Staining Your Photographs with Tea — Dee Ross

You’ve prob­a­bly heard the phrase “what’s old becomes new again”. While look­ing for a toner that would impart a golden, antique look to my dog prints, I stum­bled upon tea. I wanted a light, golden brown look; some­thing no one else was using, so late one evening in 93′, I got out the tea bags and cre­ated my own home brew and set­tled in to tint some pho­tos. To my amaze­ment it worked and to this day, the prints my cus­tomers pur­chased are still look­ing as good as day I printed and tea stained them. Even with the new col­ored RC papers, I still tea tint when the mood strikes.

tea tint

Throw Cau­tion to the Wind The­ory: Using the ratio­nale that cof­fee had been used eons ago, I the­o­rized why not tea. I knew that tea was a tan­nin and think­ing that tan­nin or tan­nic acid was per­ma­nent, I threw cau­tion to the wind and started tint­ing my images in tea. As for the mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion; is tea tint­ing really archival? Appar­ently there are con­flict­ing the­o­ries. I’ve done some recent research on the inter­net, sent a few e-mails here and there, the staff put their feel­ers out, but alas, no con­crete evi­dence that this process is archival. It was sug­gested I con­duct a test by cov­er­ing one half of the print with black paper and leav­ing the other half exposed in bright sun­light for 90 days. I’ll be post­ing the results, so in the mean­time, buy a box of tea bags and give it a whirl. If you don’t like the results, it’s the per­fect time of year for iced tea!

Sup­plies you’ll need:

1. Tea bags (Lip­ton or generic, large or small). Lipton’s com­bines orange pekoe and pekoe cut black tea. Our generic brand con­tains orange pekoe teas and select teas (what­ever that may be). I’m using Lip­ton tea, but try both. Fla­vored tea bags (i.e. rasp­berry) do not stain the print a nice pink hue. OK! Call me crazy, but I tried it.
2. Semi-matte, resin coated paper if you plan to color oth­er­wise any RC paper, EXCEPT FOR GLOSSY. Tea stain­ing washes right off glossy RC. All papers stain a dif­fer­ent hue. I use Agfa semi-matte and Ilford RC papers. Fiber papers are noto­ri­ous for blotchy, uneven stains.
3. Pan to boil water in and add bags.
4. Stove. Microwaves do not work because the tem­per­a­ture will break the bags.
5. Your usual trays and chemicals.


This process is a guide only. Feel free to strike out on your own with dif­fer­ent ratios of tea bags to water and tem­per­a­ture. The amount of water and num­ber of tea bags you use is depen­dent upon the size of your tray. The big­ger the tray, the more water and tea bags you will need. An 8x10 or 10x10 tray takes approx­i­mately 20 oz. of the liq­uid tea, but you can use less. Just remem­ber to use enough to cover your print and agi­tate con­tin­u­ously. This is a one-time liq­uid. I haven’t found that the liq­uid keeps its strength stored overnight and I know the tea bags can’t be re-used. Make the tea while your print(s) are wash­ing or make it prior to devel­op­ing your prints. Again, this is only a guide.
1. For a 10 x 10 tray, fill a pan with 20 oz. of water and add 8 to 10 reg­u­lar size tea bags (take off the tags). This is a start­ing point and you can add more bags if you want a deeper hue.
2. Bring just to a boil, take the liq­uid off the stove, and take bags out.
3. Pour the hot liq­uid into your tray and add just enough clear water to the liq­uid to reg­is­ter a tem­per­a­ture of between 80 and 90 degrees. The com­bi­na­tion of heat and the num­ber of tea bags in rela­tion to water, are the major fac­tors in deter­min­ing the color of the stain­ing from a light ivory (75 , 80 degrees), to gold-brown (80–85), to a brown­ish orange (90 and over). Red Alert , 90 and over; you’re push­ing it — maybe not now, maybe in a short while, but def­i­nitely, in the long run, your print will prob­a­bly dis­in­te­grate, not to men­tion ugly, uneven blotchy stains.
4. Slip your print into the tray and agi­tate con­stantly. Keep in liq­uid until WYSIWYG (4–5 min­utes or longer). The print rarely dries darker.
5. Wash and let print dry. RE-HEAT liq­uid in orig­i­nal pan when the tem­per­a­ture has dropped below 80 degrees (the liq­uid cools rapidly in the tray, so re-heat often. (Don’t add any more water). After re-heating, pour the liq­uid back into the same tray, take it’s tem­per­a­ture and con­tinue tint­ing more prints. The liq­uid can be re-heated until the tea is exhausted.
Prog­no­sis Print: I’ll be watch­ing my print to see if there is any change in color, den­sity, etc. and if it remains unchanged, then you can rest assured that tea stain­ing might be used to archive a print. Even if it doesn’t turn out that way, it’s an eco­nom­i­cal, fun way to add color to your prints. Don’t for­get to add a bit of hand­col­or­ing. Wish me luck and if any­one has any help­ful infor­ma­tion on tea stain­ing, feel free to let all of us know.

© By Dee Ross Pure