Evaluation: Printing on an Azo-like Emulsion

Discussion in 'Silver Gelatin Based Emulsion Making & Coating' started by Alex Hawley, Dec 15, 2006.

  1. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    A couple weeks ago, Ron Mowrey, aka Photo Engineer, was kind enough to send me several sheets of his hand-coated silver chloride contact printing papers. Knowing I had been an Azo printer, Ron was interested to see how I thought his contact printing emulsions compared to Azo. I say "had been an Azo printer" because Azo has been defunct for a year now. I still had about 35 sheets of grade 3 Azo which I had been hoarding and now I had some negs that I wanted to print on this last little bit. So a printing session with Azo dovetailed right in to a session testing an Azo-like emulsion with the same negatives and print processing.

    Ron's emulsion came in two grades, hard and soft. These were coated on three types of paper bases; baryta (traditional FB paper base), strathmore smooth, and watercolor. The actual sheet sizes were several inches larger each way than 8x10. This extra length and width is necessary to obtain the desired 8x10 emulsion coated area. Each sheet was marked showing wher the edges of the emulsion were. Due to the size of my printing frame, I had to trim each sheet, so the emulsion boundary marks ensured I got an entire 8x10 sheet of coated paper.

    Two negatives were selected for the trials (scans below). I had printed the Cola sign before on grade 3 Azo so its print parameters were known. It was also a good candidate because it contains a full range of tones from black to white, and it has good subject surface textures (bricks, mortar, concrete, glass windows). Thus, it would be the primary trial negative. I also made several Azo prints of it in this printing session. The other neg, Snokomo door, had not been printed on Azo before. My gameplan with it was to get a fine Azo print, make several of them, then try it on Ron's paper. Thus, for the two negatives, I established a reference print on Azo grade 3, ones that I would display in a gallery or sell, then proceeded to try each one with Ron's paper using both emulsion grades and the three paper bases.

    The print processing was done using the same solutions of developer, stop bath, fixer, toner, and hypo wash. The only departure I made from my usual Azo processing was using a hardening fixer. This was based on Ron's recommendation because he believed his emulsions were a little softer than the commercial products. I had a bag of Kodak Fixer available and that is what I used. Normally, I have used Ilford Rapid Fix. The developer was Michael A. Smith's Amidol formula (for Azo). Stop bath was my own home-brew using citric acid. Toning was three minutes in Kodak Rapid Selenium toner.

    Let's jump the bottom line: I was able to make good prints on these home-made emulsions using hand-coated paper bases. Some scans are attached below. Please do not read too much into the scans because they are just scans, not the actual prints. Because of the limited supply of the test paper and my basic unfamiliarity with its characteristics, I did not tweak the prints to the same state as the Azo prints. But, I have full confidence that they could get there on these emulsions.

    Now back to the technical nits. One surprise was the image emergence time and development time. In short, very fast. The emergence was about 2-3 seconds, and the total development time was 30 seconds. Azo G3 emerges in about 12 seconds and develops in 60 seconds using Smith's Amidol and other energetic developers. Ron believes this characteristic is due to a lack of keeping agent in the emulsion. Since these samples were all test sheets, he doesn't add the keeping agent due to its expense. Once I got past the initial surprise, I didn't have much of a problem with the rapid development time.

    The paper speed was 1-1/2 stops faster than Azo G3 for the soft grade, and about 2 stops faster for the hard grade. The speed was more in line with the "old" Azo.

    I thought the tonality of both grades was nearly identical to Azo, the "old" good-stuff Rochester Azo. This means "excellent". The baryta sheets were the closest of course. The strathmore and watercoler sheets could have been exposed a little less than I did because their surfaces reflect light differently than the glossy baryta base. My negatives worked best on the soft grade. I thought it was a joy to work with. The hard grade was a little more finicky, most likely because my negs really were more compatible to the soft grade. In short, the soft grade compared very favorably to the "old" grade 2 Azo, which is a whole lot better than that last batch of ruddy grade 2 was.

    As far as the different paper bases were concerned, I wasn't sure if I would like the watercolor base. It certainly needs to printed slightly differently than a baryta base. But after printing it, I can see good use for it, and I'm sure there are those who would really like it. The strathmore base gave a nice matt-surface texture. The baryta base was a traditional glossy fiber-base finish.

    Now for my plaintive plea. Isn't there someone out there that could put this emulsion into commercial production? It works! There are obvious quality control limits to making it and coating by hand. Photopaper coating is an area where machine processing ensures much higher quality than the home-brew can attain. I know it takes deep pockets to set up and run a coating facility, even a low-volume one. But its not technically difficult nor is it some "secret process". Where are the very wealthy Patrons of the Arts that could fund this and not even know they are losing the money? Where's the Guggenhein Foundation or the Gates Foundation? There's a market for this and more importantly, an art form that should be sustained. OK, no more soapbox.

