Introduction: Alternative Photography - Printing Photos on Objects

About: Want/need to learn photography from a professional? That's what I'm here for. However, I'm bad at this, "talking about me," stuff, so here are some quotes that sum up my better bits. ---------- "Take me, I a…
Liquid Light is probably one of the coolest inventions in photographic history. It basically allows you to print photographs onto anything and everything using standard darkroom procedures. You can print on wood, metal, glass, walls, even eggs! (Don't worry, if you don't know how to print in a darkroom, I've included instructions in step 4).

  • Object to print on
  • Pre-existing or recently proccessed black and white negative
  • Oil-based polyurethane varnish
  • Brush, sponge, finger...anything to coat your object with Liquid Light
  • Pot or bowl of warm/hot water (or a microwave)
  • Darkroom
  • Patience
Darkroom Equipment:
  • Darkroom with safelight
  • Enlarger (or projector for larger objects)
  • Developing chemicals, (developer, fixer, stopbath if needed)
  • Tongs or gloves
  • Brush or sponge, (other than the one listed above for the emulsion)
  • Access to a sink
  • 3 trays for chemicals
  • Music to calm your nerves (my personal preference - A Perfect Circle: Emotive or Thirteenth Step)

FUN FACT: The largest photograph in the world was created with Liquid Light in 2007. "The Great Picture" took 9 months to create and required 6 artists and 400 volunteers. The negative image is 3,375 square feet and took up most of an aircraft hanger in southern California where it was shot. The entire airplane hanger was made into a pinhole camera, and was sanctioned by the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Largest Camera. 80 quarts of Liquid Light were used. (For more info: The Great Picture).

**Note: The top three photographs were taken and printed by myself. Please excuse my censoring, some of my Liquid Light experiments involved nude photographs. (Model release contracts were used, as they should be for any shoot involving models! Especially nudes!!)

Step 1: Preparing the Surface

Before using Liquid Light emulsion, you must first figure out what you're going to print it on and prepare the surface with a pre-coat. In my particular case, I chose a light wood, watercolor paper, and of course a butcher knife (just for fun).

Generally, paper and fabric do not need a pre-coat because they are porous enough to allow the emulsion to stick properly, (be sure to wash your fabric and if you're printing onto raw artists' canvas, it should be washed and dried as well before applying emulsion). For other materials, such as wood and metal, an oil-based pre-coat, like polyurethane varnish, should be used for good adhesion as well as to prevent discoloration.

Do not use water based coatings, acrylic gesso, aerosol sprays, satin or matte varnishes, oil paints, damar varnish lacquer, or shellac, as they may be softened by the chemicals used in the darkroom.

For Glass and glazed ceramics, polyurethane can also be used, but for better results, a gelatin pre-coat or traditional photographic "subbing" solution will help fuse the Liquid Light to the surface.

The wood and butcher knife I used were both coated with a glossy polyurethane varnish, but as you can see on the butcher knife, some of it was chipped off before the printing process. To prevent this from happening, apply the coating in an enclosed area away from wind and allow it to dry completely before applying the emulsion. (I had a cover for the knife and made the mistake of putting it back on before the varnish had dried). :(

Step 2: Applying Liquid Light

Once your pre-coat has dried, you are ready to apply the Liquid Light to your object.

Because Liquid Light Emulsion is the same exposure speed as photographic paper, it can be exposed in darkroom settings, meaning a medium amber, dark yellow, or light red safelight.

The rest of this instructible must be done in a safelight setting!

At room temperature, Liquid Light is actually a solid gel, so before you can paint it onto your object, place the bottle into a container of hot water until it becomes liquid. Microwaves can be used in this case as long as it is not overheated. 20 - 30 seconds on high should do. If you're only using a little bit of the emulsion, you don't need to wait for the whole bottle to liquify, you can use whatever is available to you.

Do not shake the bottle! This will create bubbles.

