View Full Version : FB versus RC Paper in modern times

J. P. Mose
13-Nov-2004, 10:43
I have been using RC paper since I got back into photography five years ago. I just recently decided to buy some fiber based (FB) paper (Ilford MC) after several years of not using it, as I just obtained a Versalab washer and a used print dryer off Ebay. Now I have some more tools to make it less burnensome. In comparison with RC, I can't detect any improvement in tonal quality with the FB. I have NEVER claimed to be an expert printer, but I do OK. Years ago (mid 1970's) I recall there at least being some difference. I personally find RC so much more convenient...and it is less expensive.

I would like to hear your opinions on this subject. Is there really much of a difference (if at all)? Maybe I need to improve my techniques in order for it to "pop out" at me!

Thanks for your time...hope you all are having a great weekend!

JP Mose

bob carnie
13-Nov-2004, 11:20
I totally agree with Michael

Mark Sawyer
13-Nov-2004, 12:03
Modern RC is much improved over the `70's era RC, which had a maybe-fifty-year life-span and and almost-audible "clunk" when going from one tonality to another. The modern stuff has claims of 100-150 years, and tonality is as smooth as on FB.

FB is a pain, what with processing, dry-down, etc., but it's still the gallery standard. I think the best guess at life expectancy today is 200-300 years. FB has a slightly different, I think preferable, surface texture, (use pearl/matte RC to approximate air-dried glossy FB; does anyone ferrotype their fb anymore?)

For me, the biggie with FB is that the gelatin emulsion coating seems to have more depth, being more a part of the paper rather than sitting on top of a resin layer. Subtle, but there, and subtlety is part of where we are coming from.

So you know where I'm coming from, I've been shooting with large format off-and-on for roughly thirty years, including three years as a National Park Service photographer and eight years as a photographer and photo-conservator for the Arizona Historical Society. I've taught photo in high school and the local community college for the last seven years, and have a BFA in Photo as a Fine Art from the U of Arizona. I've got a stack of empty 5x7 fb 100-sheet boxes, (mostly medalist/kodabromide/polycontrast/polyfiber, all single-weight) about twelve feet tall, and have thrown or given away a lot more.

Sadly, I print mostly RC these days, as it's the preference for students who only get about forty minutes at a time in the darkroom, and as I work 60-70 hours a week. I do still print on FB occassionally, and look forward to using it more seriously in the future.

Incidentally, I do think the polycontrast papers hold their own quite well against the graded papers, and don't care for the premium papers as the silver content seems excessive and the paper bases are too heavy.

A hodge-podge answer; take it for what it's worth...

David Karp
13-Nov-2004, 12:38
I agree with the above posts. To me, there is something wonderful about a fiber base print. Not only does it seem deeper, it is organic. Each paper has its own texture. I can't tell you which paper is which when in front of me unlabeled, but each one has its own characteristics. For example, prints I have made on one paper, not commonly mentioned by printers on this and other forums, receive comments on their beauty. This paper is Luminos Flexicon Fiber (made by Kentmere in England). It has a beautiful surface to it, and if the negative matches it well, photographs printed on it are quite beautiful. Fiber papers give you much more variety when it comes to exercising control over how your photos look and feel. Selecting between RC glossy papers may allow you to control tonal rendition, etc., but they all have the same surface. Pearl type finishes have somewhat more variability, but still seem plasticy to me. This is all in addition to longevity issues with RC documented by Ctein and others.

My main paper used to be Ilford MGIV RC pearl, but once I bought a good washer (also a Versalab - great choice), I switched to fiber and have never looked back.

In the end however, they are your photos. If you feel that the RC expresses the photograph in the manner that you desire, then you should use it. After all, Ctein used (uses?) RC paper for his fine art work, and began his research into RC paper longevity when he found that fine art prints made by a close friend experienced bronzing fairly soon after being printed (and then sold). The art purchasers must not have been too happy about their self-destructing prints! By the way, I believe he found that Agfa MC RC paper held up better than the others after they took steps to correct things. I don't know if Ilford or Kodak made any changes to their formulations in response to Agfa's steps. His research was included in at least two articles in Photo Techniques Magazine, and in his book "Post Exposure."

