UV Light Box for Albumen Printing

When acquiring my 8×10 View Camera a few years ago I did so with the intention to make contact prints using modern and, down the road, historical processes.

At the time I did not know much about the techniques and materials of historical processes but I loved the tonality and detail of the prints that I had seen in exhibitions and books. After thoroughly researching, I found the connection to historical processes , particularly Albumen Printing, quite fascinating.

Historically, most Albumen prints have been made from dry and wet glass plate negatives. Since I had never made dry or wet glass plate negatives, my initial plan was to make Albumen contact prints from the same film negatives that I would be using for silver chloride contact prints.

Since Albumen coated and silver sensitized printing paper is no longer commercially available it must be hand-made using artists’ paper which is then coated with Albumen and light sensitive silver nitrate using historical or modern recipes. (Albumen paper coating and sensitizing is an exhaustive subject by itself and will be covered in a future entry.)

From the beginning of photography the sun has been the source of light to enable a negative to be printed as a positive. The UV and blue wavelengths in sunlight were essential to printing glass negatives on Albumen paper.

Although I truly enjoyed using the sun as my light source and making this connection to the photographers from the 1850 – 1900 period, the inconsistent and unpredictable nature of the sun was a challenge to me. Printing only on sunny days, at specific times during the day (11AM – 1PM = best UV light), and with light levels changing from season to season, was technically challenging. Additionally, I like to work in the darkroom at night which was not possible!

I researched the internet for photography web sites, forums, and videos to learn about light boxes for historical printing processes and found a wealth of information for purchasing commercially available “off the shelf” light boxes as well as descriptions of and plans for DIY light boxes.

Research showed that specific wavelengths of light were required for different historical printing processes as the light sensitivity of the various chemicals utilized were different.

  • I decided that a DIY light box would be the best fit for me. The options were many:
    • Fluorescent Tubes: BL, BLB, and SA
    • H.I.D.: Mercury Vapor, Metal Halide
    • LED
    • Tanning Lights / Tanning Beds
    • UV Grow Lights
    • Reptile Aquarium Lights

After a lot of reading and interaction with web and Forum members who had already built their own light boxes, I decided to build a UV Printer using BLB fluorescent bulbs. I chose BLB bulbs because I did not want LED/ Tanning/Grow/Aquarium bulbs and BLB bulbs were lower cost than BL bulbs.

  • Below are a few details of my build:
    • Overall Size: 28in.W x 25in.D x 18in.H
    • Bulb Specs: Twelve 15W T8 BLB tubes 18in.L x 1in.W
    • Cooling: Two “computer” fans
    • Reflective interior walls: Silver foil tape
    • Accepts my 11×14 contact printing frames with room to spare
    • Average print time with the box: 10-18 minutes
    • Average print time with the sun: 6-12 minutes

Stay in touch for my next blog ……. DIY modification of a standard film holder for use with dry & wet glass plates.

Drew Wagner

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