Subtle Silver

Photos © 2003, Frances E. Schultz, All Rights Reserved

Several years ago Luminos Photo had to cease production of their silver paper: the paper stock they had been coating became unavailable. Since then they have been searching for a replacement. Now they have it, and it is very nice.

The new paper is called Subtle Silver. It is a resin-coated base, silver on one side and white on the other. The variable contrast emulsion runs from Grade 0 to Grade 5. It is not as shiny as its predecessor. The texture is hard to describe. More than anything else, it is the texture (though not the color) of slightly rough human skin--"dishpan hands," if you remember the advertising.

Sequential toning, sepia then gold (Tetenal Gold).

The paper handles much like any other resin-coated paper, easy to process and quick to wash. The emulsion seems fairly slow: it takes something like 25 seconds for the image to come up. With Ilford Bromophen paper developer at 24ÞC (75ÞF) it developed to finality in 90 seconds.

I followed my regular developing regime of a stop bath after developing and two fix baths. I then washed the prints for 5 minutes in running water.

Graphic Subjects Best
For the test I decided to use a single image: a metal jug against a stone wall. My reasoning was that the silver paper demands a very graphic and fairly simple subject. You may have other ideas. I also thought it would be easier to see the differences in image tones if I used the same image and exposure throughout the test.

Sepia toned, then handcolored with Marshall's oils.

Dry-Down Effect
After you have processed your first test strip it is essential to wash and dry the paper. I found it impossible to make any meaningful judgments about exposure and contrast with a wet strip. This paper has a reverse
dry-down effect. Before it is dry, it is a gunmetal gray and it looks pretty dull. The metallic look comes through when the print is dried and the reflectivity makes the image appear both lighter and contrastier.

Toning Options
The new paper is also interesting when toned. At first I couldn't make it take up the old selenium toner I had been using (and using, and using...). I tried again with a freshly opened bottle of Paterson Acutone selenium and it took it quite happily. The image tone went very cold, and the maximum density increased markedly.
Sepia works very well, too. I used a thiourea toner by Tetenal. I had a problem with the Tetenal Triponaltoner at first. It is made up from a powder, and until I strained it through a filter, I was getting splotches and stains. Once the toner was filtered everything was fine.

My favorite effect came from sepia and gold used sequentially. This gives a reddish tone. The longer you leave it in the gold toner, the redder it gets.

When toning the paper, wear rubber gloves and fish the print out with your fingers. This is because the emulsion is quite delicate and tongs can leave marks.

Handcoloring, Too
The paper can also be handcolored. I tried a number of different techniques. Marshall's Handcoloring Wands worked very well. The color went into the surface and when dry left no change in the surface texture. Unfortunately, Spotpens (which are normally used on a damp print) tended to scrape off the emulsion no matter how light a touch I used. You could use them on a dry print to color in small areas, but the damp emulsion is just too delicate.

Transparent oils work even better than dyes on this paper. It has plenty of "tooth" to receive the oil colors and even colored pencils, provided you have good quality pencils and a light touch. Beware of using cleaning solutions with oils or pencils. Because the emulsion is so tender it is advisable to use a cotton swab and Marshall's transparent medium for cleanup.

Curiosity is a wonderful thing, but not all experiments work very well. The surface is so nice that I tried fixing a sheet out and then printing on it with an Epson Stylus Photo 1270. It didn't work very well. I got an image, but it broke up badly. Continuous tone it was not.

Choosing subjects to print on silver paper is much more difficult than printing them. As I said in the
beginning, I prefer very simple graphic shapes, but then, someone else may be able to make it work for landscapes or even portraits.

It is a better paper for exhibition than for reproduction because (almost by definition) reproduction cannot hold the reflective quality which makes it so distinctive. The images here will not show the wonderful soft sheen of the paper, but I hope that enough of its character will show through that you will want to try it.

For more information, contact Luminos Photo by calling (800) 586-4667 or visiting their website at