View Full Version : Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

John Cook
3-May-2005, 07:57

I need some recommendations on what’s currently hot and what’s not in b&w printing materials.

May and October are the two months when wives seem to become obsessed with redecorating. Here in Olde New England, their fancy falls to items such as bayberry-scented soap balls for the guest bathroom.

Having, at present, no guests living in our bathroom, we are beginning the re-hab in the living room. All the mature furniture, drapery and wall art have been donated to worthy recipients. Only the mature carpet remains, waiting another four years or so for Chester the mature springer spaniel to die. I’m trying to outlast him, but some days it’s nip and tuck.

In the meantime, as in the old days when a congressman was coming to visit our military base, everything that doesn’t salute gets a new coat of paint.

And the entire “house gallery” gets reprinted.

In the fifteen years since I last had one of these printing frenzies, many materials have disappeared. And as I have mentioned before, my photographic background is much more utilitarian and pedantic. I have little experience in creating masterworks with lots of razzle-dazzle to hang on the wall. Getting enough shadow detail for the lithographer to reproduce on uncoated stock always took priority over winning a blue ribbon for whimsey.

Specifically, I’m wondering about your learned preferences for paper developer, fixer and brown toner.

Ilford has timed their discontinuance of Bromophen perfectly. Apparently the terminally lethargic prefer liquids. I tend to prefer a powder, given what the developer goes through, bouncing for days in the back of an unheated, unrefrigerated UPS truck. It arrives too hot to touch in summer and frozen solid in winter. And heavy jugs of liquid ten to overwhelm the lightweight cartons B&H uses.

I could go back to Dektol. I certainly used a lot of it, back when it came in a tin can. But I just wondered if there currently might be something dramatically better. Something which even a simple soul like me couldn’t fail to notice.

Heard nice things about Photographers’ Formulary version of Ansco 130. Is this really that much better than Dektol? They make Amidol sound like a major problem to use. Is it really that nasty?

My fixer question is whether anyone has successfully tried eliminating the stop bath tray and going straight from print developer to TF-4 fixer. I know it will tend to shorten the fixer life. But I’m making only a few 16x20's at a time which won’t begin to exhaust the fixer before I dump it.

The reason I ask is that things are a little tight in my 30" by 96" retirement sink for 16x20 trays. I could use the space that stop tray occupies for a toner tray.

And lastly, the brownish toner. I have always used Kodak two-part sepia, but find the odor objectionable. I tried Berg copper once. It looked great, but lasted only a few weeks before the prints self-destructed. Found out the hard way that it isn’t permanent.

I bought some sort of brown toner from Photographers’ Formulary a few years ago, but never had the guts to mix it up. The directions had some warning about how the dust particles given off while mixing would eat holes in my eyeballs. Terrific!

So anyone have any better ideas than good ole’ Kodak brown toner or selenium on something like Ilford warmtone RC paper?

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: RC. I’m not crazy about it either.

But years ago, when there was only fiber paper, I wasted hours upon hours sitting around with a Magic Marker, idly drawing bikinis on navel oranges, waiting for my DuPont Varilour to wash and dry. Now I haven’t got that many years left. ;0)

Any other tips to enhance my great living room printing caper would be much appreciated. Nobody cares about shadow detail on uncoated stock anymore...


3-May-2005, 08:05
"My fixer question is whether anyone has successfully tried eliminating the stop bath tray and going straight from print developer to TF-4 fixer. I know it will tend to shorten the fixer life. But I’m making only a few 16x20's at a time which won’t begin to exhaust the fixer before I dump it."

Actually it might give you longer fixer life. Acid stop prolongs the life of acid fixer but I can't see stop doing your TF-4 any good. Personally I added a water tray between the stop and my TF-2 fixer. The feeling being the acid carryover wouldn't do the fixer any good.

Larry Gebhardt
3-May-2005, 08:33
For a brown tone without toner try mixing up some Agfa 120 (recipe in the Darkroom Cookbook) and using it 1+3 on a warmtone paper such as Forte Warmtone. It comesout very brown as if you had toned it. I haven't tried it on RC, but it might work.

