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  1. #1
    Photo Engineer's Avatar
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    Emulsion making options and costs

    Well, after some lengthy darkroom work, I can lay out some basic parameters for those interested in getting into the field gently or go all the way.

    First, the basic emulsion making can be done with a beaker, hotplate and syringe and the coating can be done with a paintbrush or a coating blade. Costs for this entry level are about $1000 or so. This is the low end and you can make the Azo paper, the Brovira-Kodabromide hybrid, or the ISO 40 ortho emulsion.

    Adding on to this, you may want to make and coat pancrhomatic emulsions and this will involve another $500 - $1000 for sensitizing dyes and IR goggles and safelights.

    Going a step further though involves pumped silver and salt, UF wash and other tricks to get into the ISO 100+ speeds or more esoteric paper emulsions involving cubic or octahedral chloro-bromide or chloro-iodide emulsions. This is what I will address here.

    A basic peristaltic pum such as a Masterflex pump will run about $1200. The heads (and you may need 2 or 4 depending on flow rate range) will run about $200 - $300 each. If you go for the diaphragm head it will run about $500.

    This allows you to make monodisperse, high contrast, high speed emulsions or any of the modern types.

    Since they need to be washed, you need a UF unit. This I don't have working yet, but it is clear to me that you need a high pressure pump and a good cleaning system. You can go with either a plate and frame UF unit or a spiral wound UF unit. The cost of these runs between $200 and $1000 for a lab scale unit without pump. The Masterflex pump above may not be able to handle this.

    You will need tygon tubing for the peristaltic pump and pvc tubing for the diaphragm pump and for the UF unit due to the temperatures and pressures involved.

    So, a high end lab for high speed emulsions will run an addition $2000 - $3000 to set up.

    To do the hand coatings, only the blade will allow you to coat paper, film and glass at widths from 4" to 16" with near production quality. I know that some will argue this, but I ask you not to argue until you have actually tried to get 90%+ yield on a 16" wide sheet of film or paper without a blade.

    Now, the other alternative is Jim Browning's coater. Having used that, and having produced a perfect 30x40 film sheet on the first try, I know that works as well but at about 10x the price. You can also coat paper on it, but it took Jim and me about 2 days to figure out the settings on the machine to do that.

    So, there is a low cost and a high cost method of getting good cotaing quality.

    This post puts everything in one place for planning that portion of the book and DVD. Comments are needed.

    Thanks.

    PE
    Last edited by Photo Engineer; 04-04-2008 at 01:02 PM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: spelling and syntax

  2. #2

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    Hello Ron,

    While chemicals like silver nitrate and additives can be pricey and may also fluctuate in price, I was surprised to find that (good quality) paper is a substantial cost. For the home coater, the paper itself can be a substantial portion of what good quality off-the-shelf enlarging or contact paper would cost. I know that three of the goals here are developing skills and capacity for the day when commercial products disappear (already an issue), getting control of the product to do exactly what one wants for artistic reasons, and the satisfaction of doing it oneself. The reason I mention the paper, is that one needs a good coating method (for me a blade) or the cost of duds can soak up a lot of expensive paper quickly. While one can practice on cheap paper, the type of paper (baryta, etc.) makes quite a difference to the "feel" of the coating process. Also, I would say that one could get into this for somewhat less by buying surplus equipment, but in fact I think your estimates are fairly conservative. I have invested a lot more, but some of that represents the stockpiling of materials that I may not use in any volume for some years and the fact that shipping is rather expensive for me.

    Since people often acquire these things a bit at a time or have some things on hand, the start up costs are not always obvious.

    Furthermore, Melinex isn't cheap either, but at least it is available, for the time being.

    Cheers,
    Clarence

  3. #3
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    Clarence;

    I agree. That is why I use rather inexpensive Strathmore papers which give quite good quality with a warm ivory tone and a matte surface. It is also why I coat a lot on glass. This saves a lot of money.

    I believe that some of the circulating samples of my work by Alex Hawley may be on Strathmore and Baryta both.

