The Good Oil on Bromoil
Chris Lim

Introduction What is a Bromoil ?
It is a unique permanent print where the silver image in the photograph is removed by chemical means and replaced by a greasy pigment.

Brief History
The birth of Bromoils occurred in Great Britain. It evolved from the oil printing process developed by G.H. Rawlings in 1904, who worked it out in theory, but never applied it. The process was thus invented by Englishman, C. Welbourne Piper in 1907 from the suggestion by Rawlings.1 This process flourished in the first half of the 20th century when pictorialism among photographers was in vogue. The emphasis was on impressionistic and manipulated renderings compared to hard edge realistic imagery2. The style of photography soon changed and interest in the process declined, as have the tools and materials used to make Bromoils. Today, there are a handful of bromoilists practising this skilled craft. The Bromoil Circle of Great Britain formed in 1931 by Sam Weller, FRPS still exists, keeping the process alive, and there are also several groups in the United States of America and Canada, loyal to the process. Gene Laughter, a master Bromoilist has set up an International Society of Bromoilsts on the net; this allows members to communicate via the internet. “Hopperfests”, a gathering of bromoilists, have been organized in the United States of America, and recently in Europe, for the “die hards” of the craft to meet and exchange ideas and to showcase work.

Why Bromoil ?
There is no need for an enlarged negative. Most alternative processes require an enlarged negative for a contact printing process using ultra violet light/sunlight. The Bromoil process has the advantage that it is a straightforward photographic process, an enlargement is made on to photographic paper (preferably is non super-coated) and developed normally. So, it eliminates the process of making negatives that is time consuming and reasonably costly.

It allows for creative control – The experienced bromoilist is able to control colour, grain, clarity, contrast and mood of the print by brush actions, when applying the pigments on the print. Laughter explains it well, he states, “The artist becomes an extension of the image and the image becomes an extension of the artist. As the Bromoil image ebbs and flows from the bush held in the artist’s hand, there can be a marriage of spirit and vision that is truly magical”2

It is totally archival. The original silver in the print is replaced by lithographic inks, which are permanent. The print is therefore archival and will last as long as the paper base.

Synopsis of how is a Bromoil made
1. A black and white (sliver bromide) print is made on non super-coated photographic paper. The photographic paper is then immersed into bleaching and tanning chemicals.

2. The image is bleached completely to remove the silver in the print, and the gelatin is tanned or hardened in direct relation to the amount of silver in the image. The tanning process affects the ability of the gelatin layer to absorb water. This print is now known as the matrix

3. Through soaking, the gelatin swells in the inverse proportion as the original silver content. The shadow areas of the print, the gelatin is hard and swells very little, the highlights, which contain little silver is soft and swells considerable

4. Applied ink will adhere to the hardest part of the gelatin, that is, in the shadow areas and lower tonal values, and repelled by the water saturated areas which are the highlights in the image.

Basic Tools of the Trade
• Non-super-coated photographic paper
• Bleaching and Tanning chemicals

Bromoil bleach No.1

Copper sulphate 25g
Potassium Bromide 25g
Potassium Bichromate 1.25g
Sulphuric acid 10% 2.5mls
Distilled water t make 400mls
Dilute 1 + 5 use once only


Venn’s 2 bath bleach

Solution A
Copper Sulphate 10% 350mls
Potassium Bromide 10% 18mls

Solution B
Potassium Bromide 10% 70mls
Potassium Bichromate 1% 30mls
Distilled water 250mls

Solution A 1min., use until exhausted
Solution B 4 min. use once only

Basic Tools of the Trade
Lithographic inks
• Palette knife, inking tile, support for matrix – a glass sheet will do, rags, paper towels, chamois, and chemicals for cleaning up ink.

The Process
• The matrix is super dried and soaked in water
• The ink is prepared by spreading a pea sized amount of ink with the palette knife on the tile and working the ink in, like spreading butter on toast.
Remove all traces of water from matrix and place it on a support ( glass sheet) for inking o Charge brush, by tapping lightly on the ink patch. Then take the brush to a clean area of the tile and tap a second area. This area is where one taps the bristles of the brush before taking it to the matrix. This prevents overcharging the brush with ink.
• INK!

The following brush actions are accepted descriptions of inking, but most bromoilists will develop their own style/strokes to achieve their image.

Brush Actions as described by Whalley, in Nadeau, 1985

Brush action no.1
Stippling action to apply ink lightly and evenly on matrix

Brush action no.2
Lifting and depositing ink with light bouncing action

Brush action no.3
Hopping to control contrast and clear highlights.

• The image is inked to satisfaction, and then left to dry.
• There is a further step that one can take with Bromoils. A Bromoil transfer can be made. This is achieved placing the wet inked print on to a recipient “art” paper and passing this “sandwich” through a press.

Conclusion The discussion here is only a very brief summary of Bromoils and the process of making one. Detailed descriptions are available in several texts in the References/Bibliography page. In this day and age where the world seems to demand “instant” technology, like the resulting digital images within seconds of taking the image, the on-line instant communication of the internet, etc. the author would hope that a resurgence of this technique would “slow” an artist down to enable one to ponder and assess an image, a special image, that could be made by an extremely creative and beautiful process – the BROMOIL!


1. Lewis, David W 1995
The Art of Bromoil and Transfer . Printed in Hong Kong

2. Laughter, Gene 1997
Bromoil 101 A Plain English Working Manual and User’s Guide for Beginners in the Bromoil Process 3. Nadeau, Luis 1985 History and Practice of Oil Printing. Canada : Atelier Luis Nadeau


1. Farber, Richard 1998 Historic Photographic Processes. A Guide to Creating Handmade Photographic Image. New York : Allworth Press

2. International Bromoilist Society’s home page - photo/bromoil/