Though Archer was trained in the calotype process, he was unsatisfied with the texture and unevenness of the paper negative. He experimented with a variety of solutions and surfaces, and in 1849 made a breakthrough when he coated a glass plate with a collodion solution and exposed the plate while it was still wet. Archer delayed publishing his process until his results were consistent. His first article was published in The Chemist in March, 1851, and in 1852 he published A Manual of the Collodion Photographic Process. Images created using the collodion wet plate process were sharp like the daguerreotype, easily reproducible like the calotype, and enabled photographers to dramatically reduce exposure times. The process led to a rapid expansion in all areas of photography. The cartes de visite, ambrotype and tintype are direct results of Archer’s efforts. In stark contrast to other inventors, Archer did not attempt to patent his process, and received no monetary benefit from it. He also made significant contributions in optics and camera design, and patented several of his inventions. However, Archer died before he could reap any benefits from them, and he died in poverty in 1857.
The imperfections in paper photography…has induced me to…find some other substance more applicable, and meeting the necessary conditions required of it, such as fineness of surface, transparency and ease of manipulation.