3-May-2005, 08:33
If you're going to try amidol, I'd recommend the Michael A. Smith formula found at michaelandpaula.com - his formula, unlike others, will last all weekend in a tray.

I have used the PF version of Ansco 130 - it seems to be just like the Ansco formual. Amidol and Ansco 130 are the only print developers I now use - I like the contrast each is capable of producing, and at the same time, they produce very different prints. The 130 prints are a bit warmer than the amidol.

For paper, I have been using Kodak Azo for the past few years. I had used the old Zone VI graded papers and the old Oriental Seagull. I have seen prints made on Kentmere bromide paper and like them a lot. I'll probably buy some and give it a try.

The problem with changing materials is, indeed, frustrating. That's why I have begun mixing my own developers - no changes there. The Azo and Kentmere papers seem to be pretty much the same over a long period of time, so I hope they will remain.

I've never tried going directly from developer to fixer with prints. I know using an exhausted stop bath can sometimes lead to fog problems with film - I don't know if there is a similar problem with prints.

MIke Sherck
3-May-2005, 08:54
With so many manufacturers encountering "difficulties" in the past few years and even the healthy ones dropping materials without mass demand, many of us have encountered the same questions you raise. Not surprisingly, we all seem to have come up with different answers! Such is the life of photographers...

About the time Oriental withdrew from the US market I was switching from RC to fiber paper. I tried New Seagull, aka Cachet, and liked it a lot, but they kept switching suppliers and sometimes I liked their product and sometimes I didn't. I tried a number of papers and ended up with Forte. Then they disappeared; maybe they're coming back and maybe they aren't but I wasn't interested in ceasing to print while they sorted things out so I tried some more papers and ended up using Ilford Warmtone for warmer results and, now, Kentmere for a more neutral print. Kentmere looks a lot like one of the New Seagul/Cachet papers I liked and is what I would describe as a "determindly neutral" image tone. Those are the papers I use now, all fiber based, of course, 'cause I'm one of those nasty elitists you hear talk about. I never cared much for RC, which is odd considering that I haven't been photographing and printing for as long as many here and I started with RC paper (Kodabrome II.) As an aside, I used a lot of Kodak Polymax over the past year and, if you wash the heck out of it to get the overdone flourescent brighteners out of the paper, it's a pretty good paper. A pity that I'm not enthusiastic about two hour plus washes...

Waiting for fiber prints to wash isn't nearly the chore it used to be: I use Ilford's rapid fix process with Orbit Bath and get a clean wash in about 15 minutes; I wash for half an hour just because I can.

I see little wrong with Dektol: it's been around forever because, I think: it Just Works. I bought and tried some Photographer's Formulary BW65 (I think that's the one you were referring to,) last autumn and the difference between it and Dektol 1:2 was subtle. Highlights were a bit cleaner or brighter (however one describes these things.) It isn't something which is going to leap off the paper and slap you in the face, but put the same print side-by-side and I don't think you'd have heart-searching difficulty telling which was which. Amidol is most certainly NOT a pain in the ass to use: just use it like any other developer except that you may (or may not) be able to work with the same tray of solution all day long. That said, it tends to produce a colder print than I like and I tend to only use it for Azo, upon which it produces superb results and even were it ten times more difficult to use, I wouldn't consider anything else (I've tried other developers with Azo and... yuck. Azo and Amidol were seemingly made for one another.)

I agree with the above comment re: omitting the stop bath. An alkaline stop bath probably doesn't need an acid fix just beforehand. If you just can't make yourself take the print straight from developer to fixer, make the stop bath plain water.

I last used Kodak's brown toner a number of years ago, about the same time as I last used sepia toner: I'm just not a (strongly) toned sort of fellow, I suppose. I tried Berg's copper toner once and got truely hilarious results which, as with your experience, didn't last. Selenium works well for me; at 1:20 it doesn't change the print's color but does deepen the blacks a little bit.

Good luck!

Jim Rhoades
3-May-2005, 09:11
Meaning no disrespect towards Chester, there is an old saying; Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies. I do hope you make it.

