Digital Negative Process


This is a process that allows for negative film to be turned into a digital file and then to be printed onto transparency film to be used in photographic process, such as the Cyanotype. This process also allows for large size negatives to produced, improving their application uses.


For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:

  1. What is a digital negative and how is it created?
  2. How do I print it onto transparency film?



I believe that by using (PS) ability to invert an images colour profile. Combined with printing this on transparent acetate it should be possible to replicate a digital equivalent to a piece of negative film.



The following are the five fundamental steps for making a digital negative.

Basic Steps for Making a Digital Negative:

1. Editing your image in Photoshop to make it look exactly like you want it to print as a final wet process contact print. An image resolution of 240–360 pixels per inch (p.p.i.) works for most printers.

2. Including a step tablet with your image until your negatives are printing exactly as you want them.

3. Preparing your image with the proper contrast via Curves .

4. Inverting the image so it prints as a negative instead of a positive.

5. Printing the negative on clear transparency material using specific print dialog box settings.

Step 1: Making your Image Look Just Right

Using your Photoshop image adjustment tools, such as Levels, Brightness, and Image Size, correct your image so it looks just the way you want it to print (other imaging programs can also be utilized). Factors like the quality of your initial camera capture or scan, Photoshop skills, and monitor calibration will all affect the speed and ease of preparing your images.

Step 2: Including a Step Tablet

Our goal is to make beautiful prints, not beautiful step tablets. But as in any scientific testing procedure it is useful to have a control that allows us to clearly judge the visual results. The step tablet performs this function by providing a set of densities – from black to white – that you print simultaneously with your image, making it is easier to visually evaluate contrast problems. For beginners not wanting to make their own step tablets, a few basic examples can be downloaded for free at: http://www.DanBurkholder. com/steptablets . It is a good idea to include the step tablet on its own Photoshop layer so it can be turned on and off as needed during testing and printing.

Step 3: Preparing your Image with the Proper Contrast for Making a Negative

Since inkjet printers are not designed to make negatives, images need to be specifically prepared, which necessitates changing the image’s contrast before printing. Using a Photoshop Curve is an ideal way to achieve this end. Other processes, such as cyanotype and Vandyke or even pure palladium, will have slightly different curve shapes to prepare the image with the proper contrast for that specific printing medium.

The curve will not make your image look better on your computer monitor. In fact, it will make your image look too light. This is normal; bear in mind the finished negative will have the proper contrast required/necessary for printing on photosensitive materials. Just as a glob of clay does not represent a finished piece of pottery, your contrast-adjusted image on your monitor is one of the raw materials you shape to obtain the desired results.

One other thing to pay attention to in these illustrations is that the curve grid is showing 10 per cent increments instead of the default 25 per cent. This detailed grid only changes the cosmetics of the curves dialog box; the functionality remains the same. The advantage to having your grid in the detailed mode (10 per cent increments) is you can easily place points on your curve corresponding to the densities in the step tablet. The myriad variables of printer type, ink formulations (dye and pigment) and printing processes mean you may have to adjust your image contrast (via Curves in Photoshop) before you get your desired contact print. Keeping careful notes of your experiments can be helpful to ensure consistency and repeatability.

Step 4: Inverting your Image to Create Negative Densities

After applying the curve to the image, it needs to be inverted (Photoshop: Edit  Adjustments  Invert) otherwise you will produce a positive on the transparency material.

Step 5: Printing the Negative on Clear Transparency Material using Specific Print Dialog Box Settings

Every inkjet printer has it’s own method of depositing ink onto a surface. This lack of uniformity means there is no one set of print dialog box settings that will work for every printer. The settings for an Epson printer using Epson’s Advanced Black and White Mode to create a slight reddish/brown colour cast in the negative. This colour helps block UV light, which is especially useful for making cyanotype and platinum/palladium prints. Overhead projection (OHP) films from Pictorico ( have been consistent and reliably hold ink.


Materials needed:

  • A negative
  • Transparency film  (Purchached on Ebay UK £5.61)
  • Laser Jet Printer
  • Access to processing software such as Photoshop or Lightroom


I used Ilford HP5, 400ISO, black and white film to produce the negatives, then I scanned them onto the computer where I the had access to the digital negative image.

I then opened the file in Photoshop were I could adjust the contrast, sizing and cropping where necessary. The images were shot ok in camera but the scanning process sometimes allows for the edges of the negatives to be seen. I have developed screen shots of the process undertaken below;








During the print process it was thought that I may have purchased the incorrect transparency film for printing my digital negative but on experimentation the film did take to the image only my first print was printed on the wrong side of the film. I continued the same process as above and processes some further images ready for printing.



[1] ALTERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. (2016) How To Make a Digital Negative. [Online] Available from:                                                                                                                                                  [Accessed: 02 February 2016]

[2] HIRSCH, R. (2016) Alternative Photo Editing Posts: How To Make a Digital Negative. Mastering Photo. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 02 February 2016]


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