View Full Version : 4x5 contact printing

Curtis Nelson
23-Oct-2005, 22:09

Up till now I've taken a pretty causal approach to 4x5 contact printing. Throw the neg on a sheet of 5x7 paper, place a thin sheet of glass on top, and fire away with the light source. However, I'm beginning to realize that since the contact print is my only means of 'showing' my work (I have neither a 4x5 enlarger nor a film scanner), I need to take a little more care with this step. So, what I'm asking for is advice on getting the best prints possible. Also, what size paper do you print on, and do you use a contact printing frame? If not, what do you do?

Thanks for the advice.


David Flockhart
24-Oct-2005, 02:34
Many contact printers find Kodak Azo developed in Amidol has a longer tonal scale and richer blacks than enlarging paper. Lots of info at:

As long as the glass is heavy enough to provide solid contact betwen the negative and paper you should be fine.

Good luck!

John Cook
24-Oct-2005, 03:39
Rather than printing frames and other devices which I find clumsy, I have for years used just an oversized piece of glass as you do.

In order to achieve sufficient weight for good contact, I get ˝" thick plate glass from the local supplier of commercial store windows. He polishes the sharp edges to prevent finger cuts in the darkroom.

Just be sure the finished product has no tiny scratches caused by rough handling. Specify this requirement in advance.

Old fashioned lithographer’s Goldenrod yellow paper or red litho film fastened to the negative with a window cut out for the image will give you white borders if desired.

ronald moravec
24-Oct-2005, 04:46
Consider an overmatt like that used for a picture frame to block light from edges of the peper.

Make a locating pocket for the neg on the back side so you can get it positioned in the light. Or you can tape it in place with a tape that leaves no residue.

I think you will find complete glass pressure over the whole surface is not required. If necessary, have a piece cut the size of the window in the matt.

Very interesting display idea. Small prints are cool.

Calamity Jane
24-Oct-2005, 05:12
I used the glass plate method for awhile but always found it a pain to get the paper and the negative to stay aligned while you place the glass - sometimes they'd shift and I'd loose the print. Not a big deal with B&W paper but with some of the alternate processes the prints are more expensive.

I cut a block of wood (from a 2x6 for 4x5) a tiny bit larger than the negative and cut a piece of glass the same size as the wood. Then I made a frame from 1 x 1/2" wood that sits around the block like a skirt. Using some edging material from the lumber yard (about 1/4" thick with nicely rounded edges) , I made a "face" attached to the front of the frame so it overlaps the glass by about 3/16" all the way around. From the front, it looks like a picture frame.

For contact prints, I place the paper on the block, then the negative, then the glass, then slip the frame over the whole thing. The frame holds everything in registration and helps the glass squish the negative and paper together. It also gives me a nice border on the prints.

It works good and all the materials came out of the scrap box in the shop - total cost $0.

William Blunt
24-Oct-2005, 06:39
Why not just purchase a good contact printing frame, that is what they are for. Trim your print and dry mount on any size board you wish.

Brian Ellis
24-Oct-2005, 08:24
There's not much more to contact printing than what you're doing. Adding a mask to cover the black borders might be nice if your taste doesn't run to leaving the borders showing. Azo might be nice except that it isn't going to be made any more as Kodak has discontinued all its b&w papers. If you wanted to get really serious you could buy one of those old contact printing boxes that have rows of light bulbs, allowing you to expose different areas of the negative differently. They show up occasionally on ebay.

Or if you're as handy and creative as CJ you could just build your own enlarger and flat bed scanner out of some knives, forks, and furniture sitting around the house. Then you wouldn't be restricted to contact prints. : - )

Dan Jolicoeur
24-Oct-2005, 09:24
Have you considered an enlarger or do you want to stay with contact prints? You can probably find one fairly cheap in your area. Omega D2V's are plentiful and diehard peice of equipment.

David A. Goldfarb
24-Oct-2005, 09:42
I like the results I get with Azo, and if you're only doing 4x5", a 500-sheet box of 8x10" will last quite a while.

I use spring back frames. A vacuum frame is even nicer and easier.

If you're contact printing, you might as well consider trying some alternative processes. Cyanotype and VanDyke are popular places to start, or you might try Centennial POP, if you want to get your feet wet before coating your own. I've just started to learn albumen printing, and it opens up a lot of possibilities I didn't realize existed. For their own unique look and the ultimate in archival stability, you might try pt/pd or carbon printing.

24-Oct-2005, 14:15
I made a mask for my contact printing frame by using silver tape right on the glass. It's the kind that's used for masking off portfolio slides. Very thin, and two layers of it is completely opaque.

John Kasaian
26-Oct-2005, 00:26
I like frames for processes when I'm using the sun as a light source, but in the darkroom I prefer a thick sheet of glass under a bare bulb that gives me enough time to burn and dodge the print if I want to.

Does your light source allow you to do that?

I agree that AZO rocks! Get in on it while its still available, even though its been axed by Kodak.

White borders are a nice touch,as is a deckeled edge, but I think the subject matter could be 'overwhelmed' by such niceties---its hard to say without seeing your prints---but a nice mat might help make your 4x5s more pronounced, isolating the smaller print from competing background distractions. With a larger mat, you could also group 2 or 3 complimenting prints together for visual impact.