Author: Dan Pelland

Using Pin Registration

With the pin register feature you can make multiple exposures from multiple negatives on the same media. For example, to improve contrast of a Pt/Pd print, you can make an exposure, develop and dry the print, then re-coat the paper, place the print and negative back in the printing frame and make another exposure on top of the first with the assurance that both exposures will be perfectly aligned. This feature enables multi-color processes such as gum bichromate with several color separation negatives (typically in the CMYK color space) and even multiple processes such as gum bichromate over cyanotype over platinum.

Simplified Procedure

First, take time to study the details of alternative processes through educational opportunities or by consulting the many excellent resources on the internet including Christopher James’ authoritative volume “The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes“.

1. Create the negative(s) you will use to produce the image and select a medium such as watercolor paper to support your image.

Place the printing frame on a stable surface, face (glass) down. Remove the spring back and set aside. Press a Ternes Burton ST-1 stripping tab onto each of the two registration pins located under the back of the printing frame.

Place Ternes-Burton ST-1 stripping tabs onto registration pins.

3. Slide a negative between the stripping tabs and the glass, emulsion side up , then attach both tabs to the negative with tape. The illustration shows me attaching a piece of paper. I used blue masking tape just so it is clearly visible in this illustration. I’ve had good results using Scotch Magic tape with both negatives and paper.

Attaching stripping tabs to media and to the frame

4. Optionally, for multiple negatives, repeat the process taking care to align the image on each negative with the image on the first negative before attaching it to the stripping tabs. It helps to place the printing frame above a lighted surface for this step. Make sure each negative is securely attached to the stripping tabs.

5. Remove all negatives except the first one. Place two new stripping tabs on top the negative’s stripping tabs. Slide the printing paper between the new stripping tabs and the negative, emulsion side down. Attach both stripping tabs to the paper with tape. You now have a stack of paper and negative(s) that will remain accurately aligned with each other over multiple exposure and processing cycles. You’re ready to make a print.

(The following step assumes you have coated the paper with a light sensitive compound and that it is completely dry)

6. Place the first negative, emulsion side up on to the stripping tabs. Place the coated and sensitized paper directly on top of the negative so that the emulsion side of the paper is in contact with the emulsion side of the negative. Put the back on the printing frame. Making sure the two holes on the underside of the back line up with the two registration pins on the frame, lock it down. Take a look through the glass just to make sure that everything is okay inside the frame.

7. Expose, process and dry the print. Repeat steps 6 and 7 as needed.

Note: Ternes Burton ST-1 stripping tabs are available from Blick and other sources.

HouLite UV Exposure Light – UPDATE

The search goes on – for the perfect UV exposure unit. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet but I did actually spend money on something that I felt could come close; An LED flood light. What caught my eye was the wavelength in the UV-A range 385-405 nm. That is pretty close to the optimum wavelength for alternative processes, so I decided to give it a try.

My original plan was to construct an array of F20T8-BL fluorescent lamps. I picked up some fixtures that were on sale at the local building supply store. They were cheap enough, but the lamps cost so much I had to shelve the project until prices fell to a point I could afford them – yeah right. Needless to say that hasn’t happened and probably never will due to the dying demand for fluorescent lighting.

Breaking News – UPDATE

I liked the 20W unit so much, I upgraded to the 50W version! Sorry, I just had to say that. More on that later.

LEDs Are the Future

On the other hand I finally see production of LEDs strengthening across the board to the point that even the less common UV kind are coming down in price. This unit, purchased from Amazon cost under $30. It is small, light weight, consumes very little power and generates even less heat than a single 20 W fluorescent lamp and ballast. And much, much less than a 100 W metal halide lamp and ballast.

The unit I received is rated at 20 W and is constructed fairly well (except for the paint job). It includes a grounded AC cord and steel mounting bracket and has a good size heat sink which didn’t get too hot even after leaving the unit on for over an hour.

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Test Setup

I attached the unit to my Minolta color enlarger so that the LED emitter was about 9.5 inches above my print and pointing straight down. This is the distance I visually judged would cover my entire 9×12 printing frame. I plugged it into a old style Graylab timer and picked out a 4×5 inch film negative set on top of a small sheet of  pre-coated SunPrints cyanotype paper. I locked the frame and started with a 5 minute exposure, then worked my way up until the highlights were clearly over exposed at 20 minutes. I washed each print in room temperature tap water for 20 minutes, followed by a quick dip in dilute peroxide bath, then washed again and allowed to dry over night.

