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How to make a digital negative

the easiest possible way

Mathieu Stern

There are several alternative processes techniques that we always talk about that have one step in common: creating a digital negative. Once only possible on film, now, thanks to digital photography and photo-editing softwares, it is possible to make negatives out of any image, whether you shot it on your phone, digital camera or downloaded it off the internet. Below, some tips about how to get it done, sans scanners and even without photoshop.

What you need:

In case you have Photoshop installed in your device of choice, the steps are the following:

First, open the picture you desire to print. Then, go to Image settings and select Adjustments and then the B/N tool

After making the image black and white, it is possible to modify the brightness and contrast as well. For this, go back to Image settings, Adjustments, and select Brightness/Contrast. For cyanotypes or photograms on fabric it is especially important to have a higher contrast to achieve a better result.

While in the Brightness/Contrast window, to achieve an even more dramatic effect select the Legacy checkbox and bring Contrast up and play around with the Brightness.

The end result is how your print will look like. However, in order to print it, you will need a negative. For this, return to Image settings, Adjustments, Invert.

In Photoshop, you can also choose to edit the size of your image to make it fit the area you will print it on.

If you do not have Photoshop installed on your computer, there are apps available in Apple Store and Google Play that can do the trick. For example, Snapseed is a free app that has different editing tools that will allow you to do all the editing in your phone before printing.

In case you dread downloading another app, do not have Photoshop but happen to have access to a PC, follow the next steps.

  1. Use your phone camera roll settings to edit the picture into black and white or grayscale and adjust the contrast.

  2. Then, open the image in Paint, yes, Paint. Use the Selection tool and drag it out to select the entire picture.

  3. Then, right click and select Invert Color. Et voilá.

Once the editing is done, you are ready to print the negative. If you are printing at home, make sure your type of printer (inkjet or laser) is compatible with the type of transparency sheet you got, otherwise the ink won’t stay. Follow your printer instructions, and print away.

After printing be careful handling the transparency since the ink can be scratched. for this reason it is wise to save it between pieces of paper to protect it. The cool thing about printing your own negatives, is that you can play with the image sizes, shapes, print your own text, even make collages.

After using your digital negatives, make sure to clean them and dry them properly before storing them to ensure they last until your next project.

If you want to learn more on how to make digital negatives, we teach it on our Alternative Processes Academy (enrolling from April 2023) get launch price

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