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Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2015 8:24 pm
by Duck
As a teen I bought my first 35mm camera, a Pentax K1000. Simplicity at its best. I later purchased a Canon AE-1P that served me well through my four years in the Navy.

Being a teen with a camera, film was a luxury that competed with my need for art supplies, a bicycle, scale models (I was a serious model builder) and other teen joys. To take it easier on my wallet I shot lots and lots of Tri-X film and did my own developing at home. I never printed as that required even more expensive equipment I wasn't ready to invest in, but I understood the process. Later, in my first year in the Navy I was assigned to a print shop stripping film and making plates for offset printing. I also worked many years as a screen printer dealing with those chemicals.

So now that the long introduction is over with I'll lead into my question. I have a large format camera I am longing to pass film through. Someone suggested doing a direct positive print as it doesn't require all the additional equipment a traditional wet darkroom does. The setup would be simple as it only needs the processing chemicals to develop the paper. In doing some research I have found that the foremost recommended paper is Ilford's Harman DP. From what I've read scattered over the net is that it's fairly easy to work with.

So, I am curious if any of you darkroom pros have any experience with direct positive printing. I would love to hear your take on the subject, specially any tips or tricks (or cautions) that expands on the basic stuff found all over the net. FOr example, the post about Wet Printing is interesting as it also relates to DP photography. I also heard that the ISO is real low on DP paper so I would need to make an exposure chart to handle the lower numbers.

Of particular interest to me is the shelf life of the chemicals as I don't foresee this being a regular project for me (at least not at this time).

Thanks in advance for the time and input.

Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 12:39 am
by Ed Shapiro
Hey Duck! First I checked out by brain because it’s been a long time since I have used direct positive materials and chemistry. Then I went into my old files on old formulas and processes after which I hit the Internet just to see of any of the products and chemistry involved are still on the market anywhere. NADA!

So here the scoop: To get a direct positive image on any basically negative material, film or paper, entail special developers, bleaches and re-developers much like the processes used in making color transparences in the E-6 process. These are called reversal processes where the film or paper is developed, re-exposed to light (sometimes this is done chemically) and the bleached and re-developed. Kodak used to have a processing kit to make direct black and white slides for Panatomic-X (ISO25) super fine grain film by means of the aforementioned type of process. When that film was discontinued they came out with another film specifically intended for the reversal process along with a compatible chemistry kit.

The paper version came out later on but was manufactured, distributed and listed through Kodak’s Graphic Arts Division and was little know to photographers at first but like Kodalith material surfaced in artistic photography for special effects usage such as high contrast, solarization and posterization techniques as well as certain copy and restoration applications along came direct positive materials of various types under the heading of “camera films and papers” because even in the graphic arts trades they were used in large format process cameras. Theses papers also required special reversal processes. There were slow for sure and required very high levels of light produce by carbon-arc lamps or higher wattage quartz lights. There spectral sensitivity was in the green area and oftentimes the light was filtered to a visibly green coloration.

All of theses materials have been out of manufacture for quite some time and even if you could apply the chemistry to traditional photographic papers you would have to mix theses chemistries from scratch and I would guess that even some of the components are no longer available as raw product in the forms that are required in that the “scratch” ingredients were made by Kodak as well.

A few decades ago the interest in direct positive papers reemerged because of those trendy “old type photography studios” such as the Dr. Bloodgood’s Photo Emporium franchise that popped up at amusements parks, county fairs, theme parks, special events, tourist areas and shopping malls. They were the places with antique style props and costumes and created while-you-wait tintype replications on Polaroid film treated with selenium toner. Larger prints could be made using Polaroid P/N 55 which provided a negative but the process was to painstaking and lengthy to accommodate the while-you-wait concept especially at events that attract larger crowds and long waiting lines.

Some of theses “old tyme” operators then began to try out direct positive papers. In my own hope town, I ran into an itinerant operator who specialized in offering this service at large events and fairs. He had the best equipped operation of its kind that I had ever seen in that he had a “studio” that consisted of 2 large enclosed trucks that served as a costume/dressing area and a studio. The props and backgrounds were rather authentic and the quality was high as were the poses and scenarios. He was offering 8x10 prints delivered in oval mattes with a gold stamped filigree design- rather impressive. I asked him what materials he used and he told it was Kodak direct positive paper that became available with an abbreviated process- just a few chemicals. It was RC based, washed and dried quickly and treated with selenium toner. He used an 8x10 view camera and a rather powerful set of electronic flash heads running off a Norman 2400 watt/second power pack so I assumed that the paper was very slow. Problem is, that since my curiosity was satisfied by his answers, I never delved into the exact materials and accompanying process that was used. I assumed that if I ever want to try this method out all I would need to do was call my photographic or graphic arts supplier and order up the required goods. The concept seemed simple enough at the time.