For comparison, I made a 5 minute exposure in late afternoon direct sunlight.

The Results

Photograph – Council Overhang, Starved Rock State Park, near Ottawa, Illinois by the author

Row 1 top L to R – 5 minutes sun, 5 minutes UV lamp, 10 minutes UV lamp
Row 2 bottom L to R – 15 minutes UV lamp, 20 minutes UV lamp, 25 minutes UV lamp

Bottom Line

Pros – Easy to use, cost effective, good results in limited testing. Small (~1 inch square) emitter is compact light source. This may result in sharper prints than a light source that’s spread out over a larger area.

Cons – I noticed an odd problem when I used my Graylab 545 digital timer. The lamp periodically blinked off then back on. This only happened with the digital timer and could be a problem with the timer, not the lamp. However, it doesn’t happen with either of my incandescent enlargers. Also, I got a unit with a bad paint job, maybe you’ll have better luck.

Next step up is HouLight’s 50W unit which could does reduce exposure time by about 50% – yeah! – and increases coverage area too. Of course it costs more than the 20 W unit but still a bargain compared to commercial exposure units.

More Power

As Tim the toolman says more power is more better. It’s true. I’ve been printing with the 50W unit now for a couple of weeks. It’s not surprising that the results are right in line with expectataions. Especially nice for my classic cyanotypes which took up to an hour with the 20W unit, the new lamp is producing nice prints in half that time.

Troubleshooting Hints

If you are having a hard time getting the results you expect from your printing efforts and suspect that your contact printing frame may be a part of the problem, here are some ideas that may help. Keep in mind that I’m not an expert printer, but I do have some education and a little experience in the craft. I’m happy to help any way I can.

I appreciate comments on any of my posts, but if you have a specific question you’re probably better off using the contact form since I watch my email more closely than the comments.

The Frame

Well, it’s not rocket science. The four legs of the printing frame make up the basic structure and are what holds everything together. My frames are made of hardwood held together with finger joints and hardwood dowel pins at the corners. It is unlikely the frame itself will ever fail.


I use non glare glass in all my frames since about 2010. It is intended to reduce the occurrence of Newton’s rings.

“Newton’s rings is a phenomenon in which an interference pattern is created by the reflection of light between two surfaces—a spherical surface and an adjacent touching flat surface. It is named for Isaac Newton, who first studied the effect in 1717.” Wikipedia

Non-glare glass must be installed so that the etched side is facing the interior of the frame. That is, the etched side of the glass must be in contact with the non-emulsion side of the negative. If you can’t tell which side of the glass is the etched side, look at a reflection in it. One side will show a clear reflection, while the etched side will show a very dull reflection. If the glass is placed in the frame upside-down, your print will not look sharp.

It is also important that your negative is placed correctly in the printing frame too. The ink side ( we used to refer to this as the emulsion side) of the negative should contact the printing paper. Again, if the negative is upside-down your print will not be as sharp.

Split Back Springs Feel Loose

If the back feels loose here is how you can do the tighten up. I attach the springs using a screw instead of a rivet like some other frames. Like everything this has its upside and downside. The upside is you can remove the springs and give them a nice polish with a little Brasso or other metal cleaner, assuming of course you have brass springs. Wooden springs can be cleaned up with a light sanding. Downside? Yes, the screws can get loose and make the frame feel a litttle woogity. The fix is easy. You don’t even need a screwdriver. Just spin the spring clockwise till the screw is tight again.

Broken Glass

Glass can break – duh. If you experience this misfortune, don’t despair, but be careful picking up the pieces. I can replace your glass with the original non-glass type I used when I made the frame or you can obtain replacement glass from a local provider. I recommend 2.3mm (1/16″) non-glare picture frame glass. Other dimensions vary with the size of frame. Best bet is to take the frame to the glass shop and ask for a piece that fits easily in the frame. Also has smooth edges so you don’t get cut when you remove the glass for cleaning.

