Discerning art buyers and collectors value platinum and palladium fine art collectible prints because of their ethereal beauty, permanence, and rarity.
In the historic 19th-century literature, platinum prints are referred to as platinotypes and palladium prints as palladiotypes.
The platinum print dates back to the mid-19th century when chemists and photographers were exploring ways to make more permanent photographs.
It all started in 1842 when Sir John Hershel discovered an iron-based printing process. Fast forward about thirty years later and William Willis Jr. patented the platinum printing process that builds upon the light-sensitive research of Hershel.
Knowledgable fine art collectors and curators prefer fine art platinum and palladium artwork because they are known for their unrivaled beauty, permanence, and investment potential.
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Platinum and palladium are noble metals and are one of the most stable known to science. These noble metals are more precious than gold and because of their stability, a handmade platinum and palladium print that is made to archival standards can last for thousands of years. The precious metals never deteriorate or break down, the paper is the vulnerable link.
Art buyers and collectors are well served by the archival properties of platinum and palladium noble metals as evidenced by the continued demand from serious art buyers and collectors.
In the 21st century, the vast majority of life and artwork have been digitized. There are only a small number of dedicated platinum and palladium artists actively creating original and authentic artwork and I am one of them.
I am the only artist in the world dedicated to making handmade Wild Horse Fine Art Platinum and Palladium collectible artwork using pure analog methods. I have an extensive body of work spanning many years. I am also working on a brand new handmade fine art book project.
My entire workflow is pure analog and based on 19th-century archival methods. I start by making calotype paper negatives that date back to the beginning of photography in the 1830s. It takes 3 days to prepare a single negative before making an exposure in my large and ultra large format view cameras.
Next, I hand coat platinum and palladium chemistry on archival fine art paper to make the artwork sensitive to UV light. I then place my calotype paper negative on top of my sensitized paper before exposing it to ultra-violet light.
The light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the platinum and palladium precious metals to weave the noble metals into the fibers of the paper.
Then, by using a chemical-based developer, the archival image is instantly formed and reduced to precious platinum and palladium the moment I submerge the artwork into the chemistry.
Many collectors believe platinum and palladium prints are unparalleled in their beauty and people have described them as having a three-dimensional look to them.
When a platinum and palladium print is made, the light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the precious metals to ultimately form the fine platinum and palladium particles into and on top of the fibers of the paper, creating an unequaled viewing experience.
Because the platinum and palladium precious metals are woven into the fiber of the paper and also sitting on top too, platinum and palladium prints have a depth about them that is unlike any other type of two-dimensional fine art.
The first time I saw a platinum and palladium print in person at the art museum, I instantly knew that I needed to figure out a way to make these prints. After decades of experience and making hundreds of them, I still feel the same way. There is something very special and unique about platinum and palladium fine art prints that continue to capture the heart and souls of their viewers.
Platinum vs. Palladium Visual Characteristics
The most noticeable difference between platinum and palladium prints is tonality and exposure range.
Platinum prints have elegant silvery-gray highlights and open shadow values. Platinum prints are much more demanding technically and more sensitive to chemical impurities in the paper. Platinum has a shorter exposure range resulting in more contrast than palladium.
Palladium prints are warm-toned with beautiful creamy-looking highlight values. Palladium is more tolerant of paper impurities than platinum. Palladium prints are known for their elegant and long exposure range and when mixed with platinum, something very special happens that isn’t possible otherwise.
How Platinum & Palladium Prints Are Created
All platinum, palladium, or platinum/palladium prints are handmade using a contact printing analog method.
An archival paper is hand-coated with the “sensitizer” which consists of iron salt and precious platinum or platinum and palladium metals.
The artist has to first create a suitable film negative the same size as the print and this is why most platinum or palladium prints are more intimate sizes.
Negatives for platinum or palladium prints require much more contrast than compared to other types of fine art prints like silver gelatin, for example. The photographer must possess the technical acumen to create a negative that takes advantage of the long tonal range offered by platinum and palladium prints or the prints will look flat and emotionless.
Based on the discovery of Sir John Hershel in 1842, light-sensitive iron salts, typically ferric oxalate, are mixed with a precious metal (platinum and/or palladium) and then exposed to ultra-violet light before being chemically developed.
Because of the lower contrast and long tonal range of platinum and palladium prints, a restrainer chemical can be used in the sensitizer formula or in the chemical developer. This is a personal choice of the photographer based on their creative vision.
The photographer has a lot of discretion regarding their choice of developers and this choice can have a significant impact on the visual characteristics of the final print.
The iron starts off in its normal ferric state and when combined with platinum and/or palladium it is converted to ferrous iron. The ferrous iron chemically reacts with the platinum and/or palladium while being exposed to ultraviolet light and when chemically developed returns to its ferric state with tiny particles of platinum and/or palladium woven into and on top of the fibers of the paper making a truly unique piece of art.
Archival & Permanence Matters
While platinum and palladium precious metals are incredibly stable, the paper that holds these precious metals and how the artwork is processed directly influences its archival permanence.
Papers used to make platinum prints, in particular, must be 100% pure with no chemical by-products or agents typically used in contemporary papers for making other types of photographs. Palladium is more tolerable than platinum for suitable papers.
In addition to the proper choice of a substrate (paper), the photographer must follow proper archival methods to “clear” the unwanted iron compounds and by-products from the iron and platinum/palladium reaction. If these elements are not removed properly through a time-consuming series of clearing baths and an archival wash, the print will eventually stain and damage the paper.
Standards For Platinum & Palladium Prints
There are no formal standards for platinum or palladium prints, however, I will share my personal standards with you to provide you with a point of reference. I think you will find my standard reasonable and logical.
Platinum Prints: My platinum prints are a minimum of 85% platinum, with the rest typically made with palladium. This is not an industry standard because one doesn’t exist, but I feel it is an honest and credible standard that is based on transparency with my art buyers and collectors.
In contrast, 18-carat gold, which is the international standard for “pure gold” only has about 75% gold. The reason for the small amount of palladium in my platinum prints has to do with the way the precious metals react to the light-sensitive iron when the image is formed with the chemical developer. A very small amount of palladium in the platinum sensitizer supercharges the reaction process and produces an incredibly beautiful print with a long tonal range and soft and delicate highlight values.
Palladium Prints: Palladium has very similar properties and qualities as platinum, but palladium has a very warm/brown set of tones versus the black and silver associated with platinum. All of my palladium prints are warm-toned artwork made with 100% palladium. I choose palladium when the artwork is best rendered with these tones because this tonality is not possible with platinum prints.
Platinum/Palladium Prints: When a platinum print is made with more than 15% palladium, then I consider it to be a platinum/palladium print.