Platinum/Palladium Printing: A noble metal printing process for rich and enduring prints.

Definition and Overview

Platinum/palladium printing is a distinguished and elegant photographic technique that produces exquisite, richly toned prints with exceptional permanence. This alternative photographic process utilizes the noble metals platinum and palladium to create prints of unparalleled beauty and archival quality. The resulting images exhibit a wide tonal range, delicate highlight details, and deep shadows that are incomparable to conventional silver gelatin prints.

The process of platinum/palladium printing involves coating high-quality paper with a light-sensitive emulsion containing the noble metal salts. This emulsion is then exposed to ultraviolet light through a negative or digital positive image, resulting in a contact print where the final image tone is determined by the amount of metal deposited on the paper.

The hand-coating nature of this process allows for artistic control over the final print, making each piece unique and crafted with precision and care. Platinum/palladium prints are renowned for their longevity, with some estimates suggesting they can last for hundreds of years without noticeable degradation when properly handled and displayed in archival conditions.

A History of the Technique

Platinum/Palladium printing is a photographic printing technique that dates back to the 19th century, known for its exquisite quality and longevity. The process originated as an alternative to traditional silver gelatin prints, offering images with exceptional depth, tonal range, and archival stability. This technique involves using light-sensitive paper coated with a solution containing platinum and/or palladium metals, which react to UV light exposure to create the final image.

The history of platinum/palladium printing can be traced back to the late 19th century when it gained popularity among photographers seeking a more refined and tonally rich alternative to traditional silver-based prints. Over time, this technique evolved into a favored method among fine art photographers for creating museum-quality prints that stand the test of time.

Despite advances in digital printing technology, platinum/palladium printing remains highly regarded for its unmatched beauty and permanence. Renowned photographers such as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz were among the early adopters of this process, contributing to its prestige in the art world.

Materials Needed

When delving into the captivating world of Platinum/Palladium printing, having the right materials is essential for producing exquisite and long-lasting prints. The primary components required for this noble metal printing process are platinum and palladium salts, along with a suitable paper that can withstand the meticulous printing technique.

These salts are mixed with a light-sensitive iron compound solution to create the emulsion used in coating the paper. In addition to these key ingredients, a contact printing frame is necessary to hold the negative in close contact with the sensitized paper during exposure to UV light.

This ensures sharpness and precision in transferring the image onto the paper. Furthermore, specialized brushes or coating rods are needed to evenly apply the emulsion onto the paper surface before exposure.

A UV light source, such as a UV box or natural sunlight, is crucial for exposing the print and initiating the chemical reactions that result in the distinctive platinum/palladium look. Other essential tools include trays for developing and washing prints, as well as chemicals for processing and toning to achieve desired effects.

Step by Step Guide

To start the platinum/palladium printing process, you will need to prepare a digital negative of your desired image. This can be achieved by scanning a film negative or creating a digital file using a high-quality digital camera. Once you have your digital negative, it's time to coat the paper with the sensitizer solution.

This solution is typically made by mixing equal parts of ferric oxalate and potassium chloroplatinite or palladiotype. Using a brush or glass rod, evenly coat the paper with this mixture in subdued lighting to prevent premature exposure.

After coating the paper, allow it to dry completely in a dust-free environment. The drying time may vary depending on humidity levels, but it's crucial to ensure that the paper is fully dry before proceeding to expose it.

Once dried, place your digital negative on top of the sensitized paper and secure them together using glass or acrylic sheets to ensure good contact during exposure. The exposure process involves placing the sandwiched materials under UV light for a specific duration determined by factors such as paper type, sensitizer concentration, and desired tonal range.

After exposure, carefully separate the negative from the paper and immerse it in a tray of developer solution like potassium oxalate or sodium citrate for several minutes until the image fully appears. Rinse the print thoroughly in water before fixing it in a second tray containing sodium thiosulfate fixer solution to stabilize and preserve your platinum/palladium print for years to come.

Finishing Touches and Preservation

After completing the intricate process of platinum/palladium printing, attention to detail during the finishing touches is crucial to ensure the longevity and preservation of the final print. Careful handling and storage are essential steps in maintaining the integrity of these exquisite prints.

It is recommended to use archival mat boards and acid-free materials for mounting and framing to prevent any deterioration over time. Additionally, protecting the print from direct sunlight or excessive humidity will help maintain its quality for years to come.

When it comes to preserving platinum/palladium prints, proper framing techniques can make a significant difference in enhancing their aesthetic appeal while safeguarding them from environmental factors. Opting for UV-protective glass or acrylic will shield the print from harmful ultraviolet rays, reducing the risk of fading or discoloration.

Furthermore, using spacers between the print and glass will prevent any sticking or damage that could occur due to moisture build-up. By taking these meticulous measures in finishing touches and preservation, photographers can ensure that their platinum/palladium prints remain as striking and enduring as when they were first created.

Tips and Tricks for Success

When embarking on platinum/palladium printing, there are several tips and tricks to keep in mind to ensure success in producing exquisite prints. Firstly, it is crucial to pay close attention to the calibration of your digital negatives or transparencies. The tonal range and contrast of these negatives play a significant role in how the final print will turn out.

