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Thread: Contact printing question

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2017
    Cortland, NY USA

    Question Contact printing question

    I've been pretty happy with my 4x5 negative processing but not with my scanning so far.

    So, I thought I would look at contact prints.
    My ultimate goal is a "real" darkroom and a 4x5 enlarger but that's not happening soon.

    In the meantime, I've searched around the web for some basic starting points and, holy cow!, there is lots and lots of somewhat conflicting info!

    What I need to do, again, for now, is a basic paper/negative/glass "sandwich" under a suspended bare bulb type of set up.

    What I am having a tough time sorting are two main things: bulb size(watts) and distance above the paper.

    I've found contact print paper and am hoping to get exposure times of 30 seconds or so--I'm not sure I can consistently control times at the short duration for enlarging paper. Though if I can get 10 to 30 second exposure time with "regular" paper, that would work for me too.

    Yes, I will be testing my specific set up but when I read things like "15 watts 3 or 4 feet above the paper" as well as "90 watt (?!) bulb 2 feet above the paper" , I think I need a bit of help to minimize paper/chemistry waste.


  2. #2
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: Contact printing question

    You need to get started and try things. One sheet of paper cut into strips will help you figure out exposure ranges, and be good practice.

    I use a medium format dichroic enlarger for doing contact prints on normal photo paper. I use the enlarger because it's there for my MF printing needs and I can adjust the contrast with the color dials. Papers vary in sensitivity so there is no general time or wattage.

    You may also get better results or at least save time by buying a contact printing frame. It's painful to spend $100 or so for a rugged picture frame with felt in the back, but they do a great job at keeping things flat and held together. It saves time from "making sandwiches" and checking things over.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    May 2015
    SooooCal/LA USA

    Re: Contact printing question

    Modern papers are fast, so often your exposures will be in seconds (or sometimes split seconds)... Very slow papers are hard to find...

    You might need a digital enlarging timer that can expose in split seconds, and you will get better print to print exposures... (Cheap for a used unit...)

    You can test exposures by covering almost all of the glass/paper combination with a card, leaving a strip exposed, then move card after another time interval, and so on, and when developed you will see what area looks best...

    The good news is once you get good negatives, most will be fairly close to your standard print exposure, so it won't take much to get where you want it to be...

    Just cut some paper strips for tests, but carefully note your light to paper distance, and set it exactly there every time... You will find the sweet spot very quickly!!!

    Good Luck!!!

    Steve K

  4. #4's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Winona, Minnesota

    Re: Contact printing question

    Tips: Get an inexpensive industrial aluminum shade from your local hardware store. Remove the clamp and hang it by the cord. It will shade the light from your eyes if the bulb is at eye-level. While you are there get a couple conventional bulbs of different wattage (40, 60, 100W), and perhaps a rheostat to regulate brightness.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Contact printing frames are typically $10 on the 'Bay. Go for it.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jun 2014

    Re: Contact printing question

    I use a sheet of glass taped on one side to the board of one of my enlargers so that the tape acts like a hinge. I use an enlarger because it allows me to use filters for vc paper and I can stop down the lens to adjust the exposure time. Works like a charm. A bare bulb would work as well, but exposure times may be very short (depending on the brightness of the bulb) and filtering for variable contrast requires some improvisation.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Dec 2013

    Re: Contact printing question

    An enlarger makes an excellent light source for contact printing with the aperture of the lens providing a way to easily control exposure. It need not be a 4x5. Any cheap 35mm enlarger and lens will work fine. That being said, I'm told Edward Weston did some good work with a bare bulb.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Aug 2000

    Re: Contact printing question

    Edward Weston used a bare bulb to print everything. Since you have found some contact paper, you should be able to do the same. Edwards bulb was mounted on a rod so he could vary the height as needed. He also was known to wrap toilet tissue around the bulb to attenuate the light. I suggest you begin with a 25 watt bulb if you can find one. Certainly you need to stay away from 100 watts and higher.
    Good luck!

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Sheridan, Colorado

    Re: Contact printing question

    You are on the right track. Just use the KISS principle -- Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    All you need if a light bulb, a sheet of glass, and a piece of cardboard. A safelight makes it a lot easier than working in total darkness.

    Put the paper on a flat surface and any given distance from the light bulb. It's a good idea if it is within reach of the light switch. Place a good negative on the paper, followed by the glass. It's a good idea to tape the edges of the glass to avoid cutting yourself. Cover the glass with the cardboard. Decide the longest exposure time you want -- let's say 30 seconds. Uncover a 1/4 strip of the negative. Turn on the light and start counting DOWN -- 30, 29, 28, etc. At 20, uncover another 1/4 strip of the negative and keep counting down. Repeat at 10 and 5 seconds.

    If all of the paper is too dark, move the light further away or try a lower wattage bulb -- and repeat.

    If all of the paper is too light, move the light closer or try a higher wattage bulb -- and repeat.

    If one of the strips looks good, repeat the test with finer timed strips -- around the best strip -- such as 20, 18, 16, and 14 seconds.

    Then learn to count seconds in your head -- just watch a wrist watch while you are riding the bus! Pretty soon you'll be able to count five minutes as good as a darkroom timer.
    Last edited by xkaes; 21-Sep-2017 at 10:45.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Portland, OR

    Re: Contact printing question

    Yes! KISS! get started and KISS!
    print out Xkaes post above and use it as your guide if you find that helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by xkaes View Post
    You are on the right track. Just use the KISS principle -- Keep it Simple, Stupid.

    All you need if a light bulb, a sheet of glass, and a piece of cardboard. A safelight makes it a lot easier than working in total darkness.
    Jac's advice to use a simple clamp on light is great. I too was going to say hang it from a string, You can tie loops in the string to lower or raise the bulb if you need to.
    Quote Originally Posted by View Post
    ...Get an inexpensive industrial aluminum shade ...It will shade the light from your eyes if the bulb is at eye-level.
    Jim's Reference of Weston is also something to look for, I belive he had a 2x4 or similar with holes in it that he could stick the bulb and rod in to move the light up or down. SIMPLE!
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Noel View Post
    Edward Weston used a bare bulb to print everything. ...
    stawastawa at gmail

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: Contact printing question

    I've been contact printing for quite awhile and have tried nearly every approach except a self contained contact printing box (the kind with a bulb in side and looks sort of like a piece of furniture)
    Just about everything will work ---some better than others.

    My issues with a sheet of glass are
    1) keeping fingerprints off the glass
    2) registering the negative and paper to jive when placing the glass on top, and
    3) the nagging feeling of doom if I accidentally drop the glass.

    What works for me is:

    Pick up an enlarger, any enlarger(you can still find give-aways) with a working bulb and lens. One for a small format is easily stored. Format isn't an issue, neither is the lens as you'll use it for light source, not for projecting an image.
    Hook up a timer so you can replicate exposures.
    Get a Printfile Contact Proofer, which had a hinged plate of glass---no danger of finger prints and your "sandwich" can be easily registered.

    For simplicity (I'm amazingly lazy) I use a step tablet to determine exposures---well more of a step disc. Mine is a Kodak but Delta, IIRC still makes the same one---

    Safe Light---I used GE Guide Lamp nite lights (2 on a card for less than a buck) but they've been off the market for decades and I only have one working Guide Lamp left, so I now use a short string of red LED Christmas lights I picked up during the post season clearance at a CVS

    As I said, there are other approaches but this one has been working for well me for the past three or four years now.
    Good luck & have fun!
    Last edited by John Kasaian; 21-Sep-2017 at 10:36. Reason: the voices inside my head told me more stuff
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

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