    Will Alex start making his own contact printing paper? Not in the foreseeable future. I don't have the space in my house to devote to it. I believe one needs a dedicated area to (1) process the emulsion and (2) coat the paper in a relatively clean area to minimize defects. If I could devote some area to the facilities necessary, yes, I could do it.

    In summary, I was happy to perform these tests for Ron. He is on to something worthwhile with his emulsions. They work, and the contact printing emulsion compares very favorably to Azo in my opinion. My wish is that some bizillionaire would fund putting into comercial production so we could have a silver chloride contact printing paper available again. It may be very old technology and the market may be very small, but the prints still look better than any of the current papers.

    Scans: from left to right;
    Door, Strathmore, soft grade,
    Door, baryta, hard grade,
    Cola sign, strathmore, soft grade
     

    Attached Files:

  2. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Scans of the Azo prints made the same day as the prints above:
     

    Attached Files:

  3. skillian

    skillian Subscriber

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    Alex,

    Very interesting - thanks to you and Ron for sharing this. I'll take a 500 sheet box in both grades! (Seriously!)

    Best,

    Scott
     
  4. rorye

    rorye Subscriber

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    Thanks Ron and Alex! I don't have deep pockets, but I'd definitely buy this paper. This stuff is what I love about APUG!!!
     
  5. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    Very interesting - and very impressive, Alex and Ron! Looks like I need to sign up for Ron's workshop.
     
  6. User Removed

    User Removed Guest

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    I believe this was the point Michael Smith was at several months ago, with testing handcoated sheets of the Lodima paper. However, he is now way past that from what I hear, and already having samples of the real paper coated. You can make reference to his most recent posts for the current status of the paper.

    I think this is truly fantastic that PE created this emultion to coat paper with, but everyone still has to continue to support Michael and Paula for creating the real replacement for AZO still.
     
  7. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    Very impressive results from what is a lot of long hard work.

    Curt
     
  8. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    Ryan, I continue to support Michael and Paula's Lodima Project (I ordered a large quantity of their Lodima paper).

    I see Ron Mowrey's silver chloride paper emulsion research project and paper coating workshops as complimentary to (not in competition with) Michael and Paula's Lodima effort.
     
  9. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Ryan, competition will speed production, quality, availability and help the price. I don't really care if it is Michael Smith, J&C or PE (thanks Ron for your work in this direction and Alex for your work in this test) who comes to market with the paper. As long as it is a quality product, everyone wins. tim
     
  10. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Thanks for making this test, Alex. Do you see the 3-D effect in Ron's emulsion that we could get in Azo? My Azo prints mock my efforts on other papers.
    juan
     
  11. skillian

    skillian Subscriber

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    Nobody "has to continue to support" anybody - it's a choice that's up to each individual. I ordered two 500 sheet boxes of Lodima and give M&P all the credit in the world for having that paper made. Nobody wants to see them be successful more than me, but this doesn't make it the "real replacement for AZO" any more or less than Ron's solution or anything else that might come along. Azo is dead and buried - these new papers are something entirely different.

    I have no interest in hand coating my own paper, but I think it's pretty cool that somebody has taken the time and energy to develop a process and share it with the community here at APUG. It's nice to know that it's even possible to hand craft small batches of paper. Perhaps some enterprising soul will take it upon themselves to set up shop and begin offering various handcoated papers. The key is knowing that we have choices going into the future and that we don't have to be entirely dependent on th whims of large commercial manufacturers for materials.
     
  12. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I believe so jaun, on the baryta base. Less so on the other two bases.

    Pretty much my feelings too. The crying shame is that none of those deep-pocketed bizillionaires have any interest in this to support it. I know Michael Smith probably worked his guts out trying to get such support, but "those people" (quoting Robert E. Lee) would much rather throw a billion at a politician than a couple million on the likes of us. Must be something about the rate of return.
     
  13. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks for the interesting report, Alex! I think one of the most interesting things about Ron's emulsions is the possibility of coating them on a variety of surfaces and bases, aside from the feeling of independence one gets from not having to depend on the big manufacturers.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 16, 2006
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  15. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Guys;

    I have no intention of personally commercializing this product. If others want to, they may. I am not in competition with M&P in any way.

    Michaels results have been posted here and elsewhere. He is not there yet after a year or so of work according to the way I read it. I believe that he is getting results several stops faster than Azo (at its original speed???) and very much higher in contrast. That is as I remember his comments.