If you have to order a replacement from me (or anyone else), please send the exact inside dimensions to the nearest 1/32″ of the frames width and length when ordering. Include your address and I’ll give you a quote including price and shipping.

Normal Wear and Tear

I think it would take a lot of work to wear the finish off of one of my printing frames. However there is one place that will show wear before any other. That is where the springs rub against the back when locking it in place. To repair the rub marks, remove the back from the frame and remove the springs from the back. Use 120 to 320 grit sandpaper to prepare the surface and apply two or three coats of Minwax High Gloss Polyurethane varnish. For best results allow varnish to dry completely and sand lightly or buff with 00 steel wool between coats. Reassemble springs and enjoy. Note: Don’t remove hinges unless absolutely necessary since the threads made by wood screws can be stripped easily.

Distance and Exposure

The distance from the light source to your print is important when determining exposure time. I mounted my 20W UVLED exposure unit under the lens holder on my Minolta enlarger so I can easily adjust the height. I can move it up to cover a large print and down for a small one. The advantage of moving the light closer to the print is reduced exposure time. But just how much should I reduce the exposure time, you might ask. Well, here’s how to figure it out. It’s based on the principle that the intensity of light is proportional to the square of its distance from the subject. The inverse square law, IL=1/D2 applies here but keep in mind it’s relative.

For example, if your light is 10 inches from your print it would have 1/100th the intensity as if it were 1 inch away. That’s pretty simple but what happens when we have to deal with real world measurements. Let’s say you were exposing a print with the light source 18.5 inches above the print and you measured the standard exposure at that distance to be 68 minutes. Then you realize that you don’t need to cover such a wide area and you can move the light closer to the print. It looks like you’re getting pretty good illumination when the light is only 11 inches above the print, so how much is the new exposure time? We’ll calculate the exposure factor, a value we’ll call EF, by which you can divide the original exposure time to obtain the new exposure time.

Formula: EF = E12 / E22

Where: EF is the exposure factor, E1 is your original distance and E2 is the new distance

E1: 18.52 = 342.25
E2: 112 = 121
EF = 342.25 / 121 = 2.83

Divide the original exposure time (68 min) by 2.83. That’s about 24 min. See you just saved yourself a bunch of time. If you’re moving the light source away from the print, simply multiply the original exposure time by the exposure factor instead of dividing.

Printing 101

Although I’ve been making contact printing frames for almost 15 years now, it’s been a long time since I did any serious printing. So for my own pleasure (or frustration as is often the case), and to better understand the needs of my contact printing frame customers, I ordered up some cyanotype and gum bichromate chemistry and got down to business.

I’ve read and re-read everything I can get my hands on and there’s still much out there I haven’t found yet. My goto volumes are The Gum Bichromate Book by David Skopick, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James, In Defense of Gum Bichromate  a web site by Katharine Thayer, Bostick and Sullivan, Photographer’s Formulary… and the list goes on. It’s encouraging to know I’m not alone.

Cyanotype was and is again my first step into hand printing and can also serve as a base layer for other processes such as gum bichromate. The cyanotype chemistry is a simple two part recipe that’s fairly non-toxic and pretty hard to mess up. The most difficult part, I suppose, is making…

The Negative

Used to be negatives were made in a camera on a sheet or roll of film. A few still are but there’s another way. Volumes of literature and many well documented systems have grown up around the making of functional photographic negatives from ink on clear plastic. And that’s particularly good news for artists who make prints by hand using 19th century methods that require full size negatives. Not only can we now use images captured on digital cameras, but we can even upscale all that old film from the archives. While producing a full size negative directly in camera has always been a challenge, many of those roadblocks have fallen to digital technology. Even a lowly 35mm film negative can be turned into a ULF (ultra large format) negative with a digital camera or scanner and an inkjet printer.

Upscaling an Image

My copy rig

I’m fortunate to have picked up an Olympus macro bellows outfit back in the day. Using an inexpensive adapter, it fits nicely on my Canon digital camera. I can point this rig at a backlit negative or slide and quickly turn a small image into a multi-megapixel high resolution raw file that can easily (I use the term loosely) be printed large on a sheet of Pictorico OHP film via inkjet printer. Yeah, I know I probably made that sound easier than it really is. There are a few refinements that will make your print look it’s best and require some technical magic, but nothing even close to the difficulty of creating a set of analog color separations or even a good enlarged monochrome negative.

