The Ultimate Guide To Platinum & Palladium Fine Art Prints For Collectors

Wildheart Platinum Print by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

Although difficult and costly to create, platinum prints are the sine qua non of photographic art. Discerning art buyers and collectors value platinum prints because of their ethereal beauty, permanence, and rarity

In this guide, the term platinum is synonymous with platinum & palladium. 

Once a platinum print is experienced in person, it is usually a visual revelation because of its tremendous tonal range and delicate characteristics. Platinum prints are also referred to as Platinotypes in the historic literature.  

I am the only artist in the world exclusively creating artist original wild horse platinum artwork.

Free Wild Horse Journal by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

LEGENDS

In the last two centuries, some of the most collectible and sought after photographic artwork in the world has been platinum prints by legends to include: Paul Strand, Irving Penn, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Laura Gilpin, and Frederick Evans. Despite the expense, scarcity, and painstaking nature of the platinum and palladium process, history’s most notable photographers chose this method for their most prized works of art.

I believe one of the key reasons why these legends choose platinum was because of its ability to dramatically reveal layers of detail and luminosity that is unparalleled by any other type.

PERMANENCE

Platinum Papers & Brushes by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

Platinum is a noble metal and is one of the most stable known to science.  It is more precious than gold and because of its stability, a handmade platinum print that is made to archival standards can last for thousands of years as compared to 100 or 200 years for regular photographs.  The only limiting factor for the archival permanence of a platinum print is the cotton paper it is printed on. This is because platinum is actually embedded into the fibers of the archival quality cotton paper as opposed to the image sitting on top of a gelatin emulsion or pigment ink sitting on top of contemporary prints.

We know based on history that cotton documents have survived for thousands of years already and we also know the stability of platinum. Based on this information, it is clear that platinum prints are the most archival artwork available to collectors.

Palladium is less stable than platinum, but it certainly is considered to be an archival print by collectors and curators. Art buyers and collectors are well served by the archival properties of these noble metals.

RARITY

Brushing Platinum Sensitizer by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

In the 21st century, the vast majority of life and photography have been digitized.  There are only a small number of dedicated platinum printmakers actively creating artist original work and no other artist in the world to my knowledge is exclusively creating artist original wild horse platinum artwork.

If you want an original piece of archival wild horse platinum artwork–then you are in the right place.

Since platinum prints are made entirely by hand, each one is unique and this is important when considering original artwork. 

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 and William Willis Jr. patented the platinum printing process that builds upon the light-sensitive research of Hershel.

BEAUTY

In the right hands, platinum prints are unparalleled in their beauty and many people describe them as having a three-dimensional appearance.

When a platinum print is made, the light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the platinum to form fine elemental platinum particles into the fibers of the archival cotton paper.  Because the resulting platinum is both woven into the fibers and sits on top of the paper, platinum prints have a depth about them unlike any other type of fine art photograph and this also makes them the most archival type of art available today.

Because of their inherent mat finish, platinum artwork can be viewed and enjoyed from any angle unlike modern glossy photographs that produce a distracting glare.

PLATINUM & PALLADIUM TERMINOLOGY

"Heavy Burden" Wild Horse Platinum Print by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

Unfortunately, many contemporary platinum prints truly are not platinum prints, oftentimes they are palladium or combination palladium with a very small amount of platinum.

When purchasing a platinum print, the artist should fully disclose the chemical composition of each piece of artwork.

For every one of my platinum and palladium prints, I write in pencil on the print the exact chemical composition processed into the fibers of the paper, making this essential information a permanent part of the artwork. Technical tests performed by curators can authenticate and confirm the chemical composition of my platinum prints.

There are technical reasons why an artist would want to include a small amount of palladium in a platinum print, but they should disclose the ratios so the buyer fully understands the composition of the artwork they are purchasing.  

Platinum prints have a historically higher value than any other type of fine art photograph, so it is important that all parties have full visibility of the composition of the artwork.

I believe when an artist markets their artwork as platinum, then it is a reasonable assumption the artwork should be made of platinum and if any other by-products are used, they should be fully disclosed.

