Toning darkroom prints


Welcome to my 114th blog post, which I will use to describe some toning experiments with gelatin silver darkroom prints. I’m trying to spend more time in the darkroom and become more organised; so for example I’ve been producing contact prints for most of my sets of negative to make it easier to pick out the ones I want to print. It’s a bit of a chore but it will be worth it in the long run.

I’m also trying to plan my use of toning so that I’m more likely to know in advance what toning I want to apply to a particular negative. I’m not entirely new to toning, having used sepia and selenium, but my useage has been a bit ad-hoc and not properly documented. I’ve liked some of the results and not liked others but haven’t been able to remember what toning regime produced which results.

I also wanted to understand better the interaction between paper choice, developer choice, and toners. Most of my darkroom printing is with two resin-coated papers:

  • Ilford Multigrade IV RC (a neutral-toned paper)
  • Ilford Multigrade RC Warmtone

These papers are developed in one of two paper developers:

  • Champion Multicontrast print developer (neutral tone)
  • Fotospeed WT10 (warm tone)

I then have two types of toner available:

  • Sepia
  • Selenium

It sounds like a small range of materials but when you work out all of the different variations of paper, developer, untoned, toning with one toner, and toning with two toners, there are actually twenty different options. A spreadsheet came in handy to list the options:

Note that I have included as separate options, sepia toning followed by selenium toning, and selenium toning followed by sepia toning, to see what difference the order of toning makes.

A wet Bank Holiday Monday seemed like a good time to spend several hours in the darkroom so I set off to print 20 versions of the same image. I chose an image, taken in the Yorkshire Dales at Norber, which would produce a reasonable result as a straight print without dodging and burning, as I didn’t fancy having to replicate the same dodging and burning sequence twenty times.

All of the prints on the neutral paper were given the same exposure time of 7.2s, and all of the prints on the warm tone paper were given an exposure time of about 15s, in each case calculated using an RH Designs Analyser pro to produce the same tonal range.

I was aware of advice to produce a darker print where sepia toning is intended, and a lighter print where selenium toning is intended, but I decided to print them all at the same time so that the effects were visible in the reference set of images which would be my end results. If I had made exposure time alterations to individual prints, I probably would have then forgotten what adjustment had been made.

The sepia toner used was Fotospeed ST20, diluted 1:19. This toner comes with an additive which can be used in varying amounts to influence the colour of the toner image. I used 15ml per 1 litre which is designed to produce a tone called, er, “sepia”. So that’s stronger than “yellow/light sepia” and weaker than “dark sepia”.

The selenium toner used as Fotospeed SL20, also diluted 1:19. This is a fairly low dilution which is intended to provide archival permanence and to strengthen the dmax, but not to provide noticeable colour changes.

Unfortunately, I did make a mistake in the execution of my plan, and failed to print image 17, which should have been on warm tone paper, developed in warm tone developer, and toned with sepia. I didn’t notice until after I’d discarded the warm tone developer (the neutral tone sits in a Nova slot processor where it lasts for weeks). I’ll try to go back and produce the missing print and update the results when I can.

[Edit – print 17 turned up at the bottom of the print washer and is now included]

I’ll now post the results in batches. Click on any image set to get a larger view.

First, the results with neutral paper (Ilford MGIV RC) and neutral developer (Champion Multicontrast):

Here are the results with neutral paper (Ilford MGIV RC) and Fotospeed WT10 warm tone developer:

Next, the results with warm tone paper (Ilford MG RC warmtone) and neutral developer (Champion multicontrast):

Finally, the results with warm tone paper (Ilford MG RC warmtone) and warm tone developer Fotospeed WT10):


I’m not going to attempt too much analysis of the results right now and will just let the images speak for themselves, for a number of reasons.

First, it’s not a  case of finding the “best” combination because the result I like best for the image I used for these tests, might not be the combo I like best for a totally different image.

Second, what I like best might not be what you like best, dear reader.

Third, I need more time to assess and compare the results.

I will however post again with some more thoughts, including comparisons grouped in different ways, e.g. the effect of changing developer without changing paper.

I hope you found the results useful – I certainly did. I should stress that I am in no way an expert in toning – if you want to learn from someone who is then have a look at the tutorials from David Kirkby at Twelve Small Squares. David is a fellow member of the Film and Darkroom User Group and posted a link to his tutorials just before I carried out these experiments. I found it very instructive to see David’s results – but doing it yourself is even better because the learning sinks in better through practical exercises. I produced very small prints (about 5″ * 3.5″) to keep the cost down.