A few years ago I took a BTZS course and the computer model showed that my favorite film (Tri-X) and developer (D-76 1+1) would work well with Forte Polygrade V FB. I've been quite happy with the prints. It takes toning well too. I have stopped printing with RC so who knows?

I had a big one a few years back and since my retirement I don't mind waiting for the prints to wash. I too am reprinting anything worthwhile.

Jerry Flynn
3-May-2005, 09:23
For a print developer, you might consider Kodak Ektaflo type 2. I was introduced to it at a George Tice workshop a few years ageo He showed that the contrast range was similar to Dektol, but with more open shadows.

Even though you prefer a powder, this is a liquid that comes in a bag-in-a-box container that slows oxidation. The concentrate lasts a long time this way. I use it 1:9 on Ilford Galerie and get neutal tones although the developer is considerd to be warm tone. It would probably produce warmer results on a warm-toned paper.

Gem Singer
3-May-2005, 11:30

An after thought. You don't need to tone the prints at the same time you fix them. I only have room for three 16X20 trays on my sink rack. So, I process, then wash and dry the prints without toning. At a later session, I change the developer, stop, and fix trays on the rack to water, toner, and hypo clearing agent. Re-wet the dried prints and complete the toning process. Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner works great with the Ilford Warmtone FB paper.

Gene Crumpler
3-May-2005, 11:44
You might look at Ethol LPD developer. It has a long shelf life after mixing. Print tones can be controlled with dilution. The biggest advantage for me personally is the lack metol. I developed a skin rash with D-76 and I had to change to a non-metol developer

If you do print only ocassionally, the long life is great feature. I use factoral development to keep track of the developer strength. I also practice replenishment to extend the life of LPD.

As far as papers, all I have used in the last 10 years is multigrade FB IV. I learned that to get good prints, I stick with one paper.

One other thing to check is your safelight. When John Sexton looked a my prints he immedately picked up a safelight problem. No one in our B&W club was skilled enough to pick if up. Conduct a proper safelight using Kodak K-4 publication, Feb 1994. If any one wants a copy of this, let me know. Once I got my safelight safe, my print quality improved dramatically. I now work in a very dim environment. Often when I print the final "fine print", I turn off the safe light.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
3-May-2005, 11:48
I now only use the TF-4 fixer for both film and paper. I have NEVER used a stop bath for film in 35 yrs. With TF-4 on paper you DO NOT use a stop bath it says so on the bottle. I use a water bath before fix. Fix RC ( undergraduate printing, yes I am an elitist) 30 seconds, fiber paper (post graduate printing) 1 minute. Capacity is 30 8x10 prints fiber, and 60 for RC per liter. Capacity for film is 1400 to 1600 sq in per liter. I test it with a peice of, crap I forgot to close the shutter film. I wag it in the fixer and throw it out when it wont clear in thirty seconds. It is a liquid, so if you just have to do powder you can mix TF-3 from the film cookbook but it is a little more alkaline. It does have that amonia smell but it is worth it to me I just turn on the bathroom fan. Claim is it's more archival as there is no acid in the whole process. Just copied this off the bottle.
For paper I use oriental, it's not the old seagull that we all liked so dear but not bad. I like forte paper also not the new as much as the old. Dektol 1:2, magic doesn't happen till after 2 minutes though. I've had some good luck with Edwal ultra black too. I'm always striving for those contrasty II & III weston zones. You can't get em unless you try though. I am like you in that getting back into film after 4 yrs of the digital thing, everything I used to use is gone. I just wish I knew about Pyro when I was shooting Supper-XX. I'm now giving a hard look at the BTZS. Just don't let her talk you into fufu frames though.LOL