    PE

  4. #4
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    Hi Ron,

    I was under the impression that wider blades were problematic in milling. If I can get a 16" blade to coat 11 x 14 that would be of interest to me. The cost of the blade wasn't mentioned above.

    chris

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    Ron:

    As much as it pains me to argue with you in public, I can't let your assertions about the cost of getting started go unchallenged. Please go here for an alternative path. http://www.thelightfarm.com/Map/KitchenLab/MapTopic.htm

    Also, although I am very fond of your 4 inch blade, there are affordable and very satisfactory alternatives to a blade for coating. Please see here:http://www.thelightfarm.com/Map/Pape...g/MapTopic.htm

    The glass emulsion wells will be available within 10 days for $100.

    I would sincerely request of anyone who is interested in getting started making emulsions to just give it a go. Start small, start simple. It's very affordable compared to good commercial b&w paper and downright "free" compared to Epson ink cartridges and fine art inkjet paper. I understand the siren call of mechanization. That can come in steps, large or small. But, first make an emulsion. Cost it on some paper. Expose it under a light bulb with a stopwatch. You'll be hooked. Share your discoveries here and/or on The Light Farm. The more hands, hearts, and brains approaching this topic, the faster and better it will grow. A few years from now, it will be as accepted to make your own silver gelatin paper as it is to coat Pt/Pd. Those of you who remember when The Keepers of Light was first published, will know implicitly that I speak truth.

    From the Emulsion Makers pulpit,
    Denise

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by chrisf View Post
    Hi Ron,

    I was under the impression that wider blades were problematic in milling. If I can get a 16" blade to coat 11 x 14 that would be of interest to me. The cost of the blade wasn't mentioned above.

    chris
    Chris;

    Yes it is a problem and the single 16" blade needs resurfaced.

    PE

  7. #7
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    Denise;

    Of course there are many ways to coat and many things to coat on. I would be a fool to say otherwise. But if you stack up all of the costs you have put in to making emulsions - minus any of my blades, you would be in the $500 - $1000 range I suspect. But there is a broad price range. Just as Clarence pointed out, the paper itself is a large part of the cost. If you use Strathmore, you drop the price quite a bit, but the desirability of the product is lower to some people.

    Also, for quality, we tried many hand coating method including glass rods with rubber bands and a lot more to prove that in the long run a coating blade is best for maximum quality and maximum coated area on a given sheet. I might also add that it minimizes emulsion wast and so I can say that I use 6 ml to coat with a 4" blade and I mean 6 ml! I have seen, by count, more than 4 different methods used at EK, and the blade is the best.

    But, I cannot disagree with you in what you say due to the huge range of prices.

    PE

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Photo Engineer View Post
    Denise;

    Of course there are many ways to coat and many things to coat on. I would be a fool to say otherwise. But if you stack up all of the costs you have put in to making emulsions - minus any of my blades, you would be in the $500 - $1000 range I suspect. But there is a broad price range. Just as Clarence pointed out, the paper itself is a large part of the cost. If you use Strathmore, you drop the price quite a bit, but the desirability of the product is lower to some people.

    Also, for quality, we tried many hand coating method including glass rods with rubber bands and a lot more to prove that in the long run a coating blade is best for maximum quality and maximum coated area on a given sheet. I might also add that it minimizes emulsion wast and so I can say that I use 6 ml to coat with a 4" blade and I mean 6 ml! I have seen, by count, more than 4 different methods used at EK, and the blade is the best.

    But, I cannot disagree with you in what you say due to the huge range of prices.

    PE
    Well, I feel a little silly arguing in a vacuum. I'm the only person who has tried all of the above mentioned coating techniques. I'll give you one: rubber bands on a glass rod sucks. The rubber catches and drags.

    Short of an Iron Emulsionmaker Contest, someone besides the two of us need to do some comparison tests. I'm having an Open Studio on May 24 and I'll have the participants coat with a 4 inch blade, an 8 inch blade, and an emulsion well with puddle pusher, in addition to wet-coating with just a puddle pusher. That way we can get some feedback that transcends opinion.