Five Useful Editing Functions

There are too many photo editing applications to write another step-by-step how to article but here are the five essential functions a good photo editor should have. Note: Images shown below are from Photoshop CC 2019 on Windows 10 platform. Click to enlarge.

Rotate/Flip – It’s important to get the ink side of your digital negative into direct contact with the print. Even the few thousandths of an inch thickness of the film will degrade the sharpness of your print. If you don’t flip the negative image right to left (horizontally) the printed image will appear backward when the ink side is on the print.


Curves – Photosensitive emulsions have various responses to UV radiation. An image that looks fine on your monitor, when converted to a digital negative may print with too much or too little contrast. You can control this by adjusting the image curve in your photo editor. Be advised, however that some printers believe strongly that using curves is an essential step in the hand printing processes while others don’t necessarily agree. This choice is up to you. I wont go into the details here, but it’s best if your app has this function available.


Channels/BW – So let’s say you have this great slide your grandpa made in 1963. You could make a cyanotype from it by digitizing then converting the image file to black and white – a fairly simple process. The other option would be to make a set of negatives for a tri-color gum bichromate print by using the color channels for separate negatives. Either way you’ll need access to the monochrome versions of your image with the color information stripped away. The channels function gives you three (RGB) or four (CMYK) monochrome files to work with. The convert to BW function gives you one file and usually gives you some extra control of the luminance contributions of each color from the original image. But you’re still working with positive image(s). So what do you do?


Invert –  This is the function that converts that positive image to it’s negative. In Photoshop it’s as easy as typing Ctrl-i. Note that some printer drivers can perform both invert and flip functions as well.


ICM Profile Support – Apply a custom printer control profile that is specific to your printer/ink and to the media you’re printing on. Most media manufacturers, including the popular Pictorico clear films provide a good selection of custom made profiles for many popular printers.

ICM Profiles

We’ll that’s enough for today. Remember, I’m no expert here. This is what I’ve discovered by researching and by trial and error (lots of error). I believe the information I’ve provided to be correct and I hope it’s helpful. I going to get back to the darkroom now and see what I can actually make instead of just talking about it. Stay tuned for more stories as I try to master the fascinating craft of hand made photographic prints.

A DIY Centering Guide for Contact Printing Frames

Did you ever try to get a negative and a sheet of paper to stay put while closing the printing frame? I realized it’s a common problem in our craft. This may not be THE fix but the one I came up with is simple and cheap – those are the best kind IMHO.

When a relatively small and light negative and a small piece of paper that may be even lighter lay on a larger sheet of glass any air movement can easily move them around. But what you, the printer, want is for the negative to align perfectly with the paper on which the image is to be exposed. Air movement can be caused by your body moving around the room, ventilation, and often by the back of the printing frame as you put it in place.

Okay, you’re a photographer and chances are good you have one or two pieces of mat board around. Find one that’s at least as wide as the inside width of your printing frame and at least 2 or 3 inches long. Oh, by the way I forgot to mention that your printing frame has to have a split back – most of which are hinged.

Trim the width of the mat board to fit snugly inside the frame’s width. Trim the length to be a little less that the distance from the inside bottom of the frame to the hinge. Next you’ll cut a notch to hold your negative. Just make sure the notch is big enough to stabilize the negative but that part of the negative will extend into the other side of the back. Hopefully you can visualize this. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so check this one out. 

The white area is what I’m talking about.


With a little ingenuity, I’m sure you can understand how to modify the concept to exactly fit your combination of frames, negatives and papers.

Here’s a short video to go along with this article – enjoy!

The Pin Register Project

Pin registration is a method of precisely aligning  negatives to the paper (or other print media). It is used by alt process enthusiasts for aligning color separation negatives for multi-color prints (gum bichromate), or to make multiple exposures of the same negative to increase contrast (platinum/palladium).

My pin registration hardware design began as an exoensive solid brass alignment strip with  brass pins and a modified office punch set to match the spacing of the registration pins.