Apply the emulsion to your pre-coated object using a sponge, brush, spray, pouring....well, however you want it on there, just get it on there! Larger areas might require more than one coat, but be aware that however you put it on your object is how the print will turn out, so if you have brush strokes or big globs of it, you will see it in the print. You can also dilute the emulsion with warm water if you need to. If you feel the need to create test strips, just apply some of the emulsion to an index card or two.

Once your emulsion is applied, you'll need to set it before exposing your photo. You can either wait or use a fan, but cool air tends to help the most. When dry, the emulsion will feel sticky to the touch. At this point, you can put it into a dark storage space, or expose and develop it.

Step 3: Exposing

Now, for those of you who alredy know basic darkroom procedures, these last two steps won't benefit you much, though you might still want to read them, just in case. But if you've never set foot in a darkroom, (and I suggest that everyone should at least once!), these steps will tell you how to expose and develop prints as well as Liquid Light coated objects.

Before exposing your paper, be sure to have all of your chemicals set and ready! The general recommendation for developer chemical strength is one part developer and two parts water, though some photographers may prefer one part developer with 4 parts water. Powdered hardening fixer would be the best to use for Liquid Light purposes as liquid or rapid fixers might bleach the image and do not effectively harden the emulsion.

The only difference between exposing Liquid Light as opposed to photographic paper is that Liquid Light does not always have the same exposure time from batch to batch, which is where your "test strip" index cards will come in handy. Once you've chosen the negative you'd like to print, put it into the negative carrier towards the middle of the enlarger, (The first image above will help if you need a reference).

For objects that cannot fit under an enlarger, such as a wall, a projector can be used to expose the image. This will also require you to paint the developing chemicals onto the exposed surface rather than soak them in a bath.

When the enlarger is on, you will see the area that the light covers and can mark where you want your object or paper to sit, as you will need to place it while the enlarger is off.

With the enlarger off, place a test strip where you would like your photograph to be and expose the paper to the light in different time intervals while covering the rest of the area with thick paper or cardboard. I usually do my test strips by 10 second intervals, so the first strip would be at 10 seconds, the second at 20 and so on. When done, it should look like the second image above.

When you've decided which exposure looks the best to you, you can place your object or paper in the correct spot under the enlarger and expose it by your chosen time.

Now to move on to developing!

Step 4: Developing

The key word to developing is "Agitation." For each chemical, keep the liquid moving over your object or paper, don't just let it sit there.

Since you have your chemicals poured and ready, you should be able to just stick your object or paper in the developer. (If you've used a large object, as stated before, you will need to paint on your chemicals. You may also need to wet these surfaces with water first to even out the development. This may take more than one coat to develop properly).

If you've used a small object, however, as the image is soaking, you can see it developing right in front of your eyes! (As dorky as this may sound, for most photographers, it's the coolest part of the proccess). There are a lot of photographers and books that say a set time in the bath will develop your photograph perfectly, but because you can see the proccess, you can take it out whenever you feel your photograph looks the way you want it to.

Normally, for regular photographic paper proccessing, the next step is to soak your photo in a stop bath to prevent it from developing further, (if you were to leave your exposed paper in the developing chemicals too long, it could expose your photo until it turns solid black.) For Liquid Light however, the chemicals used for an acid shortstop or stopbath will soften the emulsion. Instead, you can use a small amount of fixer for a few seconds to neutralize the developer. Used or discarded fixer in this case, would be ok.

As stated in the step before, the best fixer to use would be a powdered hardning fixer. (For my projects, I used a rapid fixer, and though my images turned out just fine, there is some discoloration on the image printed on watercolor paper as a result). Keep your object or paper in the fixer until the white areas of the emulsion have turned transparent and it becomes stiff to the touch. This is usually around 10 minutes.

Once finished, wash your final result under cool running water for 10 minutes. If you'd like, a hypo clearing agent can be used during this proccess, but it is not really necessary.

Let your final object dry off. If you used a thick paper that has wrinkled or warped, you can flatten it by pressing on it with a flatiron or a dry-mount press on a low setting.

Here's where you can buy Liquid Light and get some more information on the developing proccesses.

Now all that's left to do is enjoy your beautiful artwork!

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