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.