Jim Galli
3-May-2005, 13:18
Well, I may as well throw in with the rest. I've arrived at a combination I really love. J&C Photo (http://www.jandcphoto.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=81) has some triple weight Hungarian or Czeckoslovakian paper that just makes the most gorgeous brown blacks in Ansco 135. Add a little selenium and you won't worry about Kodak brown tone. It easily trips the Macbeth 924 with 2.20 blacks. Really pretty. They call it J&C museum weight or something like that. Comes in 12X16 and 16X20. I make my negs on the long side for AZO or platinum but they fall onto this paper just beautifully. If you need a formula for 135 (http://www.apug.org/forums/article.php?a=123) I've re-formulated it so that it fits into a 750ml wine bottle. Do I need to explain why?

ronald lamarsh
3-May-2005, 18:09
I have used Photographers formulary 130 exclusively for a number of years now. I used to use bromophen. I can't really say that there is such a thing as a "best developer" after all Ansel used and recommended dektol as does Bruce Barnbaum and I dare say their prints didn't suffer.
To my eye there is just an extra "something" to my prints when using 130. Another reason I like it is its very high capacity and long shelf life. I normally dilute 2:1 or 3:1 and have found that if I don't use it to exhaustion I can save the "working solution" for up to 3wks and use it some more. Have fun

3-May-2005, 19:31
I know this is gonna sound a little off the wall and not right, but....
For a nice brown-tone liken unto something turn-of-the-century type look, try brewing up a pot of real good strong tea (yep, the kind you drink), and after fixing, put the print in the tea and watch until it turns the shades you like, take it out and rinse it. Hell, once I got kinda smashed and poured a cup of coffee on one just for kicks. Turned out looking like an old wet-plate colloidian-type print. Kinda cool. Haven't tried it again (the coffee print, that is) Ya never know what works till ya get stupid enough to try it.

Henry Ambrose
3-May-2005, 19:57

I'll throw in with 130, TF4 and add Bergger VCCB paper to the mix.

130 lasts and lasts and gives lovely warm blacks and detailed bright highlights on VCCB and generally great results on all papers I've tried.

TF4 also lasts and lasts. I use it after a plain water rinse/stop.

The only catch is the Bergger paper -- I understand from a recent post here that its been changed. We'll have to wait and see how its changed.

John Cook
4-May-2005, 11:08
Thanks, guys, for all the information. Armed with your replies, I'm now actively on the case.

By the way, the market deterioration continues. Just received the following e-mail from Digital Truth:

"Kodak has announced a plan to cease production of photographic paper
bases later this month. All raw paper products will be sourced from
third party suppliers in future."

It seems we are soon going to be down to a single paper worldwide, with our choice of box design.

4-May-2005, 11:28
Untoned Agfa Multicontrast in Ansco 130 is gorjesus stuff. How long it will be available is anyone's guess.

5-May-2005, 13:00
someone recommended tea toning; this is really a stain--it will stain the paper base and emulsion to give you a warmer base, but not the silver image. it can be nice if your favorite paper has a brighter white than you want.

my favorite warm toner has always been nelson gold. on fortezo (r.i.p.?) i used it diluted because it worked so fast. i also typically toned in a very weak selenium toner first in order to get the cool brown that i like (by itself nelson gave a redder brown).

every variable will make a difference. paper, obviously. also developer and development time and temperature. it takes a while to get comfortable with the way the toner works. but the results were always beautiful.

i heard from some old timers that mercury sulfide toners were the most beautiful thing they'd ever seen. i even got my hands on a recipe, but learned from good sources that you'd have to be borderline suicidal to have mercuric chloride in the house. so i never tried it.

by the way, nelson gold is available as a kit from the formulary. or if you have a lot of chems sitting around you can mix it from scratch.

Mark Sampson
5-May-2005, 13:39
What my experience shows is that with cold-tone enlarging paper, developer choice doesn't make much difference. Formulary Amidol looked nice, but no better than Calumet Zone VI paper developer, at 10X the price. Ansco 130 is indeed beautiful- just the smallest hint of warmth-but you have to develop for 3 minutes, and those minutes add up. It too is 10X the price of Dektol. That developer does a fine job, I suppose all the paper makers have to be sure their products work in the world's most popular developer. I just tried some Ilford Multigrade liquid, looks colder than Dektol. I'll try it again.
But of course warm-tone papers are another story. I'll save my opinions because I haven't used them enough.