Understanding Toners

Toning has been around almost as long as photography itself. In 1840 Frenchman Hippolyte Fizeau created a gold chloride toning bath to increase the stability of Daguerreotype images. Since then, many toners have been developed. Sepia, selenium, copper, and blue are the most common.

Dye vs. Toner

Toners actually bind with the silver of a print. In most cases, this gives the photograph added stability which adds to the image's permanence. With toners, you will generally see the most marked color changes in the shadow areas of your image. (If you get color in the highlight areas you may not have fixed the print completely.)

Dyes are also often referred to as "toners" but the difference is substantial. Dyes do not bond with the silver grain in the same way as toners and thus will not stabilize your print. Dyes color the highlight areas of your print. Any of the Berg Color Toning Kits and any Edwal "toners" are considered dyes. There are more colors available in dyes than in toners. (Try a coffee dilution for an inexpensive dye!)

Why Use a Toner

Some toners will make your print very resistant to environmental contaminants and ultraviolet radiation. But you can also use toners to add depth, imply mood and create striking contrast to your photographs.

Paper Choices

You can use RC or fiber based papers, but fiber based papers work best because emulsion is softer and they don't have the resin coating to contend with. When you plan to tone a print, do not use a hardening fixer. You can use either a warm tone or cold tone paper but we recommend you try both! You get a very different result from each.

Toner Descriptions

Toner Added Stability Noticeable Tone/color Try it for Notes
Sepia Good Very Yellow-Brown Portraits or buildings Print 10% darker "Phew!"
Selenium Excellent Mild on CT
Very on WT
Purple on CT
Russet on WT
Anything! Great for preserving prints
Copper Low Very Cool brown to near red Old fashioned look Tone changes w/ time immersed
(Iron) Blue None Very Cyan blue Winter scenes -
Gold, Protective Excellent Slight Midnight blue Night or heavily shadowed scenes Does not produce a golden tone.
Brown Good Very Brown Old fashioned look Works slowly
Gold, Nelson's Excellent Very Yellow-Brown to Med. Brown Anything! Must not use metal tray tongs!
Yellow-Gold None Very Yellow Anything  
Red None Very Red Anything Available as dye only
Green None Very Green Forests, Etc.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sepia toner dangerous to breathe?
No. It just smells bad. If the odor is objectionable, Freestyle carries odorless sepia toner.
Can you mix different toners in the same tray at the same time?
Not really. But double toning (using two toners on the same print) or triple toning produces great effects. This can be done using masks, or even hand applying with a brush.
What kind of paper is best for toning?
Generally Fiber Based paper is best. Try out different kinds. Warm, neutral, and cold tone papers each give you a different result.
What is Frisket used for?
Frisket is used to mask out areas you don't want to tone. For example, if you want to blue tone only the water, put frisket on the mountains.