A Convenient Way to Flat Dry Prints (Reprise)

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Some time ago, I asked this list for suggestions for drying prints because I was frustrated with the curling I usually observed with my air drying, and not very enthousiastic about buying a hotbed drier. Now it seems I found the ultimate drying method:

Curling is due to differences in the shrinkage of the emulsion and the paper base. Hotbed driers force the paper to dry more or less flat by holding it down under their cloth, their cloth sometimes becoming a source of contamination. Air drying usually aims at slowing down the drying process so as to have both sides of the paper dry more or less simultaneously. Well, at least for me this didn't seem to result in flat prints.

Now for the new method. I found the suggestion on the web site of a German mail-order company (www.phototec.de): They suggested taping down the paper edges to chipboard using that brown tape which is used for cardboard boxes (the paper version of this tape, which you have to wipe with a wet sponge to make it sticky, not the plastic stuff!). At first I didn't like the method too much as I thought that placing the wet print on chipboard is not a good idea because glue from the board is likely to migrate into the print. This might give spots in the course of time. Then I had the idea to use platic-laminated chipboard (the kind of stuff you find inside kitchen furniture), and this works fine w/o any risk of contamination for the print.

Here are the details:

Prepare four strips of appropriate length of the tape for each print. Each strip's length should exceed the length of the edge of the print for which it is cut by at least twice the width of the tape.

Then put the print on the board, emulsion side up, gently wipe or squeegee off droplets.

Wipe the tape strips with the wet sponge and tape down the print edges.

Mind two things:

1) There should be an overlap of at least 1 cm between the print and the tape, so leave some rebate.)

2) Do not make the tape too wet. If there are drops of water on the tape, they are likely to run over your print, which might give rise to discolorations in due time.

Both the print and the tape will shrink in the course of the drying process. So the print is tensioned, and will be absolutely flat when you cut off the tape!

Any thoughts about this method? Suggestions for improvement?

-- Thomas Wollstein (thomas_wollstein@web.de), March 20, 2000


Thomas, this method is actually used quite frequently in fine art printmaking, such as intalgio(etching), where the paper is presoaked before running through the press with the inked plate. The presoaking makes the paper fibers more flexible so they are more easily pressed down into the recessed areas of the plate which hold the ink. The finished print is taped up to dry, just as you described to ensure flatness. When I was in art school, after cutting the prints down, we would tear off the taped edges using a steel straight edge to give the edges a decaled(sp?) look.

I think you pointed out and addressed the primary problem, taping them to something that is inert and won't transfer glue or residue into the back of the print. I think this method is sound. There are some minor pitfalls that can be corrected with practice, for example making sure that the edges are completely sealed by the tape. If the tape comes up at any point in the drying process, this will create a nice crease across the surface of the dryed print. We used to burnish the tape down thoroughly with the round back of a soup spoon.

-- Paul Swenson (paulphoto@humboldt1.com), March 20, 2000.

I suspect curl is affected also by how rapid the drying is. When I suspend prints from a clothesline in the bathroom (higher humidity), its not as bad. I finally put my prints into my contact printing frame so they are held flat against the glass and leave them there for a couple of days. They don't go absolutely flat but they handle a lot better. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), March 20, 2000.

I bought an enameled steel plate from light impressions. After heating the prints in a drymount press, leaving them under this plate for a day yeilds a really flat print. Sometimes I want for a dozen steel plates and a larger studio, but settle for a slower process (it's about 18x22" plate)... t

-- tom meyer (twm@mindspring.com), March 22, 2000.

I have never heard such a complex, unwieldy, time-wasting, absolutely absurd solution to such a simple problem in my entire life!

Hang FB prints on a line to dry, flatten them overnight under a heavy book.

BTW, the tape you suggest using is *not* acid-free and will damage the prints. So not only is this "solution" a complete waste of time, energy and money, it is also destructive.


-- Peter Hughes (leo948@yahoo.com), March 23, 2000.

Let me make a simple suggestion to the flattening plate sold through Light Impressions. (a fine product, but as with many in photography, unnecessary) Go to your local glass supply shop and purchase a sheet of 1/2"thick glass to the size you require and have them smooth off the edges. Presto - a flattening device that is not only heavier than the plate (or books), but can be cleaned easily without damage.

-- jim megargee (mvjim@interport.net), March 24, 2000.


You may not have heard of it, but it can be an annoying problem. I am aware of the fact that some papers curl less than others, and you may be lucky to use one of the easy papers. However, I refuse to select my paper according to its drying behaviour. If you had read my earlier thread on this (whence the word "Reprise" in the subject line), you would know that I tried, albeit without success, to flatten my prints under weighted board--not for a day, but for several days. The results were not satisfactory, particularly at the edges. This does not seem to be the consequence of extended washing, as I use the Ilford archival washing sequence.

Of the methods I tried so far, air drying by hanging the prints on the line gave the worst results. When I hung the prints in pairs, back to back, the results were somewhat better, with the edges still being a problem.

I know the tape is surely not archival (just as I expressed my doubts that using unlaminated chipboard is a good idea), but that is not a problem as the tape is on the unexposed rebate of the print and is trimmed off. There is then indeed a certain loss of material, namely the tape and the trimmed-off rebate.

As to "time-consuming": I found this method much more convenient and less time-consuming than the others I tried so far, not to speak about its effectiveness which is unbeaten.

-- Thomas Wollstein (thomas_wollstein@web.de), March 24, 2000.

Thomas Wollstein said:

**Now it seems I found the ultimate drying method:**

Thomas, I have used your ultimate method in the past for the flattening of bromoil prints and found it to be extremely effective.

Unlike Paul, I do not consider it to be either **complex, unwieldy, time-wasting or absolutely absurd.**

I have gravitated to a somewhat simpler method, however:

Lightly and evenly dampening the back of the curled print with water, sandwiching it between two mat baords, heating in a dry mount press for two or three minutes and then weighting the print for an hour or so under glass with books.



-- Gene Laughter (glaughter@earthlink.net), March 27, 2000.

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