Homemade Photosensitive Paper

by Rochelle Leggett
Traditional black and white photos are usually made with silver salts.

Traditional black and white photos are usually made with silver salts.

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If you are a photographer or an artist who wants to try an experiment or do something new, making your own photosensitive paper can be a rewarding activity. Most people associate photography with harsh chemicals purchased from a special supplier, but you can make photography supplies out of many different materials, even ordinary fruits and vegetables. Homemade photosensitive papers are usually best for sun prints, or simple outlines of objects placed onto the paper.


Silver salts are common, effective coatings for black and white photographs. Apply a weak potassium chloride solution to one side of a sheet of heavy paper. You can use a brush for this. In a dark room, apply a weak silver nitrate solution to the same side of the paper. Dry the paper. When you are ready to use it, place an object on the paper and expose it to sunlight. These chemicals are commonly found in school chemistry labs and are not particularly dangerous, although you should wear goggles and gloves for extra safety.


Albumen prints are made mainly from household materials. In this process, you coat one side of a sheet of paper in a mixture of egg white, distilled water, kosher salt and acetic acid -- the same acid found in vinegar, although vinegar is diluted. Once the paper is coated and dry, you then brush on a weak mixture of silver nitrate while working in a dark or dim room. Dry the paper again, and it is ready to expose to sunlight for a print. Again, none of these materials are dangerous, but you should wear goggles and gloves, especially to protect yourself from silver nitrate. Silver nitrate can dye your skin, albeit temporarily, and harm your eyes.


Plants have photosensitive properties, and a print that uses plant material in this way is called an anthotype. Crush plant flower petals or leaves in a mortar and pestle, adding distilled water a little at a time and creating a pulp. Poppies, peonies, laurel leaves, cabbage leaves and grass have all been found to work well, but as this is an uncommon method of photography, there are many types of plants that you can experiment with. Brush the water and plant pulp mixture onto a piece of paper and let it dry in a dark room. Place an object on the paper and expose it to sunlight for several days. This method is one of the simplest and least expensive ones, but there is no way to "fix" the image on the paper so that it will not fade. Your image will last longer if you do not expose the image to direct sunlight after printing.


A cyanotype is a type of photograph that, instead of being traditional gray or brown, is a bright blue color due to the iron in the chemicals used to make it. Mix ammonium ferric citrate and potassium ferricyanide with distilled water in separate containers to make the powdered chemicals into solutions. Then mix the solutions in equal parts in a third container. In a dim room with no UV light, brush the chemical mixture onto a sheet of paper. Wait for the paper to dry, then expose it to sunlight to make the print. Rinse the paper with plain water once you have finished to remove excess chemicals. This also helps the paper turn blue more quickly. Wear gloves when making this type of paper.

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