PMK | Pictorial Planet

Pictorial Planet

From the author of "The Art of Black and White Developing"

PMK Developer

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PMK 1:2:100 8 Minutes at 20c
Ilford PanF+ EI 25 Fuji GW670III
Ilford Multigrade

A lot of darkroom users are investigating pyro developers these days. They're possibly looking for that 'something' to make the difference in their work. And it's here, with a pyro developer, that you might find just that. The oldest developing agent pyrogallol has still a lot to offer, so much so that some photographers use it regularly if not all the time!

There are a few pyro developer formulas around but when I think of them PMK comes immediately to mind. Gordon Hutchins' PMK is one of the most researched modern pyro formulas available. Others include John Wimberley's WD2D (and the new WD2D+ that's only available commercially) and Jay DeFehr’s 510-Pyro. If you're looking to use a Pyro developer you won't go wrong with any of these three!

For this post I'll focus on PMK.

Hutchinsons' PMK developer borrows much from the slightly earlier Wimberley formula called WD2D. It includes the same 1:10 Metol to Pyro ratio and the same preservative - sodium bisulphite; the difference then is left to the activator. WD2D uses the more alkaline Sodium Carbonate and PMK uses the less active Metaborate. It means that if you have a solution of Sodium Carbonate on hand you can make both developers from the same PMK formula.

Are the two developers the same? The short answer is no, but similar. The different activator creates a different colour stain, yellow for WD2D and a more green for PMK. These stains will effect the way the negative prints on darkroom paper but more of that later.

Why you might choose PMK as your film developer.

To paraphrase the late and great photographer Barry Thornton, you cannot make a fine print from a poor negative, and this developer will help make fine negatives. Of course you, as a photographer, have to make the photograph and expose it correctly, but developed with care in PMK you'll be making beautiful negatives. Hutchins’ developer shows a luminous and detailed quality that mere mortal develops just cannot as easily achieve. It’s a sharp developer, showing great acutance, and has no solvent action on the negative grain. This means, just like Rodinal for instance, PMK retains the full natural film grain creating sharper and detailed photographs.

However, unlike Rodinal whose 'honest' grain can be more noticeable, PMK adds a subtle image stain to the negative that's in key and in proportion to the silver density. The higher the silver density the higher this helpful stain. It fills in the gaps and smoothes out the grain so as not to give the harder appearence of Rodinal. A nice advantage of Pyro (and pyrocatechin) developers.

PMK’s sharpness is also enhanced by the tanning effect of pyro on gelatine. By tanning (AKA hardening) the emulsion PMK slows the movement of development by products across high contrast lines in the image the practical upshot of which is sharper lines between areas of close proximity. This micro and macro sharpness is pleasing to the eye.

Finally, of note is PMKs very good economy of use. With dilutions of 1:2:100 the standard 500ml bottle of part A and 1ltr bottle of part B will develop over 100 of your 35mm films. This wouldn’t be of such importance if the developer didn’t keep well but PMK keeps for many many years even in an opened half used bottle. If you want to help the developer last even longer then add a gentle squirt of butane gas from a lighter refil canister into the bottle after each use.

PMK formula:

  • Stock Solution A
  • Distilled Water (24C) 400ml
  • Metol 5g
  • Sodium Bisulfite 10g
  • Pyrogallol 50g
  • Water to make 500ml
  • Stock Solution B
  • Distilled Water (24C) 400ml
  • Sodium Metaborate 300g
  • Water to make 1 liter

  • Use with ratio 1:2:100 and develop at 20c.

Printing with PMK.

It’s in the printing that you will really experience why photographers use this developer. The stained negative becomes an infinitely variable contrast filter. The highlights print with such long range of tones that they look almost three dimensional. Look at the Pelikan below. The rendition of the highlight detail makes the bird come alive on the print. This, by the way, is a scan of the print on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone paper, not the negative.

The only way to experience PMK is to print it in the darkroom and get the full benefit of this beautiful developer.

Making WD2D from your PMK developer

I've already said that WD2D and PMK are very similar developers and that PMK borrowed most of its design from WD2D. They both have the 1:10 Metol to Pyrogallol ration and the same preservative. So the differnces come down to two things dilution and activator. I have PMK in my darkroom at all times and also a bottle of diluted Sodium Carbonate (22g monohydrate to make to 500ml water or, if you only have anhydrous, 18.3g Anhyd. to make 500ml water). Now to formulate the WD2D take the PMK solution A with the Sodium Carbonate as solution to this ratio:


That is 6 parts PMK solution A, 20 parts Sodium Carbonate solution, and 400 parts water.

See also:
Pyro and Pyrocatechin developers
Sandy King's Pyrocat HD

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PMK 1:2:100 9 Minutes at 20c
Ilford FP4+ EI 100 SL66 with 250mm Sonar lens
Ilford Multigrade Warmtone

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