View Full Version : Contact Printing — Silver Gelatin Application & Set-up

Mark Booth
8-Jun-2010, 13:40
Up until now my B&W printing has been done with my Omega D2V enlarger and the utilization of contrast masking and advance printing techniques only in traditional silver and in lith printing. My interest in learning how to set-up and print a high quality contact print has arisen from my switch to 8x10 format—which has caused me to fall in love with the BIG negative attributes. At this time, my interest is primarily with silver gelatin, so having a printing method (lighting source) for alternative processes is not critical (certainly optional) but what I am after is the very best quality silver gelatin contact printing set-up and process. I am obviously new to contact printing and my only light source presently would come from my D2V enlarger, but I am open to any light source options that provides the best luminous quality.

Here is what I have to work with: I have a new condition "Ultimate" brand 14x17 contact printing easel and my enlarger light source.

Here are my so called, "stupid questions" which might be answered by someone with much more experience than myself.

1. If my interest is in producing exhibition quality contact prints "silver gelatin" do I need a particular light source for best results?

2. Does light improve when focusable or would just an overhead tungsten light "soft light" or "hard light" provide the same results with a silver gelatin contact print?

3. Would the investment in a UV lighting system for any future interest in alternative processing be counter productive with my need to print silver prints? I am thinking that two separate "dedicated" workstations (light source and printer) might be best or can one method work well for both silver and alternative printing methods?

Thanks to everyone for your time and valued assistance. I will glean your thoughts and recommendations to set-up a contact printing workstation in my darkroom.

8-Jun-2010, 14:08
If your pockets are deep enough ($2400), one of these units would be nice


When bought new, they can be ordered with both the UV light source and a tungsten light source.


PS -- info from the company's site... http://www.amergraph.com/products/pages/ULF-28.aspx

Nathan Potter
8-Jun-2010, 14:09
The quality of your contact print will depend more on the quality of the negative from which it is made - that is to say the tonal range of your negative and how that replicates your vision in the field. But given a fine negative and a good contact frame (intimate contact between the negative and the paper) then the printing light source has a fairly small effect on the quality of the print. Collimated illumination from an enlarger might yield a bit more sharpness and contrast at a microscale through the depth of the paper emulsion but you're unlikely to perceive it at any reasonable viewing distance. The enlarger is an elegant solution because you've got a built in timer and the ability to use variable contrast paper with CC filters. UV lighting offers no advantage that I know of for contact printing silver images but is indispensable for many alternative processes. I'd set up two printing stations. Spend your time on refining your negative exposure and development.

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

Mark Booth
8-Jun-2010, 20:33
You guys, thanks for your recommendations and insights. Traveling down new roads in photography can produce a certain amount of uncertainty but is always exciting!!!

I look forward to beginning the contact printing process and value your recommendations along with any other comments.


Jay DeFehr
8-Jun-2010, 21:31
Hi Mark,

I agree with Nate; it's mostly about the negative. One advantage exploited by contact printing is the elimination from the image chain of a secondary optical system, and all non-image light from the printing process. Enlarging inevitably degrades potential image quality because no optical system (enlarging lens) is perfect, no enlarger is perfectly aligned, no enlarger is perfectly vibration-free, no photographer focuses perfectly, and it's impossible to eliminate non-image-forming light from the enlargement exposure. All these things (and likely more) contribute to the degradation of an enlarged photograph, and none affect a contact printed one. But, there are disadvantages, too, however trivial. It's more difficult to perform burning and dodging when contact printing, and cropping means making a smaller photograph. The old contact printers went some way towards alleviating the former complaint because the light source was beneath the negative, and some even made provisions for dodging and burning in different ways; some by utilizing an array of bulbs that could be switched on and off individually (imagine a modern version based on dim-able LEDs!), and others utilized small tools that could be positioned within the box before printing. Nifty contraptions! You can still find some at the auction site, but they're mostly smaller formats. There are members here capable of building a modern version, in any format, but I'm not sure there's interest. As an approximation, it's possible to make dodging maps on clear film, and place them on the top of the printing frame during exposure. There are lots of ways to make the maps, of varying precision and sophistication, but a soft lead pencil serves very well, provided you use a film with a tooth, or matte surface.

