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Fibre Print Drying, An Alternate Approach
Fibre Print Drying, An Alternate Approach
Dave Miller
Published by Dave miller
27th November 2008
Default Fibre Print Drying, An Alternate Approach

When we work on fibre paper prints we sometimes have difficulty in obtaining a completely flat print. The drying method described here, which guarantees a flat print, is one that I came across some years ago, and Iím no longer sure where, possibly Camera and Darkroom magazine. Itís one that I understand is favoured by watercolour artists who sometimes use it to pretension their paper prior to commencing work. We can make use of the principle, but in reverse.

I should point out that the method is not really suitable if you are making a large number of prints at any one time when traditional methods, drying frames and pressure pads may be a better option for you. As a guide I rarely produce more than five 16Ē x 12Ē prints in a session, the method described here suits that sort of through put.

An explanation of what drives the process first. Fibre paper absorbs a lot of water during development. This causes the paper to swell, and expand quite considerably. On drying the paper shrinks back to close to its original size. To illustrate the considerable amount of expansion, and shrinkage involved, carry out a measurement of your handiwork in both its wet and dry state. We can harness this shrinkage to prevent the buckling process that normally accompanies drying and thereby produce the flat prints that we crave. I suspect that this method works in part by slowing the drying of the paper to close to the rate of that of the emulsion since the moisture can only escape through the front of the work.

Prints finished in this way, and left unmounted, will stay flat for many months provided that they are not subjected to high humidity, and are correctly stored. You will however lose a few millimetres off each side of your paper due to the final trimming required. An allowance for this loss, of about ten millimetres on each edge, should be made at the printing stage.

If you wish to try this method then you will require the following materials:

1. A roll of 15 to 20mm wide gummed paper tape. Brown paper parcel tape with a water soluble adhesive is required, not so easy to locate these days, but still available in most stationers or arts and crafts shops, and dare I say it, on eBay.

2. Flat glass or plastic sheets 3 to 6mm thick, whilst these sheets need to be a manageable size they must be at least 10cm larger than your print. I use glass shelves out of old refrigerators. One side of the sheet needs to be smooth, and the sides, and corners should be ground down to remove any sharp edges. Old fridge shelves have the advantage of being made from toughened glass; rigid plastic sheets are also ideal.

3. A good supply of paper hankies, the man-sized version are best. Some prefer a soft damp chamois leather kept specifically for the task of mopping surplus water off your print.

Commence by taking your processed, well washed fibre print, and lay it face down on your glass. Gently wipe off excess water with soft tissues, or chamois, lift the print, wipe the glass, lay the print on it, face up this time, and repeat the process. The idea is to remove as much surplus water as possible. Be careful not to stress the print surface. One could use a squeegee for this purpose if preferred, but remember wet emulsion is delicate.

Now lay the print, face up, on a dry sheet, and press it down using a clean, dry tissue. Remove any trapped air from underneath it. Tear off four strips of paper tape, each a little longer than the length of your prints edges. Moisten these in turn with a wet tissue, and stick your print to the glass with them. The tape should overlap the print edge by about 4mm, press it down firmly with a tissue.

Set the assembly aside and leave it to dry overnight in a clean environment, don't try and rush things by heating it. Here I must confess to having made use of our clothes airing cupboard on occasions where time was short, but I cannot recommend it to start with, too fluffy by far!

Next day you will be greeted by a drum-tight print. Take a sharp knife, and slice through the tape around the edge of the print to release it from the glass. Trim off the edge of the print to get rid of the remnants of the paper tape. Matt print, job done!

What can go wrong? Well, until you are practiced in this method, a couple of things.

You may find that the paper tape has torn or lifted along one or more sides as the print dries. This is normally due to the tape not having adhered to the glass, or print properly, usually because it wasn't quite wet enough.

Conversely, when you cut the tape you may find that the print will not release from the glass, possibly over it's whole area or perhaps just an edge or corner. This is because either the tape, or the print was too wet, allowing some of the dissolved tape adhesive to wick under the paper and stick it down to the glass.

In either case immerse the sheet in water for about half and hour, until the tape floats off the print. Give the print a further five minute wash to remove all traces of adhesive, wash and dry the glass, and start again.

The procedure will soon become second nature and will not normally occupy more than a few minutes, much less time than the traditional method since the need to flatten the print is removed.

