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Introduction to the bromoil process

Bromoil and Transfer was used by many photographers during the first half of the 20th century and gained great popularity.

During its peak period, the bromoilist had access to a great variety of materials. Today, for those who are interested in working in this medium, suitable materials are scarce, but they can be found.

Read on for a general description of the process and a list of necessary equipment.

The procedure

On a suitable photographic paper, a black and white image is printed with a wide tonal range showing detail both in highlights and shadows. Plain water is used in place of the usual acid stop bath. The print is fixed in a non-hardening gypo for five minutes only, then washed and dried.

The print is bleached and tanned with appropriate chemicals. Again washed and dried. Only a faint image remains. The print, now referred to as the matrix, is briefly soaked. After wiping off all surplus water, the matrix is placed on a sheet of glass.

A small quantity of printing ink is spread evenly on a tile. This is picked up with a brush shaped like a stag’s foot, and applied with a stippling action onto the matrix. The chemicals having produced different hardening of the gelatine, the printing ink adheres to the matrix easily in the shadow areas, whereas it is repelled in the water-swollen highlights.

In Bromoil transfer the image, by means of a press, can be printed onto a new support, usually watercolour paper. Thus the images are re-created. The process offers great scope to the experienced bromoilist in search of creative and individual style.

Materials needed

  • The usual darkroom equipment
  • Suitable photographic paper, such as Kentmere Document Art
  • Paper developer and plain hypo
  • Bleach and tanning solution
  • Bromoil brushes or shaving brushes
  • Large piece of plate glass
  • Palette knife, tiles for inking, cotton wool
  • Blotting paper, chamois leather and viscose sponge
  • Hardest available printing ink and some cleaning agent such as lighter fluid
  • Finally, a textbook on the process and contact with a practicing bromoilist would be of invaluable help to any one who is interested in pursuing the art!

Linseed oils: Use sun-thickened linseed oil (not to be confused with sun-bleached linseed oil) or stand oil. Available from any good art shop or:

  • L Cornelissen & Son Ltd, 105 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3RY
  • London Graphic Centre, 16-18 Shelton Street, London WC2H 9JJ

Pigments: Use pure ground pigments with no additives. Available from the same sources as linseed oils

Brushes: Search around good art suppliers for ones that can be adapted. Whistler series 63 and 64 are particularly good if a little expensive. (Series 64 is pure squirrel hair while series 63 is a cheaper version)

Lighter Fluid: Any tobacconist

Fine Dust Masks: L Cornelissen & Sons Ltd

Swarfega rapid hand cleanser & chamois leather: From any shop that stocks supplies for car enthusiasts

Step-by-step guide to the bromoil process

By Kate Rouse

(all chemicals at 20°C)

  1. Developer (1:3) 1? mins
  2. Stop Bath 15 secs
  3. Fixer 30 secs
  4. Wash for 1 min
  5. Hypo clearing agent 5 min
  6. Wash until the print passes a residual hypo test (making sure that the temperature does not fall below 20°C as this seriously impedes the efficiency of the wash)
  7. Rinse off the tap water with purified water
  8. Bleach-tanning 6 mins minimum or twice the length of time that the print takes to clear if this is longer
  9. Rinse several times in purified water, especially if you live in a hard water area
  10. Wash for 10–15 mins or until the yellow dichromate stain on the paper has gone
  11. Fixer 30 sec
  12. Wash 30 mins


Developer: D163 or Dektol usually used at 1:3 dilution but can be used at 1:9 or 1:15 if the negative is a little too contrasty

Stop bath: Normal photographic stop bath

Fixers: Any non-hardening rapid (Ammonium Thiosulphate) fixer at film strength eg Ilford Hypam. Remember that the second bath used after the bleach-tanning process should be freshly made and not saved from the first bath.

Hypo clearing agent: A 2% solution of anhydrous sodium sulphate. (NB proprietary brands may cause unwanted hardening of the gelatine).

Bleach-tanning solution:Purified water 750ml, 5% Sulphuric acid 50ml, Cupric sulphate 60g, Potassium bromide 60g, Potassium dichromate 5g, Purified water to make 11. Dilute 1:9 for use. Handle with care—wear glove and dust-mask when missing, and store in a clean glass-stoppered jar or proper photographic chemical container. Store potassium dichromate away from heat and naked flames, and only order sufficient for your immediate needs.

Cleaning bath: (removes any residual yellow dichromate stain after bleach-tanning): 2 solution of anhydrous sodium bisulphite (or sodium metabisulphite, potassium bisulphite or potassium metabisulphite)

When mixing solutions, a 2% solution means 2g of the solid chemical dissolved in 100ml total volume (ie dissolve the chemical in rather less than 100 ml and then make it up to exactly 100ml). With a liquid chemical, a 2% solution means 2ml of the chemical plus 98ml of water making 100ml total volume

Remember when mixing Bromoil chemicals to always use purified water


  • Nadeau, Luis, History and Practice of Oil and Bromoil Printing, published in Canada by the author
  • Hawkins, G L, Pigment Printing, 1933, out of print
  • Williams, T I, Pigment Printing Process, RPS Pictorial Group
  • Crawford, W, The Keepers of Light, republished in paperback by Morgan and Morgan, New York

All the above books, with the exception of Pigment Printing, are available through the RPS bookshop, who also run a mail order service.

Materials and Suppliers

Chemicals: Bromoil kits may be bought from Photofinish, 33 Waterloo Place, Brynmill, Swansea, SA2 0DE

Larger quantities of chemicals are available from Rayco Ltd, 199 King Street, Hoyland, Barnsley S74 9IJ & Silverprint

Sodium metabisulphite is available from Boots or Home Brewing Shops

Purified water is available from Boots or from garages for topping up car batteries

Paper: Kentmere Document Art which is available in grades 2, 3 & 4 only. It can be supplied by Jessops mail order or Silverprint, 12 Valentine Place, Waterloo, London

Palettes: Use a 6 x 6” plain white ceramic tile

Palette Knives: Use an old, stiff domestic knife

For further information, contact:

The Bromoil Circle Postal Club, founded in 1931 by the late Sam Weller, Fellow of RPS
President Gilbert Hooper, Fellow RPS
Secretary Mrs M McDougal
The Bromoil Circle
20 Whitefriars Road
Hereford HR2 7XF

3 comments on “Introduction to the bromoil process

  1. I have read so much yet cannot seem to find the answer to my question, i.e., how were photograph lapel pins made around 1900? I have one of my grandmother and am surprised that the technology existed to make this at that time. The photograph is printed on metal and is stained with what appears to be rust. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed reading about the history of photography and making a quick virtual trip to the National Railway Museum.

  2. Thank you for this informative article. I find a typo in the first paragraph under “THE PROCEDURE”: “gypo” [sic] should be “hypo.”

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