Toning of black and white silver prints

Black and white silver prints can be quite interesting on their own, but in some cases, it may be interesting to change the color of the image. The process of changing the color is called toning. Toning must not be confused with dyeing of the print. When a print is dyed, then the color of the paper, which carries the image is changed (i.e. black remains black, white becomes colored). When a print is toned, then the color of the paper is unchanged, but the color of the image itself is changed (i.e. white remains white, black changes to the toning color). Dyeing simply is soaking the paper with a certain dye, toning is more involved. It requires a chemical change of the compound of which the image consists.

For toning, there are pre-mixed solutions, which can be purchased at photography shops. More interesting, however, is the use of raw chemicals to make your own toner. Using raw chemicals sometimes is cheaper (not always), but the main advantage is that it offers much more control.

On this page, toners are presented, based on chemicals, usually not associated with photography, but available at ceramics and pottery suppliers at very low cost. What makes the toners attractive is their very low price and the ease at which the required compounds can be obtained.

Several toners can be distinguished. Here, a list is given of toners, which can be prepared at low cost with easy to obtain chemicals.

  • Ferrocyanide based toners:
    • blue toning, iron / ferrocyanide
    • red toning, copper / ferrocyanide
    • yellow toning, vanadium / ferrocyanide
    • olive green toning, vanadium / ferrocyanide
    • bright green toning, vanadium / iron / ferrocyanide
    • yellow/sepia toning, sulfide / vanadium / ferrocyanide
  • Sulfide based toners:
    • brown and sepia toning, sulfide
    • deep brown or purplish brown toning, polysulfide

Besides the toners, mentioned above, there are more toners. These toners are mentioned here.

  • deep brown to black, selenium
  • reddish/salmon, sulfide / gold / thiocyanate
  • bluish black, gold / thiocyanate

Good recipes are available at The vanadium toner, mentioned on that site, however, uses vanadium (III) chloride, which is very hard to obtain and very expensive.

Really good recipes can be found in The Darkroom Cookbook. Pre-packaged kits are available at, but probably also at your local photography shop.



Most of the chemicals, used for toning purposes, are quite toxic. These chemicals must be used with care and one must be sure not to get exposed to them frequently. When a print is immersed in a toning bath, do not use your bare fingers to take it out of the bath. When dry powders are used, take care not to inhale fine dust. After use, toning baths should be disposed of properly, by bringing them to a waste processing facility.

back to top of page