Free Wild Horse Journal by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

PLATINUM VS. PALLADIUM VISUAL CHARACTERISTICS

"The Nomads" Wild Horse Platinum Print by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

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 which can give them a visual punch that often times sets them apart.   

Palladium prints are typically warm toned with beautiful creamy looking highlight values. It is technically easier to make a palladium print and they are more tolerant of paper impurities than platinum. Palladium prints are known for their elegant and long exposure range.  While still a noble and precious metal, palladium is more susceptible to environmental pollutants as compared to platinum prints

HOW PLATINUM PRINTS ARE CREATED

Mixing Platinum Salts For Making Platinum Prints by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

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 the precious metal or combination of metals platinum and palladium.  

The artist has to first create a suitable negative the same size as the print and this is why most platinum or palladium prints are typically 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, is mixed with a precious metal (platinum and/or palladium) and then exposed to ultra-violet light before being chemically developed and cleared.  

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 much discretion regarding their choice of developers which 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 RATING & PERMANENCE MATTERS TO COLLECTORS

Brushing Platinum Salts For Making Platinum Prints by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com
Brushing Platinum Salts For Making Platinum Prints by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

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 for creating platinum prints, in particular, must be 100% pure with no chemical by-products or agents, which are typically used in the manufacturing of contemporary papers for other types of photographs. Palladium is more tolerant than platinum for suitable papers, thus making platinum printing more challenging

I create all of my platinum and palladium prints on Hahnemühle Platinum Rag because it is the ultimate archival paper that I trust.

We know that platinum can last indefinitely and when a piece of art is created on a cotton rag paper like Hahnemühle Platinum Rag, it is reasonable to assume this artwork will last for thousands of years or more.

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 leading to failure.

Free Wild Horse Journal by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

STANDARDS FOR PLATINUM & PALLADIUM PRINTS

Platinum Paper, Chemicals, Step Wedge by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com

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, and not for aesthetic reasons. A very small amount of palladium in the platinum sensitizer supercharges the chemical 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 sets of tones versus the black and silver associated with platinum.  All of my palladium prints are very warm toned artwork and made with 100% palladium.  I choose palladium when the artwork is best rendered with these tonal values and a warm aesthetic. 

Platinum & Palladium Prints: When a platinum print is made with more than 15% palladium, then I consider it to be a platinum and palladium print.  

COLLECTOR TIPS

As a fine art collector, there are several things that you can do to ensure your artwork is in the best possible position for future generations.  I will summarize some of the most important concepts to help you. 

Tip # 1: Make sure your platinum or palladium or platinum/palladium print is made on 100% cotton rag paper because it is the most durable form of paper with a very pure cellulose content that is lignin free. 

We know based on history that cotton rag documents have survived from the middle ages in remarkably good condition, so this is a point not to be overlooked. 

Tip # 2: Either frame behind glass or store your platinum or palladium prints, and especially 100% pure platinum prints, in archival polyester sleeves to protect them from atmospheric influences. Framing isolates the artwork from harmful gases, especially sulfur dioxide (SO2) which is thought to be catalyzed by platinum to harmful sulfuric acid. Though SO2 emissions have gone down considerably over the last few decades, there is no way to know future levels. 

Tip # 3: If you want to display your artwork without glass or leave them out without being stored in polyester archival sleeves, choose 100% palladium prints for best archival longevity. Scientific research shows there is no current evidence that palladium facilitates the catalyst conversion of SO2 to sulfuric acid. However, keep in mind we are likely talking about archival performance of many hundreds of years or longer.  

Tip # 4: Ensure your platinum or palladium print is archivally processed by a trusted artist. By confirming 100% cotton rag paper is used and proper archival clearing is performed by the artist, you are taking the vital steps to ensure the longevity of your artwork. The harmful iron and chemical by-products must be removed during the clearing process to achieve optimal permanence. 

Free Wild Horse Journal by Tim Layton @ TimLaytonWildHorses.com