    My hope, of course, is that there turns out to be many equally fine ways to coat, including ones that you and I (and Kodak) haven't even thought of, and that folks can choose the best economics and ergonomics for their individual needs.

  9. #9
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    Ron,

    Thank you for outlining some of the options and what some ballpark costs for equipment might be. I would very much like to see your outline discussed in greater detail in your book / DVD. While hand making emulsions are a necessary first step for me, I would like to move into more advanced areas of emulsion making, and using the technology available to me is exactly what I am going to do to get as good a result as I can, as often as I can. I have more experience in the electronic / mechanical / computer areas, and I welcome an in-depth discussion of the more technical emulsion making aspects in your book.

    If you know where to look, and where to scrounge, the costs for equipment can be reduced (home built pump heads, for example). For those with access to some basic electronic and machine shop equipment, the costs could be even lower.

    Thanks,

    Bob M.

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    Bob;

    Thanks. I do try to get second hand equipment, but it is rather hard to get exactly what I want. I guess I have to try harder.

    Denise;

    I am rather amused that you say you are the only one who has used all of the above. I beg to differ with you, as I started handcoating in a class at Kodak in 1965 in which we progressed through about 5 different hand methods up through machine coating with several types of hopper. BTW, the preferred method wtih the glass rod that I mentioned in the workshop you attended is wrapping with 2 - 3 rounds of scotch tape which gives about 5 mil undercut. I showed how to measure this with a feeler guage.

    The problem with a single rod, push or pull, on paper is that the paper swells when you dump on the initial slug of melted emulsion and the paper swells in the center creating a high spot of paper that is scraped clean. It therefore leaves a "V" shaped defect. The other problem with an open rod or plate is that you have to put excess emulsion down due to spread unless you create dams on the edge. This wastes emulsion. I showed these problems in class and discussed them, as they also take place when coating with the blade if you tip it , rock it, or move it across the paper with the wrong speed, or with starts and stops. Coating with the blade is an art that you develop by practicing with dyed gelatin and surfactant, and the cost of that practice goes into the cost of setting up an emulsion lab, as does every bit of waste paper, gelatin and emulsion.

    And, to go back to the above about dams, if you create edge dams on the paper to prevent runs laterally, they can cause distortions as paper swells.

    So I have to say that BTDT. I did 2 or more years research on many methods including brush, spray, foam applicator, glass rod and blade among others.

    Regarding publications such as Wall and Baker, supposedly "open source disclosures of emulsion making", this is not true. Wall and Baker both said that they put their emulsions into the public domain but that is patently false.

    In every Wall book, a critical emulsion element of one sort or another is omitted such as the gelatin grade (remember that they were using active gelatins back then and there were 3 grades available), addition time and temperature and a lot else.

    Baker did much the same as Wall but less often. He was more open. That is why I suggest his book over Wall's book at my workshops. I also recommend Silver Gelatin, which is a good book but understates the utility of sulfur finish and has many untested emulsions, a fact Martin and I have discussed offline and in posts here.

    The patent literature contains everything you need, but it is like having 1000 puzzles with 1000 pieces each mixed together in one box and you don't have the picture but you have to finish just one of those puzzles. The difference is that I have copies of every picture you can make for those 1000 puzzles in my head. So, I have the advantage from that point. Still, it has taken me over 4 years and the help of several friends to reach this point. I doubt if you can learn what is going on from Wall or Baker, you are merely following them by rote like reading a cookbook (a rather poor and obsolete one to boot), and parts are missing in virtually every formula.

    Still, by reading Baker, I have been able to modify his high speed film emulsion to get the ISO 40 speed orthochromatic emulsion you made in class. And, I'm using it as the basis for the next jump in speed. I know which jigsaw pieces to look for because I know the picture that must be made.

    I hope this additional information on coating methods and texts is useful.

    PE

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