View Full Version : color prints in Wet-darkroom? - advice needed

Patrik Roseen
5-Apr-2007, 03:58
I have been shooting and printing B&W in wet-darkroom and also chrome for color (scanning and digital printing).

With my recent membership in a photo-studio I now have the possibility to make color prints using an enlarger from color negative film.

The studio includes an automatic colorpaper developer machine.

It does not have any color-neg developer for 4x5" film sheets.
Given the costs for processing sheets in commercial labs in Sweden, i.e. 11 USD, I certainly need to develop the sheets myself.
For B&W I use a combiplan tank, processing 6 sheets at a time. Usually with a very diluted developer to save chemistry (Aculux2=1:14 or FX39=1:19) and with developing times of about 15-18 minutes in 20C which gives me nice and consistent results.

Here are some questions you might help me with:

1) Can I process 6 color-neg sheets in a combiplan tank, with a dilution of at least 1:10 - if so which developer/chemistry do you recommend?

2) I would like to shoot both nature (landscape/macro) and people. any recommendations for a suitable film (color negatives)?

3) reading recent threads of manufacturers bailing out of business, any suggestions for which color paper I should look for? (I have never done color processing before so this will be a learning step for me...and I do not want to end up in a dead-end of knowledge...)

On a last thought, am I completely nuts thinking about color printing in the wet-darkroom compared to just doing digital prints from the color neg?

Kind regards, Patrik

Struan Gray
5-Apr-2007, 04:19

I used to do colour printing (RA4 and Ilfochrome) in a darkroom belonging to my lab in the evenings and at weekends. It's not hard. I bought the smallest Jobo to help keep things consistent, but other people have good results with trays or slot processors.

In many ways colour processing is easier, because there are relatively few decisions to make. The process itself is just a question of following the instructions, unless you want to get the J.H.Engström look.

My biggest problem was chemicals getting too old before I could use them. If your volumes are high enough this won't be a problem, but if you are only doing occasional colour work it may be. A shared colour processor for prints makes the printing side easier.

I have always sent my film out for processing. Prolabbet in Stockholm did a clean job of process-only, and my film came back nicely sleeved and dust-free. Their proofing and package printing was less than stellar though (it may have changed) so I switched to a UK mail order lab, Peak Imaging (www.peak-imaging.com) who are exemplary. Still not as low as US prices, but low enough that for me it is not worth the hassle of doing it myself, even with postage and a roughly two-week round trip time.


Struan Gray
5-Apr-2007, 04:23
PS. I use Portra 160 NC in 4x5. Printed conventionally it can be a bit too muted for dramatic landscapes, but these days I scan and print and if anything it is a bit too saturated when scanned. I printed on Kodak's Portra III line of papers and was happy.

5-Apr-2007, 04:49
Unless you are replenishing and running lots of sheets in short time I wouldn't use the combitank . It uses way too much fluid for colour processes. A jobo setup will work much better for you. The cost of equipment will be saved in lower chemical costs.

I like Kodak paper but the other choice is Fuji. Not too hard to buy a box of both and see which one you like best.

Ted Harris
5-Apr-2007, 05:05
I shoot more color than b&w and do my own processing. A combiplan tank is the backup to my Jobo ... you can do 6 sheets of 4x5.

As far as color printing of prints, I no longer see any reason to do it unless you just like the process. I have way more freedom and much lower costs scanning and printing digitally and I generally pefer the results. My clients are all happy. Today, some 85% or more of the color work you see for sale in the world's finest galleries is produced digitally.

Mick Fagan
5-Apr-2007, 05:11
Patrik, Colour printing is easy, getting the colour to the level of accuracy you wish for, is slightly harder.

If you are able to get starting tuition or help from a colour printer in your photo studio, this should make the learning curve far easier.

There are only two colour paper manufacturers left, Fuji and Kodak. I have used both extensively as well as the now defunct Agfa. Both manufacturers have strong reasons to keep on manufacturing colour paper as colour printing using conventional wet colour printing is currently booming.

You will have to find out which of the two manufacturers product is available to you and use their products. For long term accuracy I would suggest Kodak paper as their paper from batch to batch and year to year are the industry standard. That said I have used and continue to use Fuji paper for some prints.

Developing film C41 is a bit different from B&W in that the normal time is 3'15" for the developer, followed by Bleach, followed by wash, followed by fixer, followed by bleach, followed by wash, followed by stabiliser, then drying. My C41 process takes 25 minutes from start to finish.

Kodak Flexicolor is the official C41 as they invented it, all other C41 processes are variations or copies of this. Kodak used to sell 5L kits which are excellent value. Don't know if they are available still but you can often find that these kits (or larger) can be succesfully broken down into smaller versions, like 2.5L x 2 out of one 5L kit.

I myself mix C41 and the rest of the processes from scratch and have done so for the past 15 years, so I have lost touch with what is still available.