It is advisable to perform test prints using different exposure times and adjustments to fine-tune the negative for optimal results in platinum/palladium printing. Another important tip is to meticulously handle and prepare your paper for coating with the sensitizer solution.

Ensure that the paper is free from any dust or debris that could affect the coating process or result in imperfections on the final print. Additionally, be mindful of the humidity level in your workspace as it can impact how the sensitizer solution spreads on the paper surface.

Maintaining a consistent humidity level can help achieve uniform coating and ensure even development during printing. By paying attention to these details and taking care with each step of the process, you can enhance the quality and consistency of your platinum/palladium prints, resulting in truly remarkable pieces of art that stand the test of time.

Creative Applications

Platinum/palladium printing offers a unique and versatile way for photographers and artists to express their creativity. One creative application of this noble metal printing process is in the creation of exquisite black and white fine art prints.

The rich tonal range and unmatched permanence of platinum/palladium prints lend themselves beautifully to capturing the subtle nuances and textures in monochromatic images. Photographers can explore the interplay of light and shadow, contrast, and intricate details with this process, resulting in stunning artworks that stand the test of time.

Another fascinating creative application of platinum/palladium printing is in alternative photographic processes. Many artists are drawn to the hands-on nature of these techniques, which allow for experimentation and artistic expression beyond traditional photography.

By incorporating platinum/palladium prints into mixed media artworks or combining them with other alternative processes such as cyanotype or gum bichromate printing, artists can create truly unique pieces that showcase their creativity and technical skills. The ability to hand-coat papers with light-sensitive emulsions and control every step of the printing process adds a personal touch to each artwork, making platinum/palladium printing a favorite among those seeking to push the boundaries of photographic artistry.

Popular Artists Known for Their Work

Renowned for his exquisite platinum/palladium prints, the late Irving Penn stands as a towering figure in the realm of fine art photography. His masterful use of light and shadow, coupled with impeccable composition, brought a timeless quality to his portraits and still lifes. Penn's meticulous approach to printing, often employing the platinum/palladium process, resulted in images that exude a sense of depth and richness that is unmatched.

Another luminary in the world of platinum/palladium printing is Sally Mann, celebrated for her evocative and haunting photographs that capture the essence of the American South. Mann's deep connection to her subjects shines through in her work, whether she is photographing landscapes or intimate portraits of her family.

By utilizing the platinum/palladium process, Mann infuses her images with a luminous quality that adds an ethereal touch to her already powerful compositions. Her prints have a unique tonal range and archival stability that have solidified her reputation as a master of this noble metal printing technique.

Resources for Further Learning and Inspiration

For photographers interested in delving deeper into the art and technique of platinum/palladium printing, there are several valuable resources available for further learning and inspiration. One highly recommended book is "Platinum and Palladium Printing" by Dick Arentz, a comprehensive guide that covers the history, materials, techniques, and creative possibilities of this noble metal printing process. Arentz's expertise and passion for platinum/palladium printing shine through in his writing, making this book an essential addition to any photographer's library seeking to master this exquisite alternative photographic process.

Another excellent resource is the website of Bostick & Sullivan, a renowned supplier of alternative process materials including platinum/palladium printing kits and chemicals. Their website offers not only a wide range of high-quality products but also valuable educational resources such as tutorials, articles, and forums where photographers can exchange ideas and seek advice from experienced practitioners.

Additionally, workshops and online courses conducted by Bostick & Sullivan provide hands-on training to help photographers hone their skills in platinum/palladium printing. By exploring these resources, photographers can deepen their understanding of this elegant printing technique and find fresh inspiration for their artistic endeavors.


Platinum/Palladium Printing truly stands out as a noble and timeless printing process that offers unparalleled richness and longevity in the world of photography. As we reflect on the history, technique, materials, and creative applications of this method, it becomes evident that the beauty and depth it brings to prints are incomparable. The meticulous steps involved in creating a Platinum/Palladium print may seem daunting at first, but the results are undeniably worth the effort.

The unique tonal range and exquisite detail achieved through this process elevate each print to a work of art that will stand the test of time. Moreover, exploring the world of Platinum/Palladium Printing opens up endless possibilities for artistic expression and experimentation.

From capturing intricate details in botanical subjects to conveying emotions through portraiture with unparalleled grace, this printing process allows photographers to push the boundaries of their creativity. By mastering the techniques and embracing the challenges presented by Platinum/Palladium Printing, one can embark on a journey of self-discovery and artistic growth that transcends mere technical skill.

Embracing this noble metal printing process not only enriches one's photographic practice but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the craft and its enduring legacy in the realm of fine art photography. In a world where digital technologies often dominate our visual landscape, delving into analog processes like Platinum/Palladium Printing serves as a refreshing reminder of craftsmanship and dedication to an art form that has stood the test of time.

As photographers continue to seek authenticity and uniqueness in their work, embracing traditional methods such as this offers a sense of connection to both past masters and future generations who will appreciate the beauty captured through these enduring prints. So let us not only admire but also engage with this noble metal printing process as we uncover its mysteries, celebrate its elegance, and contribute our own creative vision to its rich tapestry in the realm of photography.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.