Tag Archives: multigrade

Making use of old paper

Over many years I have bought, swopped and had given a wide range of darkroom papers. Some are rather old and not really much good for making quality prints, but they still have their uses. I don’t throw out old papers, I’ve found that they can be used for Photograms, Paper Negatives, or just for creative experimentation. I have one box of very old Ilford single weight paper which has a base colour like it has been soaked in tea. If you choose the right kind of negative for it, the paper is gorgeous, but it is no good for certain other types of shot. If you want a punchy image with clean whites, -forget it, but for a still life or a portrait I think it brings a nice quality.

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Some of my favourite papers are lacking in contrast, that is to say, they have a lower grade now than the number on the box would suggest, this is because papers lose contrast with age. Not all though, -some last a long time, and I have examples from the sixties which are still ok. But some other papers are losing contrast at a much quicker rate, for instance, after only seven years. I have up to date papers which I use if I want a full range of tones, but the older ones are used if I want something different.  The flat, low contrast can impart a mood to the image, especially if the print is toned, in fact, I would say that this is essential. An untoned print of low contrast can look to be just a lot of greys, but a slightly sepia toned, or Selenium toned print is a different matter.

Recently I have been using some Ilfobrom Grade 4  for paper negatives in the 10×8 camera. I think it dates from the early seventies and has a contrast now of about grade 1, which is perfect for paper negatives. Here are three from yesterday morning in the mist.

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And here is Winnie, patiently waiting for me while I set up and shoot.

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So don’t throw those old papers away, try them as photograms or paper negatives. Try overprinting them and bleaching the highlights back (perhaps I’ll do this for the next post). Whatever you do, don’t just waste paper, if you really don’t think you can use it, send it to me -I’ll find a use for it.


  1. Thomas

Posted 14/03/2014 at 9:44 am

I am happy that I have got some Kentona yet. Unfortunately it is only 10×12.
But I do not have very old papers like you because I never did buy in bulk. Nor do I buy old papers on ebay. Should I try this? And what sort of papers?
I would like to have greater format of Kentona but all stock is emptied.

2. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 14/03/2014 at 1:02 pm

Kentona is a lovely paper for prints, even now, but it is also excellent for paper negatives! So you will have to decide which is the best way to use it.

3. Andrew

Posted 14/03/2014 at 5:32 pm

Your point about low-contrast paper being good for paper negatives is brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that…


4. Cahit

Posted 04/05/2014 at 6:35 pm

I have a bunch of expired papers. Is there a way to overcome printing whites as grays? Or more clear classification of alternative/creative uses of expired papers. (For example: type of scenes or negatives to print for better results)

5. Mark Peeters

Posted 03/11/2014 at 1:22 am

I have a whole bunch of graded paper that came with a bunch of dark room equipment. but I only have multigrade developer from Ilford, can you develop graded paper with the multigrade developer?


6. Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:17 pm

Dear Mark, please excuse my very late reply to your question on Thewebdarkroom. You can use Multigrade developer for graded paper without any problem.
Regards, Andrew Sanderson.

7.Andrew Sanderson

Posted 08/01/2015 at 10:24 pm

Dear Cahit, If you are using old papers to make prints, you may have problems with greyed whites. This could be a problem if you are expecting whites, but if you window matt the image and frame it, you could find that it looks really interesting as a new way to print.
If you are making paper negatives from the paper the greyed whites are not too much of a problem. You just print them using a higher contrast grade.
Regards, Andrew.

Split grade printing

First posted 12 March 2010

Split Grade printing in it’s most basic form is a process whereby two exposures are given, one through a Grade 5 filter and one through a Grade 00 filter. These two exposures can be varied in order to arrive at the correct contrast for almost any negative. I have another, simpler version which I will write about at a later date, but for now I’ll explain this method.

As I said, there are two exposures given, one through a Grade 5 and one through a Grade 00. That is the theory anyway, -but in reality some negatives only need one filter to print. This is especially true with extremely thin negatives which can only be printed on a Grade 5.

Let’s go back to basics: To simplify, the photographic emulsion in a Variable Contrast or Multigrade paper is made up of two light sensitive layers. One is sensitive to green light and gives a long range of greys from pale white through to dark grey, it won’t give a deep black unless it’s grossly overexposed. The other layer is sensitive to blue light and gives a very high contrast result, consisting of mainly black and white, with very few intermediate tones.

White light gives roughly equal amounts or both green and blue light, so exposing without a filter activates both layers giving a contrast between the two extremes, -roughly grade 2, depending on enlarger type. Using a Grade 2 filter also activates both layers equally, but reduces exposure time because of the density of the filter.

When two different exposures are given, one of the layers is activated more than the other and this moves the contrast away from grade 2.

Because this subject needs a full explanation beyond the space I have here, I have made a demonstration video which should make the point more clearly.

The video is currently unavailable, but I will restore it soon and give the link here. Please accept my apologies.