I process all of my film in a Jobo CPE2, which is their smallest processor. I have procesed C41 in dip and dunk and your wish to process using your combiplan system should work well. I haven't seen or used one, but I have seen online pictures and it should work.

C41 chemicals are not diluted like B&W developers are and can be. C41 is mixed up and you use the full strength developer.

You will come across some kits with a combined Bleach and Fix step, commonly referred to as "Blix". For various reasons I would stay away from using a Blix, unless it is a freshly made up solution and you use it reasonably quickly, within a few days to a week. The Bleach and Fix components destroy each other, whereas the bleach and fix on their own, have quite long lives. Bleach with replenishment, can have an indefinite life.

The most expensive part of the C41 is the bleach and there are many articles on extending the life of the bleach, you could look into these at a later date when you have started on C41 processing.

C41 processing is remarkably easy compared to B&W. The reason is simple, the steps are fixed, especially the first bath, just maintain the temperature and you should have very, very good scratch free negatives.


Neal Wydra
5-Apr-2007, 06:59
Dear Patrick,

1) Probably possible but I would (and do) send out color film for processing.
2) All the color negative sheet film out there is good.
3) RA-4 paper is still big business because it is about the cheapest way to print (per sheet, in volume).

Are you nuts? Probably, but it's good fun.

Neal Wydra

Patrik Roseen
6-Apr-2007, 02:04
Thank you all for such extensive and rapid answers and proposals.

I think I will follow the recommendation of Struan and Neal to send my first negatives to a non-Swedish lab to save costs. Thanks Struan for the link to the UK-lab!

Mick, After reading your informative answer I will look further into the C-41 process, you make it sound rather simple and I will also consider a JOBO-CPE2 in the future.
(Would also solve some of my cost problems with E-6 Processing)

Ted, have you used the combiplan for C-41 and what is your experience regarding chemistry consumption?

Nick, Looking into available RA4 paper from my favorite supplier in Sweden (Photax), they show Kodak Endura Ultra and Kodak Endura Supra (portrait), and I realize there are no graded papers in RA4 nor anything mentioned about steering contrast.
Is this what makes RA4 printing easier than B&W printing?

As Neal puts it: 'Im probably nuts' but I am looking forward to the 'good fun!' - just need to sort out the cost issues first.

6-Apr-2007, 04:53
I guess you could say all RA4 papers are graded. Consumer papers tend to be higher contrast then pro papers. Within pro papers portrait are a little lower contrast then others. At least that's what my memory tells me.

What makes RA4 easier for me is it's either right or wrong. With normal negatives when your print a bride in a white dress standing next to a black car. The dress is supposed to be white. The car black.

In B&W you can make artistic choices about anything. Nobody can really jump up and down and tell you it's WRONG.

Plus we are all used to seeing the world in colour. So things that are wrong really look wrong with colour prints.

Then you start printing cross processed prints and it all goes out the window. :D

Brian Ellis
7-Apr-2007, 09:33
I'm with Ted, not only do you have far more creative options, flexibility, control, all those good things, with scanning and printing digitally, it's also more interesting and enjoyable than color darkroom printing ever was (for me, can't speak for others). As others have indicated, color printing in a traditional darkroom is pretty easy. But the reason it's easy is there's so little you can do to the print from a creative standpoint - get the exposure right, get the color balance right ("right" being the way you want it), that's about it. After that it's all mechanical (unless you get into masking, which I never did).

I used a relatively inexpensive DoMac roller transport color processor for printing. If you insist on printing in a darkroom I highly recommend it or something similar. It makes life much easier when doing color printing if you don't have to wash and dry drums after each proof, plus it's fast (about 60 seconds per print IIRC). The DoMac processor used to be sold by Adorama here in the U.S. under it's own name, not sure if it's still made or sold anywhere else. But with the decline in color darkroom printing I would think quite a few roller transport color processors must show up on ebay, maybe even the old Fuji and Ilford ones that used to go for something like $4000 when new.

Patrik Roseen
11-Apr-2007, 09:08
Nick and Brian, thanks for explaining why color printing is 'easier' than B&W.

The photolab of which I am a member does have a roller developing machine for RA4 papers, so this will make my printing easier. I will do some more reading before attempting the color printing...

Gene McCluney
11-Apr-2007, 11:32
I have used a Combi-plan tank for years when just a few sheets need developing. It holds about a litre of chemistry. You MUST use C-41 chemistry without extra dilution. Once you mix up the stock developer/bleach/fix solutions that is the way they are used. You can re-use the chemistry for some time. Just pour back into your bottles. I get the correct temperature of the chemicals by sitting the bottles (plastic) into a deep large print fixing tray in which I run temperature adjusted water. I also sit the Combi-plan tank in this tray when filled with chemistry.