I started working on the pin register project over a year ago with the help of Christopher James who has been using a prototype of this frame in his Alternative Processes workshops. Even though testing went fairly well, keeping the punch spacing fixed was a problem. Now a new design eliminates this problem and the need for a clumsy office punch altogether.

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Ilex #5 Flash Synch Repair

My 8×10 Calumet View Camera is a real workhorse. It came with a 14 inch Commercial Ektar f6.4 lens mounted in an Ilex #5 shutter. It produces great images but there is (was) a problem with the shutter. My first portrait session in the studio using flash was a little embarrassing because the flash synch didn’t fire the strobes.

I purchased a special synch cord the week before to connect the bi-pin synch terminals to a modern synch cord, so I imagined that the new adapter was bad out of the box. I worked around the problem by firing the flash manually with the shutter open in T mode. When I got everything home on the work bench, the adapter tested good and the shutter didn’t. This story is about how I disassembled and repaired the shutter.

If you decide to go down this road, you will need a clear work space, access to an ohm-meter, a precision slot type screwdriver and a safe place to keep the small screws you will remove. This is definitely not a couch job.

Step One

Determine that the flash synch contacts are actually the problem. Best way to find out is with an ohm-meter.

Ohm meter connection

With the meter leads connected to the bi-pin posts, the meter set to OHMS and the M-X-OFF switch set to X, press the shutter release. The meter should blink <100Ω for an instant if the synch switch is working properly. If nothing changes on the meter you can be pretty sure the problem IS the synch switch.

Step Two

Remove the trim ring
Remove the trim ring

Set the timer adjustment to 1/50 second, then remove the trim ring. Remove four small screws that hold the trim ring on to the body of the shutter. You may hear the timer spring unwind a little as the trim ring releases the timer adjustment dog. This is not a problem. Lift the trim ring off of the shutter body. You might have to bend the synch select switch and the aperture adjustment tab a little so that they clear the trim ring.

Lift the trim ring off of the shutter body.

It’s probably a good idea to remove the front lens assembly at this time, if not sooner. I didn’t have any trouble that would have caused damage, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Just unscrew it and set it aside in a safe place.

Remove the timer adjustment ring.

Next remove the timer adjustment ring. Just lift it off and set it aside.


Step Three

Remove the shutter top cover.

Remove the lens mounting collar and shutter top cover. Remove three long screws that hold the top cover on to the shutter body.

Internal shutter mechanism


You can now see the internal mechanism of the shutter. Be careful not to touch the shutter leaves. They are very fragile.

Step Four

Clean the synch switch contacts by first locating the three parts of the synch switch; The sliding contact, the fixed contact and the moving contact.

Three parts of the synch switch

Note: When the synch selector is in the X position (the correct selection for modern strobe flash units) releasing the shutter will cause the moving contact to rotate a few degrees counter-clockwise as shown in the illustration, closing the synch switch and firing the flash.

ilex5-flash-synch-contact-repair-3Using a contact burnishing tool, clean the switch points under the moving and fixed contacts. Do not use sandpaper. If you can’t access a proper burnishing tool, it’s better to use coarse paper than something that’s very abrasive. The switch points are plated in a thin layer of silver which should be preserved. After burnishing, re-test the synch switch using the ohm-meter. If it tests good, connect the flash unit and actuate the shutter release button. If problems persist, you may need to send the shutter to a reputable repair service such as Flutot’s Camera Repair.

Step 5

Reassemble the top cover.

Reassemble the shutter. Start with the top cover assembly. Carefully align the synch selector opening on the cover with the opening for the synch selector switch on the shutter body. Ease the cover into place and secure with the three long screws you removed in step three.

Next place the timer adjustment ring on the top cover, aligning as shown in the following illustrations.

Timer stop tab

Illustration showing the timer stop tab and the notch in the timer adjustment ring.


Timer dog alignment
Timer dog alignment


Illustration showing the timer adjustment dog inside the timer adjustment ring. Place the ring a little off-center so that it catches the dog, then move it into position, holding it down so that the dog is secured. If you hear the timer unwind a little, try again.

Secure the trim ring
Secure the trim ring

While holding the timer adjustment ring firmly on the top cover, place the trim ring over the adjustment ring, and install one trim screw in the hole nearest the timer dog. Install the remaining three trim ring screws, and the front lens assembly.