It’s worth noting two points:

a) Obviously I’m showing scanned prints and it’s not possible to guarantee that the tones in the scan are an absolute match for the print

b) There are a whole load of variations possible within the toning process (for example dilutions and timing) so these results are only one of many possible sets.

Oh, and apologies to those who read this post before I had actually finished writing it – I pressed the publish button too soon !




  1. Interesting article, brought back some memories. I liked selenium toner, and as you said it does strengthen D.max and from memory gave different results with different papers.


    • David, I had to go off and have a look at the bottle to answer your question, since I don’t pay too much attention to fixer choice. It’s Tetenal Superfix in a 5 litre container, which cost under £20 – basically the cheapest I could get in the UK.

      When I shot more TMax film, I liked using TMax fixer, which is good at removing the stain from the negative.

      I’ve updated the post since your comment, showing more of the results.

      Do you have problems getting photo chems in your part of the world ?


      • Hi Kevin, Actually the question is now twofold:
        I need to throw away all my non dry chemicals when I leave Oman, cannot ship. Sad because it’s money going down the drain, chemicals were so hard to find here. But it does mean I can get adventurous and try others when I replace them, hence the original question.
        I noticed in the post you did back in 2014 that there was fogging showing in the whites on ‘some’ prints. I see the same now in this new set you just added.
        I had the same problem on & off and was never able to pin it down, either not enough fixing or my wash time was shorter than it should be.
        I solved the problem (sort of) by mixing basic fixer from dry chemicals as per a formula found in one of Adams books. It was also suggested that I use Ilford Hypam but only ever found that once from a shop in Dubai.
        So am always curious what others use when toning.
        For film (all) I have used Tmax fixer since it came out, followed by Kodak Hypo Clearing Agent; both of these oddly! were easily found here in Oman.
        Sorry for the long comment, but I learn so much from people who have informative blogs like yours.


  2. David, do you mean fogging in the print border rather than, say, the clouds ? On the computer I’m on now (downstairs at home) I can see that some of the borders appear grey instead of white. However, I didn’t notice that on the original prints or one the computer (upstairs at home) that I used to scan the prints.

    Scanning prints is problematic because on the one hand you want them to look their best but sometimes, as in this case, you don’t want to introduce too much change at scanning time in case the comparison is not valid. However I think I’ll try rescanning the prints, and setting a white point from the print border.


    • OK another update. I went back to the computer where I had scanned the images and adjusted the monitor brightness down – which made the grey borders more apparent. I then rescanned the images and adjusted the white point to keep the borders white or nearly so. This blog post is now showing the new images.

      Thanks for the feedback David – I’ve satisfied myself that my fixer is not a problem but the calibration of my monitors is a problem !


  3. Sorry for all this: yes it was the border and that was exactly the problem I had experienced – it was not criticism so I hope you don’t think it was.
    I hate scanning and have the same problems trying to get an image on the screen looking like the print in my hand, so sympathise.
    Bl…y computers, nothing is ever easy.


  4. I’m a 3 decade returner to the darkroom and in some ways to film photography. Having decided to do more film in mid 2017 I have now gone fully analog in my phtography (95% anyway..!) I’m coming across one or two blogs/websites recently that are more in line with my philosophy and leanings, place that i will drop in to on a regular basis – yours being one of them. Thank you.

    I’ve just started to experiment with Selenium toner on both Ilford MGVI warmtone and Kentmere VC Select papers.

    I see very little difference at any dilution/time ratio… I’m using Moersch Selen as the toner.

    Anyway my question… Do you re-use the toner at all? As in do you mix up then when done bottle for the next use..! Can that be done? Or, does it need to be mixed on a per use basis?

    Regards from NW Scotland


    • Matthew, I certainly do reuse my toner and I have selenium and sepia toners stored in zoom bottles for this purpose. I don’t use the Moersch toners but I expect there are some instructions which state how long the solution can be kept for. You could email Wolfgang Moersch and check with him. Thanks for following the blog.


  5. Great stuff – the fact that selenium and bleach sepia toner (I use thiocarbamide and caustic soda combo which is likely what you are using) work from OPPOSITE tonal ends of the print makes for a high degree of creativity. a light bleach followed by toner affecting highlights only, then selenium in the shadows make delightful split toned images


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