Tag Archives: darkroom printing

Comparing darkroom papers.

Ever since digital became popular, I have had friends and colleagues shut down their darkrooms and some have donated to me part used boxes of paper. Many of these I have not tested, or maybe tried once and didn’t really appreciate.
The quality of old paper can vary quite a lot, some of them are rather dull and foggy, so I avoided a lot of these papers when I was busy in case they turned out to be a waste of time. The other day I found I was getting low on my chosen paper, so I looked around at the other boxes, wondering which would be best. I couldn’t remember which ones I had tried, so I decided to spend the next full day in the darkroom doing a comparison test.

Testing and comparing papers is pretty easy with a Kodak step wedge called the ‘Kodak Projection Print Scale’. These are meant to be placed on the paper when you have a negative to print. You give one minute of exposure, process the paper then read off what your actual print time is from the numbers around the edge. It is a really neat device, though I don’t use it much. For this test I would simply do a shorter exposure in a contact printing frame with no negative and this would give me a range of greys which I could use to compare exposure.

I found the correct exposure for my favourite paper, which turned out to be ten seconds and then gave each paper exactly the same exposure and development. This meant that I could immediately compare differences in density and work out a comparative speed. This would be useful when making a print and then changing to another paper type, it would shorten test exposures and get me very close. It would also come in useful when choosing a paper for paper negatives.











28 papers were tested, though some were the same type, but with different manufacturing dates. The more dark triangles on a test, the faster the paper. Number one, top left is my normal paper, Ilford Warmtone FB Gloss. The first ones to come close to the same speed were numbers 8 (Ilford MG III RC Deluxe) and 9 (Ilfospeed G3 RC). The slowest was number 4 (Forte Polywarmtone Plus), and the fastest was number 14 (Agfa MCC 118 FB Semi Matt).






This side by side comparison shows the huge difference (about 4 stops) in speed between Forte Polywarmtone RC on the left, and Agfa MCC FB on the right. Numbers 6 and 16 on the list.

I still have to spend some more time going through the results and notating features and faults, but I’m excited about how useful this test will be. It would be great to do it all again with Lith development, but that would take about four days!

The papers tested were; Ilford Warmtone, Kentmere Kentona, Forte Fortezo Museum, Forte Polywarmtone, Adox Fine Print Vario Classic, Agfa MCC, Ilford Ilfospeed RC, Ilford Ilfobrom FB, Agfa Rapitone RC, Ilford MGIII RC, Ilford MGIV FB, Kentmere Document Art, Kentmere Art Classic.

I still have many other boxes of paper in all sorts of sizes, but I mainly print 10×8 now, so I think I’ll just leave the test at this.


The best mid range enlarger for split grade printing.

Philips PCS 130 color/black-white enlarger and Philips PCS 150 control unit.

The Philips PCS 130 is a very underrated enlarger. If you are a fan of split grade printing, but have not quite got your head round it, this enlarger will make it really simple for you. Launched in 1979, this enlarger was aimed at the home colour printing enthusiast. Their Tri-One colour system, being additive (red, green, blue), rather than subtractive filtration (cyan, magenta, yellow), was said to be more precise and to offer better colour saturation.

The enlarger can take negatives from 35mm, up to 6×7 cm, though the correct condensers and negative masks might not be easy to locate.

Now that colour is almost totally in the digital domain, these enlargers are no longer used for colour printing. Many enlargers with colour heads are employed by black and white printers to make split grade prints, however, subtractive filtration is often confusing and differs from one manufacturer to another. This particular control unit, having red, green and blue lights, each controlled separately, is perfect for split grade printing.

For those of you who are new to Multigrade papers and filtration, I need to give you a bit of information about the paper; In the old days, papers came in fixed grades, that is to say they had a fixed contrast and this was given as a number on the box. Grade 2 was normal contrast and was designed for printing a properly exposed and processed

negative. Lower grades were for contrasty negatives, and higher grades were for flat negs, or underexposed negs.

Multigrade paper was designed with two layers (actually three, but these two are the most important). One layer is sensitive to blue light, and gives a high contrast image, the other layer is sensitive to green light and gives a low contrast image. The Multigrade filters are subtractive, they take out some, or all of their opposite colour. The same thing happens with enlargers with colour heads using dial-in filtration. The dedicated Multigrade enlarger heads work with blue and green lights and this is what the Philips has. The beauty of this control unit is that each lamp can be switched on or off individually. The red light does not affect the paper, but it is useful when focusing, because all three lights combine to give white light.

This is the control unit for the three lamps, with the timer on the left. The black buttons above the dials turn each lamp on or off individually.

Okay, are you all with me so far? This bit is quite simple, but when I discovered it, it was a game changer. Split grade printing had never been easier.

A negative is in the enlarger, the focus is done, the lens is a couple of stops down and you are ready to do a test strip. Find an area of the image where you have thin or empty parts of the neg, -the shadows. Now look for an area of density which represents the highlights. Can you place your test strip so that it spans both areas? This is where the test needs to go. Do the test exposure with all three lamps on full power.

Now the direction that you move your card as you do the individual exposures, should provide a bit of both extremes of tone on each strip that you expose. Each exposure on the test strip should tell you what is happening in shadow and highlight areas.

When the test is processed and in the fix, lift it out to check the result. Count along and see where the black first appears (the shadows). What exposure was that? Write it down and put a B next to it. Look at the test again and count along to see where the tone in the highlights looks correct. Write that number down and put a G next to it.

Put a full sheet of paper in the masking frame/easel. Turn all of the lamps to off. Set your timer to the time you wrote for B, and expose your paper with just the blue lamp turned on. Now set the timer for the G time, and expose your paper with just the green lamp. Process the paper and check the print, it should be pretty damn close to correct. This is split grade printing with one test strip!

I often do extra work on an image after this stage, but that is an individual choice, you may prefer a straight print. Nevertheless, this method, with this enlarger, saves a lot of time and testing. I don’t check the auction sites for enlargers because I have four different types in my darkroom and I don’t need any more. I have no idea how often these enlargers come up for sale, but I’m willing to bet that they don’t fetch high prices, because most people don’t realise how good they are.

If anyone reading this has a spare one, please leave a comment below, because I am sure that somebody reading this will want one.

I wish you well with your printing.

If you have enjoyed this post and the information here and elsewhere on my blog, would you consider a small donation via Ko-fi please? You can send as little as £3.00, or more if you are feeling generous. This money goes towards materials used for the tests and printing for these articles. The link is; Ko-fi.com/andrewsandersonphotography