Although I would also prefer to first retouch the negative and then spot the print, I have found etching to be a very good tool for removing very small dark defects in the print that would be difficult to deal with on the negative. These include lint and hair marks, which are often too thin to deal with on the negative as well as very small dust specks.

I have a selection of surgical scalpels and blades. You can get them from surgical supply stores. I imagine Xacto blades would work well too, but have never tried them.

I use an 8x loupe, and, while watching very carefully, gently scrape the emulsion with the curved part of the scalpel. With luck, one can remove just the right amount of density without breaking through to the paper base. Often, however, the entire emulsion needs to be removed (particularly for tiny specks), leaving a small crater that exposes the baryta base beneath. This needs to be spotted back.

I find that by using a tiny bit of gum Arabic in my spotting fluid, I can match the gloss of the paper surface pretty well, minimizing the difference in texture.

My experience with bleaching very small areas of the print is not good. First, a selenium-toned print doesn't like to bleach very easily, and doing so can result in unwanted changes in image tone. Second, the bleach diffuses through the emulsion, often making a much bigger spot to spot than the original defect. Third, ferricyanide often leaves a yellow stain that is difficult to get rid of (haven't tried the iodine yet, but it's on my list). I find that etching is a better choice for very small defects and use it together with negative retouching.

Of course, the best scenario is to have no defects on the negative to start with. If I find myself spotting a lot, I re-evaluate my film-loading and cleanliness techniques!


Doremus Scudder