Before closing there are a number of other factors to consider:
The first is drydown, this is the difference in contrast and dmax of a wet and dry print. This will change with this drying method so whatever method of compensation you use must change too, probably by a reduction in the exposure allowance that you make.

Another is print size. With normal drying methods you will end up with an image close to the projected dimensions. With the method described above your picture will be slightly larger than projected, do some before and after measurements to establish this change if you consider it important. I have the bulk of my matts cut for me by Carters Mounts, and prefer to mount with a small border showing around the image, therefore I make an adjustment by reducing the projected image size, so that the dry size fits the matt; a complication some may not wish for.

There are, of course, two sides to a sheet of glass, but here, in case you get any ideas may I remind you that, as in the rest of life, itís better to learn to walk before attempting to sprint.
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By Andrew Bartram on 27th November 2008, 03:19 PM

It was either DU or C&D as it later became - I have the original article somewhere.
I'm sure the article claims that drydown is eliminated or minimised, I'll try to dig it out - perhaps it can be posted?
Last edited by Andrew Bartram; 27th November 2008 at 03:22 PM.. Reason: forgot something
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By Bob on 27th November 2008, 04:23 PM

Do you have any comparison pictures Dave?

The prints on the right were dried face down on the screen (not where it is - in a rack) and the two prints on the left were dried face up and as a result are more curly. The ones dried face down obviously still need flattening tho...

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By Dave miller on 1st December 2008, 06:47 PM

Snaps of the process.
The first shows a collection drying.
The second is a close up showing how much the tape is overlapped, this on a 16x12 print.
The last two show a print released from the glass and ready to have the tape trimmed off and then matted.
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By Bob on 4th December 2008, 01:33 PM

Thanks for the images Dave - looks flatter than when it comes out of the box at least! I'll have to give it a try.
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By Sandeha Lynch on 20th September 2010, 12:03 PM

A slight variation on this that I would say achieves 90% of the result described above. It's not as good as the gummed paper strip, as it tends to break free before drying is complete - even so, it can save time in an emergency when you simply don't have a day free for putting your print in a press.

Microporous tape from Tesco. Prints sponged off, and then taped to the refrigerator door. The prints dry well overnight with only very slight moisture remaining. The tape peels off leaving minimal traces.

A 90% result, but good in an emergency.
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By TobyDeveson on 16th November 2010, 10:47 AM

great tips, thank you. I always used to dry the prints back to back which definitely helped but in no way produced such a flat result.

I assume the use of glass is not a necessity but just the best material available? We used to stretch paper onto wooden (varnished and waterproof) boards.

I am close to putting an exhibition together and will speak to the person doing my framing about whether it will make any difference to them. Thank again.
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By Les McLean on 16th November 2010, 02:33 PM

Andrew makes a good point about paper drydown. When using the method described here by Dave the paper does not shrink and, as suggested by Andrew, this results in little or no drydown. When drying prints face down on a drying screen the paper shrinks which is the cause of the drydown. I understand that because the paper shrinks the photographic grain forming the image closes, causing the image to darken.
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By TobyDeveson on 16th November 2010, 04:07 PM

well that makes sense Les...I always just accepted that an image will darken slightly when dry, some papers more than others....but I never realised this was the reason it follows that by drying like this it will not darken at all....this is interesting...I am now no longer aware of my prints darkening, either because the paper I use now (fomatone 532) hardly darkens at all or because I naturally compensate without even thinking about I am now asking myself whther I should try this method or will it throw my "eye" into a state of confusion...
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By TobyDeveson on 8th July 2011, 12:26 PM

Hi Dave, just thought Id come back with a few experiences I have been having...

I am now using this method regularly and have had a few problems. Coming back to your article it is obvious I am working with everything too wet.

When I first started I had terrible problems with the prints sticking to the glass. I solved it by putting cling film onto the glass, laying the wet print onto this then trimming the cling film until it was a couple of mm larger than the print, folding it over the print and then taping it down, so any glue goes behind the cling film and not the print. This seems to have solved that problem...

most prints dried ok.

but now I still seem to be getting buckles on the print, sometimes they are not too bad and will flatten out by putiing the print under some weights. It seems the tape is coming up and not holding the print uniformly. I have been putting the tape at least a couple of cms over the print and making sure it is wet enough. Perhaps it is too wet?

Anyway, no idea if you can help or if the cling film is something that could be of use for you. Just thought Id share it with you. I will go back to the drawing board and make sure I remove all the excess water next time. I have not been doing that till now.


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an alternate approach, fibre print drying
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