So…here I am years later trying to recall as much as I can and at every juncture on the internet I am finding that every one of those materials are no longer in production. Ilford was manufacturing a product called Harmon (or something like that name) that was usable for direct positive prints but it was said to be overly contrasty, however, some users pre-flashed the paper to lower its gamma and were able to somewhat restore the middle tomes- sounds incontinent, inconstant and tricky. Then I discovered that this paper has been discontinued some time ago. Some of the data I have attached, just to give you the idea of the extent of the process and the chemistry, has not been in supply since the 1970s and 80s.

The only thing that is still wracking my brain is that I somehow remember someone telling me about another paper, perhaps a unlikely product or something from an entirely different technology such as Xerox or some other reproduction system that works well with little fuss or muss. The end product was supposedly treated with toner for the old fashioned look but for the life of me I can’t recall the product and I don’t know who told me that. I was interested in a cheaper method of making test exposures when shooting commercial work on large format film and gear. I used 8x10 Polaroid films for critical lighting and exposure tests where it tracked well with the transparency film I was using but a quick black and white test could be used for verifying lighting patterns and compositions issues. I never found out!

I wish I could do better for you, perhaps on night at 3:00 AM it will suddenly come to me.

Here’s some stuff form the old files:

That paper is very old. Kodak stopped making it in about 1970. It is a very high speed, orthochromatic paper. Kodak recommended a Wratten No. 2 safelight (dark red). They recommended reversal development very similar to reversal film. The original instructions called for D-88 as the first developer, but a more modern developer could probably be used. This is followed by a rinse, R-9 (dichromate) bleach, rinse, CB-1 clearing bath, and another rinse. From here on, there are three options: you can redevelop in a fogging developer, redevelop in T-19 sulfide redeveloper (which gives sepia prints), or re-expose the film to a 40 watt lamp tor 3 seconds at 8 inches and then redevelop in D-88. Then you wash the print. There is no fix step. Actually you can probably use any standard black and white reversal film process. The paper is rated at ASA 25 speed (tungsten 12), and it was frequently used in a camera.

Kodak D-88 developer for reversal processing
Water (52C) 750 ml
Sodium sulfite (anh) 45 g
Hydroquinone 22.5 g
Boric acid (xtal) 5.5 g
Potassium bromide 2.5 g
Sodium hydroxide 22.5 g
WTM 1 l
Use full strength. Develop Direct Positive Paper 45 seconds at 20C, rinse, bleach for 30 seconds in R-9, rinse, clear in CB-1, rinse, re-expose, redevlop in T-19 or D-88, wash, and dry.

Kodak R-9 bleach for black and white reversal film
Water 1 l
Potassium dichromate 9.5 g
Sulfuric acid (conc) 12 ml
pH at 27C = 0.75
Specific gravity at 27C = 1.018
Bleach film for 50 seconds at 20C or 40 seconds at 35C

1. Develop in D-88 for 45 seconds at 68F.
2. Rinse for at least 15 seconds in running water.
3. Bleach in R-9 for 30 seconds or until image disappears.
4. Rinse in running water for at least 15 seconds.
5. Clear in CB-1 for 30 seconds.
6. Rinse in running water for at least 15 seconds.
7a. Redevelop in either Kodak Direct Positive Redeveloper or Kodak Sulfide Redeveloper T-19 for 60 seconds.
7b. Re-expose to white light, then redevelop in D-88 for 30 seconds at 68F
8. Wash in running water for 30 seconds.

Ref: Kodak Pamphlet No. G-14 (63-4-71-F), Direct Positive Photography with KODAK Super Speed Direct Positive Paper.

I might have something more on another hard drive- I will send it shortly.


Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 4:03 am
by Duck
Well, somewhat of a disappointing outlook as my initial look into the process seemed like the paper and chemicals were still available. I was hopeful, for a short while, that I'd be able to get some real use out of my Cambo.

