ÜberSuperBlonde™ (ÜSB) is a specially processed not-yet-patented pro-grade shellac varnish for collodion plates (tintypes, ambrotypes, negatives) that I developed. The dissolved shellac goes through lab-processing with a centrifuge and ultra-filtration after being treated with activated carbon to lighten its color to mitigate against the darkening of the plate’s image, a common effect of sandarac. The carbon filtering also removes other impurities, leaving a very clean pale yellow liquid.
One benefit of ÜSB is shorter exposure times; in effect, you can gain up to a full stop varnishing with ÜSB and not be concerned by overexposing to compensate for the varnish (ÜSB may still darken about a half-stop, although some users claim no darkening). It is also a very workable thin blend that does not require pre-heating before using — just hand-warmth or a quick pass over a heat source to ensure the plate is not too cold to pour at room temperature. You DO need to heat (at about 140-180 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5 minutes) after pouring off the excess to raise an even gloss. It dries to the touch within minutes and cures within a few hours although I recommend you let it cure a few days before rough handling or storing in sleeves. It is also possible to apply a second coat if it appears uneven or if you want a little more depth.
Shellac — the predominantly used 19th-century wet plate collodion varnish according to latest research — is also chemically proven to be a superior vapor-barrier for the protection of the plate. It also plays very well with waxes, so when combined with a top coat of Renaissance Wax, which is a very good moisture barrier, you have a one-two punch of protection while buffing up the surface shine a bit. But remember, in addition to protection, you are also making an aesthetic choice in how you finish your plate. Some plates might be better suited with shellac, others with sandarac, or maybe a modern synthetic clear coat varnish; some waxed or burnished, some not. Options are good, but it’s up to you to decide among them.
There are also things to be aware of about shellac: once mixed, it has a shelf-life of about 12 months and so is best used within that time. It could keep longer if refrigerated, but I recommend usage within 12 months to be on the safe side. I discourage the purchase of multiple bottles unless you are shooting a lot of large plates. An 8-ounce bottle (with proper catch and re-filtration back into storage and care in avoiding spillage) should last for 50-75 8×10 plates; about 200 4x5s. Also, with this thinner blend you need to pay greater attention to coverage on the corner opposite your pour-off corner by pouring off at about a 45-degree angle, wicking edges with paper towel (or fingers) and heating to dry at a slight angle toward the pour-off edge to minimize backwash lines. You can also use a double corner pour off technique as well; I find that doing a double pour-off minimizes risk of thin edges. For an informative and well-done presentation on varnish options and varnishing technique, I strongly recommend this video by Quinn Jacobson of Studio Q. It is also available under Post-Process.
I currently make two varieties of ÜSB as described here:
ÜSB Archer’s Envy — shellac with a small amount of other resins (to give a slightly smoother, glossier surface than plain shellac) and lavender oil. $42 for 8-ounce/240ml bottle, shipping included, US only. 16-ounce/490ml bottles $75, shipping included.
ÜSB Archer’s Envy Extreme — same blend as regular Archer’s Envy, but made with higher grade and lighter shellac flakes, and then triple-carbon-treated for an extremely light color. $52 for 8-ounce/240ml bottle, shipping included, US only. 16-ounce/490ml bottles $90, shipping included.
I can also do a carbon-filtered lightened sandarac — Sandaradical — for those who prefer sandarac but want a purer, lighter version.
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