Mark Sawyer
13-Nov-2004, 12:49
Incidentally, the primary archival problem with the old RC papers was the titanium dioxide layer used as the whitening agent below the emulsion. It slowly reacted with the resins to destroy the base.

Mark Sawyer
13-Nov-2004, 12:52
Sorry, make that "titanium oxide" not "dioxide."

Dr. Alheimer ain't got nuthin' on me...

Brian Ellis
13-Nov-2004, 13:51
I don't think anyone would claim that fiber base paper is going to cause an image to "pop out" at you from a technical standpoint relative to RC. It isn't so much a question of the technical quality of the image as it is a combination of how you like the look of the paper surface (I find glossy fiber base much more attractive than glossy RC and I don't care for traditional darkroom prints on matte paper), the posssible issues of longevity or problems down the road with RC (it seems like every time they claim all the problems have been fixed a new one crops up like the silvering Ctein, Clyde Butcher, and others found a couple years ago), and the fact that galleries and collectors, right or wrong, seem to have a very strong preference for fiber base. But if these considerations aren't important to you and you like the look of RC papers then by all means use RC paper.

Joe Smigiel
13-Nov-2004, 14:10
Comparing the look of an RC print to fiber is like comparing faux-wood Formica to a finely polished wood surface...like Pepsi to Coke...

13-Nov-2004, 14:20
Personally, I prefer PEPSI. (But I just buy whatever's on sale this week.)

J. P. Mose
13-Nov-2004, 14:39
Thanks for the great responses so far. I must admit that I've only printed a few photos on fiber based paper so far. I think I will continue with it and get over the inconvenience (more resistance than anything).

I don't like polyester in my clothing...I don't like formica, linoleum or pergo (I have hard wood floors, tile and granite)...I do like Coke. I HATE INSTANT COFFEE (do they even make that anymore)! I especially don't like silk plants. But I do like Miller Lite....sorry...an old habit. Sounds like I need to spend more time with the FB and learn to love it!

Thanks again....you guys are the greatest!

13-Nov-2004, 16:02
There really should be a devil's advocate in this discussion, so I will volunteer.

RC is cheaper and easier to use, and will outlast me. It has a flatter and flashier look. In my book, that's five for five (my sensibility is that part of what photos are, is flat. Flat, flat, flat). The money I save offsets slightly the high cost of ReadyLoads...

No reason to struggle with fibre if you don't want to...

David A. Goldfarb
13-Nov-2004, 21:37
RC is handy for certain things, particularly prints that are just meant to be passed around and handled, since they look pretty good and stay flat by themselves. Fiber has more depth, though, to my eye, and I still prefer graded to VC papers. I like Azo for contact prints and Maco Expo RF for enlargements, but it's a matter of taste, and there are a number of good looking papers out there. Best to buy a selection of 25-sheet packs and find one you like and keep the test prints in a file for reference.

Jim Rhoades
14-Nov-2004, 05:57
A few years back I was at a workshop. While doing the critique the pro looked at one of my favorite and oldest abstracts. Oh, very nice. Very well seen. Well printed too. Why did you ruin it by printing on plastic?

Harsh? No. He was right. I've re-printed that photograph as well as most other good ones. Side by side the fiber beats the R/C print every time. I still use R/C for contact proofs or as throw-a ways that I know will end up in a shoebox at best.

Joe said it best, formica vs. wood.

Andre Noble
14-Nov-2004, 07:33
I think RC papers are worth serious considerartion when printing 35mm negs. You can selenium tone RC papers, you know for possible enhanced longevity according to Ctein. I've been dissappointed with my 35mm negs onto fiber.

Neal Shields
14-Nov-2004, 08:25
I wish you would have said something before you moved away. I think we have a box of RC that we purchased by mistake. I would have given it to you

Sergio Caetano
14-Nov-2004, 08:47
Presently there is no technical reason for not using RC papers. The problem with whitener was solved several years ago with anti oxidant. So, it is only a matter of personal taste. I like them very much and have used them a lot.

Mark Sawyer
14-Nov-2004, 10:07
RC is the Devil's paper.

Just ask yourself, "What Would Ansel Print On?"

(Maybe we should all pitch in on some "WWAPO?" buttons or bumper-stickers...)