    There are other samples out there that may be reported here, and I will be making more for a few more people who have shown interest. I am no longer accepting requests though due to the workload. This took about 2 weeks just about full time to do. (I can go faster, but I tried to do it right, I can do it better, but I went faster than I probably should have even though this was a moderately slow speed.) In explanation of that, Alex observed some small bubble defects in some of the coatings. I can fix that either of 2 ways. One of them is to retouch the coating at the time it is originally coated, by using a brush wetted with dilute emulsion. A dot of emulsion fixes the bubbles. It slows me down even more.

    PE
     
  16. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I wanted to put this into its own reply.

    Many many thanks to Alex for his work on this. He has given an objective evaluation that he had to put a lot of effort into. This is what makes APUG great as well, the cooperative effort to make things better in the world of analog photography.

    My appreciation to Alex for his devotion to the art of analog photography and to the spirit of cooperation.

    Ron Mowrey
     
  17. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    re: bubbles in the emulsion. The problem is the surfactant in Ron's recipe. It is easily fixed by using PhotoFlo 600 (ethylene glycol (107-21-1), Octylphenoxypolyethoxyethanol). Absolutely foolproof. This is probably the unspecified second way Ron mentioned above, because it was included in my pepper-proof that I shared with him.
     
  18. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    That's quite the case David. Another alternative would be to produce the emulsion in a bottled liquid form, ala Liquid Emulsion. That would make coating more viable for me and I suspect many others.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 16, 2006
  19. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Denise;

    Yours would be a third way then. Sorry. I didn't want to mention that here.

    I use Photo Flo 200 for a specific reason. The ratios of the ingredients in Photo Flo 200 and 600 differ.

    I have another way that is working, but not fully developed right now. When ready, I will discuss it. It still gives some repellancy spots though, so I don't have the ingredients fully adjusted.

    There are several others waiting in the wings if this does not pan out though, so .... Keep tuned to this station.

    PE
     
  20. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    My estimated cost for 1 kg of the soft emulsion is about $100. It will coat about 90 sheets of 8x10. I'm still costing it out though. It keeps for at least 6 months in the refrigerator, but should not be melted over and over so it should be divided up into working batches of about 100 g. The user will have to add the surfactant and hardener of choice to the final mixture.

    That is what I have been able to come up with as a first cut. IDK who would be interested in buying the emulsion though. Its much more fun to make it from scratch.

    PE
     
  21. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    Ron,

    These threads of yours are very interesting to me. Many thanks to you and now to Alex also for following up on your research and more importantly for sharing it with us !!

    cheers
     
  22. donbga

    donbga Member

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    Perhaps Bud at PF would consider doing some special order kits to allow potential enthusiasts to test the water.
     
  23. Jerevan

    Jerevan Subscriber

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    Maybe doing a package: a bottle of emulsion with the coating blades, just to get people going with how to coat could be an idea?
     
  24. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    An Update: Printing on a Second Batch

    Here's an update to my original post. I had the opportunity to print on a second batch of the hand-coated paper. I got ten good prints, three on Strathmore base and seven on baryta base.

    All were made from the same negative, the Cola sign, one that I tested with originally. All of the paper was the soft grade.

    The results on this second batch were fully consistent with what I attained with the first batch. I was able to use the exact same exposure and development times. I think this is very significant because it shows a wholly acceptable level of consistency is attainable. Remember, this is home-brew emulsion and hand-coating.

    I printed most of the sheets with amidol using the MAS azo formula. As I reported earlier, the development in amidol was very fast. Emergence time is about three seconds, full development by thirty seconds. This takes some getting used to but since I knew what to expect this time, I was able to cope with it and get prints consistent with what I had done before.

    The last three sheets were developed in PF 130, 1:1 dilution. The emulsion behaved much better in this developer. Emergence was about seventeen seconds, full development by sixty seconds. Much easier to work with. And, I cannot see any discernible difference between the amidol prints and the PF 130 prints. Maybe someone with sharper eyes could see a difference, but I sure as heck can't.

    The bottom line is that this home-brew emulsion and hand-coated paper works and entirely consistent results can be attained from batch to batch. As with everything in photography, there is a learning curve involved with making emulsion and hand-coating. Ron is probably as experienced in doing it as anyone is. But I can tell you, this stuff works.
     
  25. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Salivating.
    juan
     
  26. rmazzullo

    rmazzullo Member

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    Hello Alex...

    Great news, and very encouraging. Fabulous results!

    Thanks,

    Bob Mazzullo