Lith printing

first posted 8 November 2009

I had a visit from a friend the other day while I was doing some contact printing. He was asking me how a real Lith print looked, as he had only ever seen them in books. I told him that there wasn’t much to it, the technique is pretty straightforward if you are just playing around with it, the difficulty comes in trying to get repeatable results. His question made me remember how much I used to enjoy that particular type of printing, so I decided a demonstration would be the easiest way to let him see just what it was capable of.

I wasn’t that bothered about doing contact sheets that night, so I mixed up some old Kodalith dev which I’ve had for over twenty years (it seems to last forever) and chose a suitable neg. I couldn’t find any proper Lith paper, but remembered that old Kentmere Kentona worked well and Ilford Warmtone FB could be used too. The Kentona gives a very pink result which is very typical of Lith prints, but I’m not crazy about it. The Ilford warmtone produces a Lith type image, but isn’t ideal, it’s not really supposed to be a ‘lithable’ paper, the split isn’t as pronounced as with some other papers and you don’t get any pink tones. The image goes speckled in a nice way though and takes on a khaki sort of colour which I find attractive for certain images. The effect is often so ‘grainy’ though, that it can’t be used for large format negs unless you particularly want them to look like they were shot on Delta 3200 on a half frame camera.

One important point though, the RC version definitely doesn’t work, -you have to use the FB.

Here are a couple of examples, the first is on Ilford Warmtone and the second is Kentmere Kentona, both from a 5×4 negative;


Ilford WT FB

Kentmere kentona

Once we had a few prints I began to experiment with a few other papers. I tried Ilford Gallerie and Kentmere Fineprint VC FG Warmtone, which has a lovely quality when processed normally, -I think it has the look of a pencil drawing with the right image, it doesn’t have a deep black, but a deep pencil grey on a cream base. I was surprised to find that it worked really well as a Lith paper, out of the four non Lith papers I tried it was easily the best.

Here is an example;

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 16.39.12

The Technique;

As the Kodalith developer is no longer available, I ran some tests with the Fotospeed variety to check my dilutions and times. There was no appreciable difference at the strength I was using it, though this differed from the recommendations that came with the kit.

My own preference is to mix 50ml of A and 50ml of B into 900ml of water at 20?C.

To establish an exposure time;

Method A

Expose four pieces of paper (I cut a sheet of 10×8 into four equal 5×4 test pieces) to a range of times, one after another – 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes and four minutes under the same part of the negative and write the times on the back.

Start the clock. Drop them all in the developer together and keep them moving, but don’t be too vigourous with the agitation.

Look for the faint image, -usually around two minutes.

Somewhere between three and a half and six minutes, depending on paper type, the black will begin to appear in the deepest shadow areas. You need to keep a close eye on it at this stage, as the black areas will get darker and creep up the tonal range. When you have the shadow tone you desire, remove the test and drop it in the stop bath. Do the same for each of the other test pieces. make a note of the times you removed the tests -this is known as the snatch point.

Examine the tests after they have been in the fix (Ilford Warmtone has a milky coating which is removed in the fix, making it difficult to accurately judge a proper black).

You will notice that the most contrasty one is the one with the shortest exposure and the longest development time (think of uprating film, -underexposure and overdevelopment mean more contrast). The one with the greatest exposure and shortest time will have the lowest contrast and may look rather ‘muddy’. One of the tests should have the tonality and contrast which is to your liking and this is your indicated time for the main print.

Method B

Mix up a tray of Ilford Multigrade developer in a second tray next to the Lith developer. Do a normal test strip in the usual way, eg; 5 second increments.

Develop this in the Multigrade developer and choose the exposure which gives you the first appearance of black in those areas which were clear on the negative.

Multiply this exposure by 10.

Give the print this extended time and develop in the Lith developer. The mids and highs should appear around two minutes and the snatch point will be between three and a half minutes and six minutes. If the developer is fresh and at 20?C, it won’t take too long, but as the solution ages, dev times can become really long. I did one the other night after printing for a few hours and it took half an hour!

Warmtone FB papers vary in their response to Lith developer and the 10x rule is only a guide, I know it works for the Kentmere papers mentioned above, and for Ilford Gallerie, but the Warmtone FB needs only about 5x extra exposure.

Whichever paper you decide to use, remember that the exposure can vary tremendously and still ‘work’ depending on the effect you are after. Overexposure lessens contrast and underexposure increases it, -but you may have very long dev times. Because of the excessive exposure needed compared to conventional printing, dense, overexposed or overprocessed negatives are to be avoided. Choose negs which are normal to thin.

Here are three prints, the first is Ilford Warmtone FB in Multigrade developer, the second is the same paper in Lith developer and the third is Ilford Gallerie in tired old Lith developer.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 16.40.37


There are so many variables in Lith printing that it is very difficult to get two that look exactly alike. If you expose two or three pieces of paper and put them through one after the other you will have pretty similar prints, but if you were to do three prints over an hour they would each be different.

The developer oxidises quite quickly compared to other developers and the temperature can drop (a problem in the winter months in the UK). Lith developer is sensitive to temperature changes, so a heating device under the tray is a better method of control.

When the developer has oxidised it creates ‘pepper fogging’ which looks like exaggerated film grain.

Here you can see the difference between the left side which is the Kentmerel FB warmtone paper in old dev, displaying pepper fogging and the right side which is a dedicated lith paper in fresh chemicals;

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 22.29.20

I really enjoyed getting back into Lith printing and intend to do more. I’m going to shoot some winter landscapes with this printing method in mind.


  1. Posted 08/11/2009 at 6:49 pm

    Interesting that you found Galerie worked, must give it a try.
    Ilford Warmtone FB is certainly subtle in lith, but really sings in 2nd-pass development. What’s more you only need a straight (slightly overexposed) print to start with and can work in room lighting! Just posted one I did yesterday.

  2. Posted 08/11/2009 at 7:12 pm

    Do you know, I’m rather partial to a bit of lith too – only the long wait for the image to appear bugs me a bit.

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