MAKING A DIGITAL NEGATIVE
16/10/12IMPORTANT NOTE:- The following text should be read in conjunction with the Photoshop illustrations, available free on line via the following link:
The digital negative is perhaps most useful for people who don’t own film cameras or have film processing equipment. This is therefore aimed at photographers who have digital cameras, printers and Photoshop. That said, although I still own film cameras I find the digital negative much less time consuming, more easily controlled and far more economical than film. Firstly we don’t have the boring and time-consuming task of processing the negative strip. Secondly when using conventional negatives and an enlarger, I invariably use a lot of print paper in achieving the best possible print. Currently, good Bromoil papers are very hard to find, it is therefore essential that wastage be cut to an absolute minimum. The digital negative helps us to achieve this by providing consistent results that require little or no additional work at the contact printing stage, (assuming of course you have honed your technique). Having said all that, I still make a small conventional test strip from the contact negative, this ensures the final exposure of the print is absolutely correct.
This is my method for making digital negatives and it is derived and adapted to my way of working, from Dan Burkholder’s book, “Making Digital Negatives for contact printing”.
I would emphasise that this is a starting point and should be honed to your own working methods. Firstly I use red ink negatives and not black ink negatives. I have found that the black ink negative does not produce the tonal qualities of its red counterpart. You may find otherwise, (I know one person that uses blue negatives) nothing is written in stone! You will find many methods recommended for producing a negative digitally, this is my way, but experimentation and adaptation is the key.
The following assumptions are made:
1) You have a good working knowledge of Photoshop.
2) You have an A3 or A4 printer, (it doesn’t matter if it’s a dye or chrome ink printer, (when using 3m transparency film) for other makes of film you will need to make your own investigations).
3) You have a supply of 3M Universal Transparency Film ref code CG6000 or Permajet Digital Transfer Film. I tend to use the 3Ms as it’s half the price of the Permajet. The Permajet handles better and dries quicker. The 3M however, is perfectly OK if you let it dry for an hour or two and store it with a clean sheet of white paper to its inked surface. There are other less expensive brands available which work perfectly well. I suspect these are made by one of the big manufacturers and re-branded, (although I have no evidence of this).
4) You have a digital image, which I generally size to fit the chosen printing paper, usually 10”x 8” (25cm x 20cm). I size my images around 22cm, (longest side), which leaves some room for handling the negative and in turn, the resulting print, (See tips at the end).
WORKING STEPS, (assuming you’re starting with a colour image)
• Open your image in Photoshop and size as necessary.
• Desaturate by going:- Image-Adjustments-Desaturate or Image- Adjustments-Black & White. Or choose your own preferred method of changing the colour image to monochrome. Do not however change to Grayscale, as the image needs to be in RBG. If you have scanned in, say a 35mm monochrome negative, simply go:- Image-Adjustments-Invert, to make it a positive, then Image-Mode-RGB Color.
• Now adjust your image as you would for a normal black and white print i.e levels, dodging, burning, cloning etc until you are happy with the result.
• Now go Image-Adjustments-Curves a drop down box appears:-
• You can now adjust the curve, (as a starting point, make it similar to the one illustrated) or load it from a pre-saved file via the Load Preset command. (The curve I use can be downloaded at
• Alternatively if you have access to the CD supplied with the Dan Burkholder book, (mentioned above), start with the curve silvergf.avc and adapt as necessary
• Your image should now look quite washed out and light
• Now go Image-Adjustments-Invert and which produces the monochrome negative.
• Click on the Colour Picker (Foreground Colour). In the colour box change the “R” to 255, the”G” to 0 and the “B” to 0. You now should have pure red selected. Click OK and the box will disappear.
• Now select Edit-Fill, a box will appear. In the Contents-Use Dropdown box, select Foreground Color and in The Blending Mode Dropdown box select Color. Note: I use an Opacity of 100% and adjust colour the density, if necessary at the printing stage, (see “Printing” below). You could of course reduce colour density here, by using a lower percentage figure. I personally find it easier to do at the printing stage. You now have the red negative ready for printing.
Printing: You should only need to carry out this step once. The result should then be applied to all further negatives. Initially I found some of my negatives printed out blurred when they were perfectly OK on screen. It finally struck me that the reason for this, was that the printer was laying down too much ink, causing “Bleeding” to occur. To negate this, make a small test print on a piece of transparency film. Firstly take a small section of the image, (somewhere that contains all the tones) and print it off. The image should look crisp. If it looks blurry, (see online images) then the printer is laying down too much ink, causing the “bleeding” phenomena. Gradually reduce the colour density, making small test prints until there is no bleeding. With my Epson R2880, I use the “Epson Premium Glossy” setting, but with the Colour Density set to minus 20%, this produces nice crisp negatives. The settings of course will alter with the transparency material, printer, and ink type you use. Once again you will have to adapt and experiment.
Border: Directly around the completed negative image, put a white border, then around that, a black border. In the final print the white border will be black and give a nice finish. The outer black border will of course be white in the final print. It’s main function however, is for ease of handling under a red/orange darkroom safelight. Without the border, it’s almost impossible to accurately locate the negative over the print paper, as everything appears red/orange.
The image: Don’t make a Bromoil print for the sake of it. It’s a long and costly process; so don’t waste your time and energy on any old image. Use one which you feel will be worthy of being a “Bromoil Print”.
Whether you use conventional film and an enlarger, or digital negatives, this is only the starting point. The real fun comes when you start to ink the final print and the resulting joy it gives when completed. In the words of the great Bromoilist Gilbert R Hooper FRPS “Every Bromoil is an original, no two can be made the same” and that remains true however you choose to produce your negative.
Dave Symonds FRPS EFIAP