Photo Lacquer

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by archer, Oct 2, 2010.

  1. archer

    archer Member

    Jun 29, 2009
    4x5 Format
    Many years ago (40), I printed a large portrait for a pro who asked me to varnish the print which was printed on Medalist G and I was amazed how beautiful it looked. I also remember lacquering two 16X20 prints with a commercially available flat spray lacquer for another pro who changed his mind after the prints on F (glossy) surface were already dry mounted and he didn't want to spend the money for a matt surface reprint and remount. Well, yesterday, I attended a rosary where the subject of the lacquered portrait was being remembered and lo and behold there was the portrait I had printed all those years ago, on an easel in front of the alter. It was still in the same unglazed frame he selected and it looked exactly the same as the day I printed it. So I guess this question should go to PE. Isn't lacquering damaging to a print or does it not affect the archival keeping as much as I've always thought? I know that in the past, many old timers including Stieglitz, varnished some of their work and that it yellows with age but lacquer doesn't seem to yellow at all and doesn't appear to have damaged the print at all. Didn't Kodak sell a Photo Lacquer not too long ago? I sure hope someone can shed light on these questions.
    Denise Libby
  2. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

    Mar 28, 2008
    Ann Arbor, M
    Multi Format
  3. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Southern USA
    Multi Format
    The only varnishing technique that I am familiar with used so little varnish that it could not have been used for archival purposes. It was used to increase the contrast of matte papers. Lithographers varnish was diluted with spirits of turpentine to make it easily spreadable. A few drops were placed on the print and evenly spread with a lintless cloth. Then another cloth was used to remove as much of the varnish as possible. This left just enough varnish to provide a gloss. The film was so thin that yellowing would not be a problem.

    I have used this technique myself, the overall effect is quite nice. Some prints that I did this with are over 50 years old and exhibit no problems.
  4. Ian C

    Ian C Member

    Feb 8, 2009
    Large Format
    Print Lacquering

    It has long been a standard practice to coat prints with transparent photo lacquer for one or several reasons. I used to see it for sale as recently as August 2008 in my local camera store. It used to be sold in the US as Marshall’s and as McDonald’s. It was likely supplied by others as well.


    Just about any durable transparent gloss lacquer ought to work. Probably one of the best choices is automobile clearcoat lacquer available in convenient spray cans from automobile parts & accessories stores. It’s quite durable and designed to withstand the rigors of sun and weather well. For a photograph living a pampered life indoors under modest light and out of the weather, the longevity out to be outstanding.

    I’ve used automotive clear-coat lacquer on prints and see no ill effects. It gives a surface that can withstand careful cleaning with a soft cloth dampened with a lukewarm dilute solution of water and dishwashing detergent.

    Before lacquering, I’d want to be sure that all spotting or retouching was done first. Lacquering prints used to be done for three reasons:

    1. To protect the print from soiling and give it a durable, cleanable surface—most important in the display of un-glassed photos, such as large photo murals adhesively mounted to walls or display panels.

    2. To give a uniform surface to a print that received scalpel etching to remove black spots (due to pinholes in the negative) or other extensive retouching.

    3. To easily give a gloss surface to a matt print. This increases its reflectance and thereby intensifies the blacks, and is a possible alternative to ferrotyping.

    For use on a mounted photo it’s best to mount the photo first and then lacquer the print. I’d certainly avoid lesser finishes that might be likely to crack or yellow with age.

    If you look at a copy of Ansel Adams’s The Print, you’ll see a photo of a museum display on some of Adams’s large mural prints mounted to a screen display. They’re unglassed. They might well have a coating of photo lacquer on them for protection, but the text doesn’t say.

    There may be one more benefit to print lacquering. It encapsulates a mounted print so that air and the humidity it carries and gasses given off by materials in homes and other buildings cannot reach the emulsion or the paper. You may have read about the silver “mirroring” that deposits image silver in a shiny layer on the top of the emulsion after many years. Keeping air away from the emulsion may help prevent this and several other mechanisms of print deterioration.