ammonia fuming to restore speed and contrast. I
doubt it's worth the effort.
- Find some sunshine on a warm day if you can. A high UV light source is needed if you
print indoors. Put a suitable negative of about 2.20 density range in contact with the
paper. Use a hinged back frame so you can check exposure without disturbing registration.
Print until the shadows are just staring to "bronze". This means you've reached
maximum density. If the negative is thin, print until the highlights are about 1 to 1.5
stops too dark. The print lightens up during processing.
- Wash the print to remove excess silver nitrate. The wash water turns milky when it
reacts to the silver. After about 10 minutes the wash water should be clear.
- Toning. This is expensive. Untoned prints are reddish in colour. Gold toned prints have
a pleasing purple brown colour. There are many formulas available. I've tried Borax and
sodium thiocyanate formulas and prefer the Borax toner. It tones faster and used less
gold. Mix 40 mL of Berg Gold Protective Toner (Part A only) with 250 mL of distilled water
to make a solution. Add 2.5 g of Borax and stir until dissolved. Tone by inspection.
(approximately 6 minutes) Overtoned prints will be a slate gray in colour .
- Fix. Add 200g Sodium Thiosulphate (anhydrous) to 1L of distilled water to make a simple
- Hypo Clear for three minutes.
- Wash for at least 1/2 hour.
- Squeegee dry and hang up or blot dry under weight. Albumen paper is very curly and
should be mounted according to conservator's procedures. You can store the print in mylar
sleeves with a mat board of the same size for support.
The main source for this information has been
The Albumen and Salted Paper Book:
The History and Practice of Photographic Printing
James M. Reilly
Rochester, NY 1980.
ISBN 0-87992-014-9 paperbound
ISBN 0-87992-020-3 cloth binding
Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints
James M. Reilly
Eastman Kodak Company
Kodak Publication No. G-2S
CAT No 160 7787
Fundamentals of Photograph Conservation: A Study Guide
K. B. Hendriks, B. Thurgood, J. Iraci, B. Lesser, G. Hill
Lugus Productions Ltd.
For further information on the process and workshops contact
phone: (416) 926-8181
e-mail: Mike Robinson