What’s in a Name: Platinum or Palladium Print?

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There is a never-ending debate in the small world of platinum/palladium printing: what is the correct name for the prints we make? Are they platinum prints, palladium prints or platinum/palladium prints? Is there any difference? And does it really matter?

Here are my thoughts on this.

The process by which platinum prints are made is almost universally called the platinum/palladium process. It is based on the chemistry of iron and can be used to make prints with platinum, palladium, both platinum and palladium, and to an extent some other metals. All these ‘platinum family’ metals are chemically similar, which is why they all work with this process.

There is a point of view that anything made using the platinum/palladium process can legitimately be called a ‘platinum print’. Personally I find this problematic. After all, how would you feel if you bought a gold ring for your beloved, only to find out later that it’s actually made from silver? Personally I’d feel deceived. It wouldn’t matter to me that the ring was made in the same way that a real gold ring would made, nor that silver is chemically similar to gold. Silver is not gold; and by any normal judgement a gold ring must be made of gold. In Europe the standard for using the label ‘gold’ in jewellery is 18 carat or 75% gold.

Clearly, at least to me, a print with an image consisting entirely, or almost entirely, of platinum can legitimately be called a platinum print. Likewise, a print with an image consisting entirely, or almost entirely, from palladium can claim to be a palladium print. And it seems sensible to call a print whose image consists of a mixture of platinum and palladium a platinum/palladium print. This is not a universally accepted naming convention, but it’s the one I follow.

As noted on my About Platinum Prints page, I declare prints made with at least 85% platinum as ‘platinum prints’ (which is roughly equivalent purity to 22 carat gold). The rest of the image is usually palladium, but could be other additives. My rationale for this cut-off is that 15% palladium is insufficient to form an image on its own, so it can legitimately be described as an additive. At 20-25%, palladium can form an image on its own, albeit a weak one, and it also starts to become the dominant image forming metal when mixed with platinum, so it’s no longer reasonable to call it a ‘platinum print’ (see this old post for more information). As far as I’m concerned at 20-25% palladium it has become a ‘platinum/palladium print’.

Does any of this matter? To me it does, because one of my artistic themes is truth, and I want people who buy my work to know what they are buying. It also matters from a conservation point of view. It is well established that prints made from palladium must be cared for differently to platinum prints if you want to maximise their longevity. This is important for artists and collectors, as well as conservationists.