Historical Photographic Printing Processes

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Photographic technology over the last few decades has allowed us to create near perfect images sometimes in seconds and there are very few of us today who stop to think of the revolution in the field of photography that has allowed us to reach where are today. Traditional photographic printing processes take us back in time and help us understand how the art form developed and grew across the world. At Museo, we have been experimenting with and teaching a few different printing processes and through this blog will be sharing relevant content that will help you all dig deeper into the world of alternate processes.


1. Daguerreotype



The Daguerreotype was one of first commercially available and successful printing processes. Formally announced to the public in 1839 by French inventor Louis Daguerre, this process allowed photographers to create images on highly polished silver plates. Read more about the process below -


- Britannica

- The Met

- The Atlantic

- Science & Media Museum

- George Eastman Museum (video)









2. Cyanotype




Introduced to the world in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, this printing process gets its name from the greek word "Cyan" which means "Dark Blue impression". The process inspired Anna Atkins, An English Botanist and Photographer to publish a series on "British Algae" using Cyanotype Photograms. Museo Camera regularly hosts cyanotype workshops. (To know more details click here



To know more about the process, click on the links below!


- My Modern Met

- George Eastman Museum (Video)

- The Getty Conservation Institute



3. Salt Prints

The Salt Print technique was created in the mid 1830's by English Scientist and inventor, Hery Fox Talbot . For all those wondering, yes, this process does use table salt! This is a process that makes light sensitive paper bby coating it with table salt and silver nitrate, which further produces a coating of silver chloride.



Museo Camera regularly hosts salt Printing workshops. To know more details click here.


To know more about the process, click on the links below!


- Alternative Photography

- George Eastman Museum (Video)

4. Wet Collodion


The Wet Collodion or Collodion process was invented by Englishman Fredrick Scott Archer in 1851 and was the dominant printing process from the 1850's-1880's. The process required a number of manual steps including carrying around a portable darkroom! If you think Instagram is all about the quickness, imagine coating, exposing and developing images all under 15 minutes while dealing with chemicals that could potentially become poisonous or explosive! The Wet collodion process was truly a game changer in many ways!


- Britannica

- Victoria & Albert Museum (Video)

- The Getty Museum (Video)

- A First-Timer’s Foray Into Wet-Plate Photography


5. Van Dyke Process

A handprint process named after the famous Baroque artist Van Dyke due its similarity in the colour to the brown pigment used by him. It was developed in 1842 by Sir John Herschel. This process is simple and economical to produce, with the sensitizer consisting of three readily available chemicals. Clearing is carried out in the water and fixing is done in a weak solution of hypo. The process is among the oldest of all photographic processes.


alternate photography

van dyke notes

sandy photography





6. Gum Bichromate Process

The gum bichromate process has a long history, it was patented in 1855 but did not gain much popularity. Fox Talbot to Robert Demachy have tried and failed in this process. The process fell out of common use for a long time until the 1970s.It is a pigment process which gives the artists freedom of colour. Gum Arabic is used as the binder which is then treated with dichromatic salt that gives exposure to the image. This process can be rendered with many effects like brush marks or blurred edges during processing. This process was famous among the pictorialists as it gave the texture and aesthetic to the image for which the movement was known for.


alternate photography

national gallery of art

Art Institute Chicago


7. Platinum Process

Known for their range of grey tones, matte surface and permanence, platinum printing was developed in the 1840s and was popular until world war I after which platinum became expensive. They are printed on good quality plain papers coated with light-sensitive iron salts which are then exposed to light. These prints can be produced through light exposure alone or can be developed in chemicals to enhance the density of the prints. The resulting image is stable and rarely shows any form of deterioration. The identifying feature of this print is oxidation of any paper in contact with them. The image in the platinum print is directly absorbed on the paper taking in its characteristics, therefore the paper on which the print is made affects the quality of image for example an untreated paper will give a matte print with softer and less detailed image.


national gallery of art

christopher james studio

tillman crane


7. Kallitype

The basic theory of the kallitype process was found in Sir John Herschel’s paper of 1842, ‘on the action of the rays of the solar spectrum on vegetable colours’. But W.W.J. Nicol in 1889 patented the first iron silver process and is considered to be the inventor of this process. Kallitype has a reputation of being a poor cousin to the platinum process as early kallitypes faded quickly. Despite the drawback it provides the photographers more colour variations than other silver-based processes, colours ranging from black, brown, sepia, salt blue and a reddish hue, all without toning. The kallitype can also be processed with platinum or palladium which often made it difficult to distinguish between them, so much so that many a times photographers used to submit kallitypes disguised as platinum. Museo Camera hosted an exhibition of Kallitype Prints by Saibal Das in 2021


alternate photography

bostic sullivan


8. Bromoil Process

C. Welborne- Piper, following the theory developed by E.J.Wall made the bromoil process in 1907. It is the process that combines the arts of photography, printmaking and painting. The process is developed by bleaching the black and white silver gelatin print to remove the silver and then ink is applied to replace the silver. Each print is individually inked by hand and therefore no two prints are identical. It also made the photograph look like a painting. Bromoil like the gum process was again famous among the pictorialists for the aesthetics of it.


alternate photography

bromoil history

science and media museum


9. Carbon Transfer Process


Perfected by Sir Joseph Swan in 1864 carbon transfer process is the first permanent printing process. It was widely practiced in Europe and USA throughout the 19th and 20th century and was considered the aristocracy of all printing processes due its time-consuming, demanding and expensive characteristics. The process disappeared in the 1950s, a modern colour carbon process was introduced in the 1990s but it could only enjoy popularity for some time. This process allows the printer to create a three-dimensional look and have a wide range of image characteristics, the final image can be placed on a variety of surfaces like glass, metal, paper as well as synthetic surfaces. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful photographic processes.


alternate photography

national gallery of art

library of congress







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