Lith Printing In The Darkroom – A Creative Process

Lith Printing

So What The Heck Is Lith Printing?

Lith printing is a creative darkroom printing process where you use dilute Lithographic film developer with traditional “lithable” black and white darkroom printing papers.

Some papers will lith print and some will not. Notably, if the paper has developer incorporated in the emulsion it will not be suitable for lith printing. Many older discontinued papers were known for their very colorfull highlights and split tone effects.

You can purchase old stock and even fogged papers will produce amazing prints. There are also still some darkroom papers being made that work well with lith printing.

How Does It Work?

You heavily overexpose the paper from the negative and develop by inspection rather than time. After sometime in the development you can observe what is know as “infectious development” where the shadows begin to rapidly develop and explode with deep blacks (often very cold and gritty)

The final result and effect ultimately depends on the type of paper used and the dilution and condition of the developer.

You can get very delicate colorful highlights split with cold gritty shadows that has a very unique look that is difficult to get any other way.

In the video I start with “This is the video that will probably never bee seen.” I said this because honestly I did not think this would get any traction or views at all. I simply made it because it is MY FAVORITE darkroom printing process and wanted to share that with ANYONE interested.

It does seem that it has gotten more traction than I thought it would and there is quite an interest in the process.

Because of this I have made other lith printing videos on my YouTube channel and will continue to do so in the future!

*** Update 11/23***

I felt it was necessary to add this update and a little disclaimer.

I am generally a very health conscious person (annoyingly so if you ask my wife and daughter) but when it comes to photography, I tend to let that slide a bit more than I should at times.

Some of my favorite lith prints have been made with Arista Lith developer and Ilford Multigrade Warmtone paper. However, I have not been using this combination because of health concerns due to Formaldehyde being present in this developer.

Now to be clear, in the past this has never been an issue for me, but my struggles with persistent covid headaches and brain fog have kept me from treading into these waters much (basically at all).

Truthfully as long as you use these chemicals with adequate ventilation you will probably be fine, In fact we are exposed to formaldehyde way more often then one would think.

If you are concerned, I would consider a mask as I have in the video as well as long sleeves and gloves as well. Formaldehyde fumes can also be absorbed through the skin as well.

I still have a rather large stock of Arista Lith Developer and a few other with developers that contain formaldehyde. I fully intend to use them at some point, I just need to continue with my recovery and do not want anything preventing that or contributing to a relapse. In fact, I am trying to figure out some type of fume hood in my small darkroom specifically for this.

For the time being I will be using Moersch Lith Developer when I do Lith Print and find it really great. It is a formaldehyde free formulation and have had great success with it! Its only drawback is it is more expensive.

There are also some formulas that I want to try and may do so in the future. I will keep you all updated if I find anything that is worthwhile!

SOME LITH PRINTING EXAMPLES – Lith Print Developer / Paper Combinations


Straight Lith Print

Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Paper

Arista Liquid Lith Developer

I was experimenting with Moersch Additive E and other bromide and ended up with what are probably my all time favorite tones! (however, been difficult to get the exact look again)

Shot on Kodak Tri-x 35mm film developed in D76. The camera was a Canon EOS 1V and 70-200 2.8L Lens

Lith Printing on Ilford Mutilgrade Warmtone

Straight Lith Print

Varycon Fotokemika Emaks Grade 3 Paper

Moersch SE5 Lith Developer

I purposefully pulled the print from the developer early before the blacks could start blocking up.

This left a more subtle split-tone and gave softer contrast. I love the beautiful glow that can be achieved in the prints highlights.

This is a contact print made from a digital negative. Shot on Canon 5D MK4 with a 85 1.2L Lens

Lith Printing in the darkroom

Split Toned Lith Print

Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Paper

Arista Liquid Lith Developer

When first lith printing with Ilford Warmtone Paper the prints can be less colorfull.

In this case I added some color back through toning the highlight with sepia toner and the shadow with Selenium toner.

You can get the sepia toner recipe here

This portrait was shot on HP5 35mm film with a Canon AE1 and 50mm 1.2L lens

Darkroom Lith Print - Portrait

Gold Toned Lith Print

Fomatone Paper

Moersch SE5 Lith Developer

Fomatone paper is the most colorfull of the modern lithable papers and the bright orange peach tones can get quite intense.

In this case I turned the tones to a lovely blue hue using a gold toner.

The Gold toner also increases the contrast quite a bit.

You can get the gold toner recipe here

This was contact printed from a digital negative. The original image was shot with a Canon 5d mk4 using a 35mm 1.4L lens

Gold Toned Lith Print on Fomatone Paper

Split Toned Lith Print

Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Paper

Arista Liquid Lith Developer

When first printing with Ilford Warmtone Paper the prints can be less colorfull.

In this case I added some color back through toning the highlight with sepia toner and the shadow with selenium toner.

You can get the sepia toner recipe here

This was a self portrait shot with a slow shutter speed into a mirrored building while out on a run one day. Image was shot on Kodak Tri-X film with a Canonet Glq17

Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Lith Printing

Split Toned Lith Print

Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Paper

Arista Liquid Lith Developer

When first lith printing with Ilford Warmtone Paper the prints can be less colorfull.

This is another example where I added some color back through toning the highlights with sepia toner and the shadows with selenium toner.

You can get the sepia toner recipe here

This was shot with a Canon EOS 1V using a 35mm 1.4 L lens and an extension tube.

Printing with Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Paper

Straight Lith Print

Foma Fomabrom 123 B.O. Paper

Moersch SE5 Lith Developer

This was shot early morning on Pismo Beach in California. I really loved the minimalist look of the scene and felt lith printing was a perfect compliment to the image.

This Foma paper was made for bromoil printing but the emulsion worked very well for lith printing and is still a favorite to use ( I have a few packs frozen)

Sadly they discontinued the paper a few years ago.

This was shot on My Hasselblad 500cm with the 80mm 2.8 CF Lens

Darkroom printing Fomabrom B.O

Straight Lith Print

Varycon Fotokemika Emaks Grade 3 Paper

Moersch SE5 Lith Developer

Holga Negatives really give unique look that works well for lith printing. These were taken at Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay during the off season

This was shot with a plastic Holga using Ilford Hp5 film

Print on Varycon Fotokemika Emaks from Hoga Negative

Straight Lith Print

Varycon Fotokemika Emaks Grade 3 Paper

Moersch SE5 Lith Developer

Holga Negatives really give unique look that works well for lith printing. These were taken at Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay during the off season

This was shot with a plastic Holga using Ilford Hp5 film

Holga Print on Varycon Fotokemika Emaks

If you are new to the darkroom and would like to try lith printing for the first time check out this video I made here: Lith Printing – Tips For Making Your First Successful Lith Print

Here are some current lith printing papers, developers and resources that I would recommend:

Excellent Lith Printing Darkroom Papers (current)

Helpfull Equipment

Excellent Lith Developers:

Books & Resources:


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