I have a beam of light to catch...
K.Spacey - K-PAX
Home Galleries Other arts Technique Contact Inspiration

Drying fiber based paper

Although there is a host of instructions on the internet for drying fiber based prints in special drying cabinets or using specially designed electrical devices, by far the easiest and cheapest way to dry fiber prints is using watercolor tape. The one major issue with fiber based paper compared to RC type papers, is the tendency of the paper to "curl" during drying, meaning the paper needs to be pressed during drying, or kept flat in another manner. Watercolor tape is that very effective "other" manner. It's function is based on the strong adhesive qualities of the watercolor tape, and the tendency of the fiber based paper to shrink during drying, meaning the paper will develop significant tension during the drying process, causing it to flatten completely and dry up successfully at the same time.

What you will need:

- Watercolor tape

- Pair of scissors to cut the tape

- Sharp knife

- Piece of cloth or a plant spray to wet the tape

- Another piece of cloth / tea towel for removing access water

- Glass surface

So how do you do use this stuff for drying fiber based prints?:

- Buy watercolor tape first, it can be bought from any good art shop selling watercolor paint and accessories. Watercolor tape is a white or brownish paper tape, having a single sided glue layer. I am not sure if it is acid free, most likely not, so in case you are concerned with archival properties, after drying cut away the sides covered by the tape. The tape sold is usually 3-5 cm wide and can be bought on big rolls. Initially, the glue is non-adhesive, it needs to come into contact with water to develop it stickiness.

- Cut the tape in suitable strips based on the size of your photopaper. Ensure you have an access 10 cm of tape (5 cm on each side of the photopaper) for each strip to properly hold the photopaper.

- Ensure you have a number of glass plates, or some other perfectly flat plate type base to hold your prints. If you have any large internal glass window in your home, than that is perfectly suited for carrying your drying fiber based prints (do note though that cutting free the prints with a knife may damage the glass...). If you are not so lucky, the glass plates of left-over frames will do too. Place the glass plates vertical, to avoid dust settling on your prints during the drying process.

- Start out with a well washed finished print still residing in your washing tray. Take it out of the water holding it on one corner of the paper. Let access water run of the paper, until the water stream first turns into a trickling stream of droplets, usually after a few seconds. Don't wait longer! The paper still needs to be covered with a uniform water film for proper drying of the gelatin layer. If you wait to long, and large droplets form on the paper base, the droplets may cause visible artifacts on the papers surface.

- With the water film still covering the paper, place it on the glass plates. Water will immediately start trickling down, use the tea towel to remove it. You will see the initially uniform water film slowly reseeding down the surface of the paper. Channels of water will transport the access water downward. Don't worry if a few small droplets remain on the paper. Although some photographers use wash-leather to remove access water, I don't. In my experience, the few small water droplets remaining do not leave visible artifacts on the gelatin layer of the paper*. The entire process of the access water reseeding from the paper usually takes between 10-15 minutes. In the mean time, regularly use the tea towel to remove water trickling down the glass plate.

* Note: sepia toned prints are quite prone to calcareous deposits during drying due to the high pH of the toning bath. If you have problems with calcareous stains, it may be recommended to use a dilute stop bath during the final washing stages as a means to prevent them.

- If an air bubble accidentally has formed between the paper and glass, you may consider refitting the paper to the glass. However, in my experience, even large air bubbles (up to 5 cm radius) will disappear completely due to the shrinking and tensioning of the paper during the drying process. If not to bad, I therefore leave the paper to dry without worrying about the bubbles.

- Now take the strips of watercolor tape when the water has completely reseeded from the paper. The watercolor tape needs to be wetted to acquire it's adhesive qualities. However, be careful, if the tape is to wet, the glue layer will more or less "liquefy" and become extremely sticky. If you place it in this state on the glass and leave it to dry, the tape will more or less "melt" together with the glass, and it will be more difficult to clean up afterwards. Also, more importantly, there is a considerable risk that glue from the tape will seep inbetween the glass and your print, causing fatal damage if the print needs to be teared from the glass. So how do you avoid this? Be careful wetting the tape... Either use a slightly wetted piece of cloth to wet the glue layer, or use the approach I have found to be working very fast and reliable: use a plant spray. Set the plant spray to disperse a fine cloud of droplets. Now hold a strip of watercolor tape in one hand, and use your other hand to make a swift, fast movement with the plant spray along the strip's glue layer at a distance of about 30-40 cm. Make sure you move fast, causing only dispersed droplets to form on the tapes glue layer. If you move your hand to slowly, to much water will settle on the tape and again cause the glue layer to "liquefy". It needs a little bit of practice and tweaking for proper results...

- With a properly wetted piece of tape, now secure it along the sides of your photopaper. Start with the top side, than the left and right side, and finally the bottom side. Take care that the bottom side is not to wet when taping it down, if need be, you can use the tea towel to remove a bit of excess water. For taping, a minimum overlap of 0.5 cm will do, but bigger is of course possible. Ensure proper contact between tape and paper by pressing the tape slightly against the paper along the entire side. This should ensure that the shrinking and tensioned paper will not pull loose of the tape. Do NOT press the watercolor tape and print to the glass, as this will increase the risk of unwanted seepage of glue inbetween the print and glass, with the risk of ruining your print when it needs to be removed. Use only the very slightest touch or striking gesture along the tape to get it into contact with the glass, a bit like you would strike the cheek of your partner in a loving gesture... Although you might think this would not be sufficient to hold the paper, it is! The adhesive qualities of the glue are tremendous when dried, and increase during the drying process.

- Now leave the paper to dry for at least 16-24 hours. After drying, the paper will be properly flattened and stay like that. To remove it from the glass: if you've properly followed my instructions, and the tape's glue layer has not liquefied, at times it may be possible to pull loose the tape from the glass by tearing it from one side starting with a loose corner. This means the entire photo, including the watercolor tape, will come of the glass in one piece! However, in most cases, you will need a sharp knife to remove the photopaper from the tape and glass. Simply cut along the borders of the photo, just be careful not to damage the glass if it's one of your houses windows...

- If you've managed to indeed remove photopaper and tape in one piece, simply cut the tape from the photopaper using a pair of scissors.

- You may wish to additionally cut away the parts of the print covered by the tape, either for aesthetic reasons, or due to the unclear archival status of the tape.

- You're done! Store your print well... the glass can be cleaned from remaining tape by using hot water.

One last tip:

- If accidently the drying print has freed itself from the tape or the tape teared up, as sometimes happens, the drying print is likely to have curled during drying. Don't panic! You can easily restore your print by removing it from the glass and than soak it again in water for some time. Remove the tape still glued to the print (slightly warm water, hand warm, will help with this). It will regain it's flat original proportions. Now simply tape it down a second time.