Congratulations! You’re done.

The Platinum Palladium Project

In the fall of 2014 I took part in an undergraduate research project at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, IL. The project was sponsored by the school and and generously coached by my instructor and mentor, Andrew Doak.

4×5 Platino-Palladiotype Process print on Rives BFK

A series of ten prints on fine art paper made in platinum and palladium resulted. The following is an edited collection of excerpts from documents, notes, data and images I collected in the process.

This account discusses the printing process, not exposing or developing film. I used existing negatives that were not developed specifically for pt/pd printing. I’ll write a post about making negatives for pt/pd, including the use of PMK Pyro developer.

The Application

Research Interests: Exploration of alternative process photographic printing.

Antique photographic processes dating back to the nineteenth century are enjoying wide interest among contemporary artists. One of these is the platinum/palladium process which can render a particularly beautiful print when skillfully performed.
Platinum prints require a negative image on transparent film to be placed in direct contact with a sensitized medium, then exposed to an UV light source. In the past, negatives were produced in a large format camera. Now, negatives can be created digitally, making new options available to the artist.
I would like to research both the digitally enhanced and traditional processes, produce a portfolio of prints, compare the results and document my observations.

Academic Aspirations: Continue on my path as a lifelong learner. Take a leadership role inspiring younger students to take an interest in traditional photographic artistry.

Career Goals: Although I don’t expect to pursue a career dedicated to photography, I am an active contributor to commercial creative pursuits that include graphic elements. This program would add depth to my understanding of 2D visual design.

Background Influences: In 2005 I began building contact printing frames, a tool that is useful in the production of photographic prints, especially those using the “alternative processes”. I design and build frames that are respected and admired by artists all over the world. As a result, I enjoy relationships with many accomplished practitioners in the field. I’m proud to say I’ve made a small contribution to keeping, and passing along these unique skills.


On advice of my mentor, I decided to employ The Platino-Palladiotype Process developed by Mike Ware and Pradip Malde.

A bill of materials submitted for the Malde-Ware platinum printing process chosen for my undergraduate research scholar program project. The BOM was compiled from several sources before the work began. Only items marked with an asterisk were actually used.

4 each Amber glass storage bottles, 50cc* McMaster-Carr 6120T81
1 each Graduated cylinder, 50ml McMaster-Carr 4436T33
1 each Graduated cylinder, 100ml McMaster-Carr 4436T34
1 each Graduatedd cylinder, 1000ml McMaster-Carr 4436T37
100 each Coffee stiring stick Grocery store
1 pkg Disposable nitrile gloves, medium McMaster-Carr 52555T44
4 each Processing trays, 11×14* B&H PAT1216R
1 pkg 100 1 Oz medicine cups, disposable Amazon B000LX35SA
2 each Glass rod, puddle pusher* Photographer’s formulary 07-0270-0
0 each UV safety glasses* Amazon
1 each Hygrometer* McMaster-Carr 39175K23
1 each Scale, 0.1g accuracy* Amazon B00IZ1YHZK
1 pkg 10 Syringe, 2cc* Amazon B000FMYDLU
1 each Contact printing frame, 11×14*
1 each KMR-03 Surface Gampi White roll Hiromi Paper 338
25 each Wyndstone Vellum # 165 243 (25″ x 38″) Sam Flax # 165 243
25 each BFK Rives Dick Blick 10419-1032
25 each Arches Aquarelle* Dick Blick 10011-1042
1 each Pictorico Ultra Premium Matte (17″x66″ Roll) B&H
1 each Ammonium iron (III) oxalate, 100g bottle* Photographer’s formulary 10-0502 100G
5 g Ammonium tetrachloroplatinate (II)* J&J Materials
5 g Ammonium tetrachloropallidate (II)* J&J Materials
1 each Tween 20, 30ml 100%* Photographer’s formulary 10-1478 30ML
1 each Disodium EDTA, 1 lb bottle* Photographer’s formulary 10-0490 100G
1 each Tetrasodium EDTA, 1 lb bottle* Photographer’s formulary 10-0495 1LB
5 gal Hypo clearing agent* B&H, etc
1 each Pyro Max Developer Bostick & Sullivan SKU1015

* These items were used for the project

Coming Next Darkroom setup