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Q: What are Silver Gelatin prints?

A: This is a question that I asked many years ago when I went to a museum show. (When I say many years ago I mean back in the 80's well before digital photography and inkjet prints where on the market.) The exhibit featured black and white photographs from a well-known photographer. The captions below each image gave a title and listed the medium as a "Silver Gelatin Print". This intrigued me because I was in the photography business and had never heard the term Silver Gelatin Print before. So I went to the museum curator and asked him what a silver gelatin print was. The answer will probably surprise you as it did me.

All true black and white photographic papers are made with silver in the chemistry. This makes all prints made on true black and white photographic paper, silver gelatin prints. The term originally came from B&W film, which is made with tiny platelets of silver called silver-halide gelatin. The same silver-halide gelatin is used in making all true black and white photographic papers. 

Now that I’ve taken the big mystery out of the term "Silver Gelatin Prints" I should explain why the term has become so popular. Museums were the first to use the term because it gave a higher level of importance to the prints on exhibit.The curator explained that he could have listed the medium as "Black & White Photograph" but by listing the medium as a “Silver Gelatin Print” it gave an air of importance that made the photograph seem to be better than other photographs. This has also caught on with galleries and art shows.

I feel that the reason this mystery has persisted for so many years is because people are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know what something means, so instead of asking they make their own assumptions. The assumption in this case is that a Silver Gelatin Print is better then a black and white print. The truth is, they are one and the same.

This FAQ's page was written so that all of you can finally know the truth without having to really ask anyone.

  Part 2 to "What are Siver Gelatin Prints?"


Now that being said; please understand that I wrote this information in the early 90's. Here we are 20 plus years later and I'm still being asked about Silver Gelatin prints. But now I think it's important to point out that listing the medium of a photograph as "Silver Gelatin Print" takes on a whole new significance. The listing now shows that the print was made using wet processed true black and white photographic paper. The paper can still be either an RC photographic paper or a Fiber Base photographic paper. It distinguishes the print from being made in a light room on digital inkjet paper.

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