Oil print process

The oil print process is a photographic printmaking process that dates to the mid-19th century. Oil prints are made on paper on which a thick gelatin layer has been sensitized to light using dichromate salts. After the paper is exposed to light through a negative, the gelatin emulsion is treated in such a way that highly exposed areas take up an oil-based paint, forming the photographic image.

Greasy ink is repelled from a gelatin that is swollen with water while hardened gelatin accepts the ink. The oil pigment process works on the same principle as lithographic printing > oil and water don’t mix.

The oil print process creates soft images reminiscent of paint or pastels but with the distinctive indexicality of a photograph.

As with other forms of printmaking, the ink application requires considerable skill, and no two prints are identical.

Each print is unique.

Oilprints have a great decreased susceptibility to deterioration compared to silver-based prints due to the inherent stability of the process and also because they are commonly printed on 100% cotton rag papers. No silver metals are involved that could destroy the paper.

Oilprints, dating around 1910, are still in good condition in several museums/collections around the world.

Short description of the process

1/ Preparing watercolour paper. The luxury paper weights 300gr and is 100% cotton.

2/ Preparing the high quality photographic gelatin. 

3/ Pouring the gelatin onto the paper. Drying the gelatin layer > +- 24h.

4/ Sensitizing the gelatin layer with liquid sensitizer.

5/ Creating digital negative on transparant sheets. Negative has same size as the print.

6/ Expose the print under UV light source.

7/ Develop the print by washing in water to remove the unexposed sensitizer. (example)

8/ Dry the washed, uninked print during 24h (example)

9/ Soak the print in water to swell the gelatin.

10/ Ink the print with lithographic ink.

More info about this technique: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_print_process

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