Spotone and spit.
I have extremely poor fine motor skills. Think the pens might be less fiddly for me than a teeny brush and dyes?
Forget "kits". Purchase a fine artists watercolor brush. I have a collection that I've collected at art store sales. #5/0 is the most useful, but broader brushes are sometimes useful.
I use Spotone, but it is no longer made. Marshall's offers a set of dyes that are just as good.
Spotting dyes usually come in a set of six colors - you generally only need the neutral and slightly warm colors. Mix the dyes in minute quantities using an eyedropper - a bottle of dye will last a very long time (my Spotone bottles are over 30 years old). But don't get too hung up on matching colors - the major objective of spotting is to 'minimize local contrast' according to David Vestal. The objective is to make the white spots less white compared with the gray areas around them.
I mix a few drops of dye on a white plastic palette - you can buy small white plastic dishes in art supply stores that are perfect for this. I use a white plastic container that formerly held makeup. Vestal uses a china saucer that he bought at a garage sale. Let the drops dry. Then, use a brush moistened in distilled water with a drop of photoflo to pick up some of the dried dye. Smear that bit of dye on another spot in the palette to make a gray spot. Repeat this process to generate a range of gray smears from very faint to slightly grayer than black. These smears can be used many times, and can be renewed as needed.
Use magnifiers (cheap drugstore reading glasses work just fine) to examine the print carefully with strong light. Examine a spot, and note the shade of gray that surrounds it - pick up a bit of dye using your moistened brush in a shade that is slightly whiter than the surrounding gray, and with a stippling effect, apply a series of dots of dye in the spot. If your light is directional, you can use the shadow of the brush to help you get the tip of the brush exactly where you want it to be in the spot - just bring the tip of the brush together with the shadow of the tip on the spot you are trying to correct. If you use a dye smear that is slightly lighter than the surrounding gray, then you can simply progressively add more spots until the spotted dye is dark enough.
Apply dye until it becomes difficult to differentiate between the spot and the surrounding gray when viewed under bright light and with your magnifiers. Then, when you look at the print with normal light and without magnifiers, the spot will no longer be obvious. Again - the objective is to reduce local contrast so that the bright white spot doesn't stand out.
To steady your brush hand, rest it on the print, using a piece of paper towel to protect the print from oils from your hand. Have a second paper towel that you hold in your other hand and use as a blotter.
Spotting is tedious, but it causes you to get up close and personal with your print. Frankly, sometimes the challenge is to know when to stop - - - you really don't need to spot the white spaces between the silver grains making up the image.
Charles, I think you could do some serious spotting with either a pen type thingy or a brush and the liquid Spotone type of product. You just need to fabricate a small spotting aid.
Take a flat piece of timber, say 75mm high by 15mm deep and 600mm long. At each end add a small spacer underneath, say 75mm high by 15mm deep by 50mm long, these are the feet. Attach some felt or something like that to the bottom of the feet, this aids in lessening scratches on your desk, or glass, or whatever.
The idea is to have your print flat, then you place your timber just above the area you need to spot, ensuring you straddle the print. You rest your hand on the timber, within reason, you should to be able to comfortably spot to the best of your ability.
I cannot tell you how easier it is with something like this, the effect is similar to using a tripod with your camera.
The sad this is I just got done spotting prints for class. Freestyle also sells a sheet of spotting dyes that works fine. The recommendation about the 5/0 brush is a good one. Make sure to "spot" not brush the imperfection. Also like mentioned let it dry before dabbing more dye. Another recommendation that I found is a little goes a long way. Don't try to do the whole picture in one sitting. Yes it is a pain and frustrating but you will get over it One last item, block your print with a piece of white paper so you can use the paper to get your tint/tone to where you need it to be before applying it to your print. Match it then apply it. Like Louie said "the objective is to reduce local contrast so that the bright white spot doesn't stand out".
I might be in the minority here, but I actually find spotting prints to be a relaxing, almost therapeutic activity. In fact, sometimes I'll get a really bad print out of my discard boxes (which I never actually discard :rolleyes: ) and spend a half hour spotting happily away. As others have said, it is really easy to over do it. I prefer just to diminish the glaring white of dust specks rather than totally eliminate them. After awhile, you get a feeling for how much is enough, and learn to stop before you've made a mess of your print.
I usually spot my print upside down... the print upside down, not me! It stops you looking at the picture and lets you concentrate on the tones. Once I'm happy, I give it to the Mrs and see if she can pick my work or any others that need doing. I use an ice cube tray (small half sphere 'cubes') as my mixing palette. Same as everyone, I let it dry and work from that.
I haven't done much spotting, but when I have I've used India ink. I read that Weston used this (as mentioned above by Ralph). Disguising rather than correcting is the approach to use...
I'll have to look into the gum arabic, though...come to think of it there might be something in Ansel's book, The Print, if I recall...