I thank you for taking the extra time to address my inquiry. :thanks: At the least you have given me a more concrete place to start looking for answers. I think this will be my pet project for the summer.

Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 5:35 am
by Ed Shapiro
I did check out my other computer which contains lots of data on old processes and obsolete materials and found nothing about this paper. If I remember anything else or come across any more data I will surely let you know. I guess so many of the old graphic arts materials have been discontinued because digital and electronic methodologies have replaced so many of the pre-press procedures that were required for reproduction of photographs in lithographic media.

Good luck on your research- sounds interesting!


Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:05 pm
by Ed Shapiro
Duck! Perhaps some good news from Ilford! Seems the company is in receivership but someone, perhaps in Switzerland is going to continue production of some of their products. This is from my latest research on the Ilford website:


‘Positive’ paper - no need for a negative
Genuine silver gelatine photo paper
Coated on 255 gsm Fibre Baryta base
Fixed grade, high contrast paper
Glossy surface
Slow ISO speed (around ISO 3)
HARMAN DIRECT POSITIVE FB paper is primarily suited for use in pinhole cameras where exposure and processing in conventional black and white photo chemistry achieves a unique positive print - without the need for a film negative or inter-negative.
HARMAN DIRECT POSITIVE FB paper can also be successfully used in other applications such as direct exposure in large format cameras or by cutting small sheets for exposure in LOMO type cameras. Creative and unusual effects can be achieved when used to make photograms or perhaps substituted for standard photo paper when printing from negatives in an enlarger. Available to buy direct from HARMANexpress
Product Supply Suspension - HARMAN DIRECT POSITIVE FB paper

The emulsion for this product was developed in Switzerland by ILFORD Imaging Switzerland Gmbh for the Imago project, and became part of our product range when we decided to coat HARMAN DIRECT POSITIVE FB paper using the same emulsion.

Financial difficulties last year subsequently led to insolvency at ILFORD Imaging Switzerland and the business is now closed.

We have been, and still are, trying to secure the formula for the emulsion through the Receiver appointed for ILFORD Imaging Switzerland. If successful we intend to restart production, but being realistic it will take many months before any new coatings will be ready for sale, and we may not succeed.

As a result, we are advising that when our very limited stocks of HARMAN DIRECT POSITIVE FB are exhausted we will be unable to supply product for the medium term.

There may be some hope! Ed :thumbup:

Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:53 pm
by Ed Shapiro

Well curiosity got the best of me so I dug down a little deeper. Seems that this Ilford material had an entire culture of art photography built around it. The company even designed a pinhole camera especially for that material. Every article on the net that pertains to direct positive work pointed to that paper. Every supplier that was listed on the Net sung its praises but then marked the item as "discontinued" or "no longer available".

I, however, may have hit BINGO! There is a European supplier that lists a material with the identical specification as the Ilford product under the brand of IMAGO, The website is

This company has a price list in Euros with a 2014 date so it is likely they actually stock this material. They may have that old formula

On another forum one photographer suggest that any conventional paper intended for the we darkroom can be used in a view camera but long exposures (30 seconds and more) should be expected.

Good luck again! Ed

Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Mon Feb 23, 2015 8:04 pm
by Duck
Ed, again thanks for your due diligence here. I appreciate it.

Last year I recall seeing that Ilford was pushing forward with their pinhole camera (and subsequently their support materials) and I was really excited to try something new. I had not kept up on their development and it seems that Ilford had the rug pulled out from under them with the demise of their Swiss manufacturer. I just find it hard to believe that this centuries old technology has been completely eradicated with no one stepping in to replace their Swiss manufacturer. Sounds like a bad business plan on Ilford's side.

For me it was just the novelty of using traditional materials without getting into an expensive new format. The DP process appealed to me because of its simplicity. Last word from Ilford is that they are trying to secure rights to the formula for their DP paper. We'll see what happens.

Thanks again.

Re: Direct positive photography as an option

Posted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 1:06 am
by GalaxyPhotoPaper
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The idea is to produce a new b/w DIRECT POSITIVE (reversal process) photo paper. Our intention is not merely to create a substitute of the photo paper that has been gone out of the market, but to make an even better one, with higher sensitivity, better dynamic range and easier development process.

We have launched Kickstarter campaign. And we have a lot to offer to our supporters! ( ... hoto-paper )

Team Galaxy