But, as Nate points out, it's mostly the negative, and matching it to your printing paper that matters most. Good luck, and have fun! 8x10 is a lot of fun, and I never tire of those big negatives.


9-Jun-2010, 11:19
Hi Mark,
..... The old contact printers went some way towards alleviating the former complaint because the light source was beneath the negative, and some even made provisions for dodging and burning in different ways .....
There's glass tray inside for tissues and stuff. But the main idea was to produce multiple identically dodged prints - which is not really cricket.

Jay DeFehr
9-Jun-2010, 11:58
Nice photo, Christopher!

9-Jun-2010, 12:10
That's where I live.

9-Jun-2010, 12:57
There is a tradeoff between diffuse light and collimated light (ie from an enlarger) when doing contact prints.

Diffuse lighting eliminates most dust that settles on the top of the glass (when the light is from above) and can minimize dust that is actually on the negative. However, if there is not enough pressure on the negative/paper sandwich, there will be loss of sharpness in certain areas.

Collimated light (ie from an enlarger) will allow any dust in the light path to clearly register on the final print.

Thin negatives augment the dust (ie less exposure makes the dust more prominent) because the ratio of dust optical density to negative density is greater. Where as denser negatives will be less affected as the ratio of dust optical density to negative density is less.

John Bowen
9-Jun-2010, 13:16

There are likely other sources available on the web, but anyone interested in contact printing silver geletin should spend some time on the Azo forum


There is a wealth of information and lots of folks to help answer your questions. Have Fun and Welcome to the Club!

9-Jun-2010, 18:04
The only quality of the light for contact printing I'd worry about, and not much worrying at that, is just having even illumination over the surface of the printing frame. Diffuse light should make that pretty easy. The neg and a basic understanding of printing for quality are the big determinants of contact printing quality.

Mark Booth
9-Jun-2010, 19:40
Hello All,

Allow me to digress off-topic for a moment:

Jay... excellent to hear from you again, and always value your contributions on a broad range of subjects. (one day we'll meet) I want to mention that while you were gone I served as copy editor for Steve Anchell's The Darkroom Cookbook, third/final edition. I managed to get your film developer formulas (GSD-10; Hypercat; 510-Pyro) listed in the publication as well as Patrick Gainers insights into organic solvent developers. ENOUGH SAID ON THIS... BACK ON TOPIC!

All of the postings on contact printing have been very helpful to me and I need to take some time to digest the tidbits of instructional wealth. I will spend some time on Michael Smith's & Paula Chamlee's website—wealth of instruction!

Thanks for everyone's help as I launch AGGRESSIVELY into this exploration!

Mark Booth
9-Jun-2010, 22:23
I use the Lynn Radeka contrast masking system for my enlargement printing. I asked Lynn about his system for making contact prints. He was kind enough to share with me several points on masking that I will share (see below). I hope some of his points are found transferable and beneficial to those who read this posting or adaptable for other masking methods.

For those who might want to visit his site here is his website link: (http://www.radekaphotography.com/)

Hi Mark. You can easily make a glass contact printer with 2 registration
pins and 2 sheets of oversize glass (10x12 should work good for 8x10 negs).
You need to tape or attach black paper or thin cardboard to the bottom glass
(to prevent reflections), and hinge the top glass on one edge. The weight of
the top glass is enough (usually) to keep the neg and masks (or just mask)
flat. If not, press gently on the edges but be careful not to move the films
out of registration. A heavy top glass is probably ideal, but I used plain
1/8" clear glass.

The pins should sit just beyond the edge of the glass (one of the unhinged
edges)and the pins should be fastened to the bottom glass. Best way is to
punch a strip of film (thick base film is best), put the pins through the
holes, and tape the entire strip (with pins poking through) to the bottom

Then simply use the enlarger as the light source. It's best to use oversize
film for the masks so that there's enough extra film area for the punched
holes. You can use oversize print paper and punch it, or you can simply tape
the paper down to the bottom glass so it remains stationary during

We did this at a recent workshop and it worked remarkably well.
Let me know if you have any other questions.


Jay DeFehr
10-Jun-2010, 05:22

Thank you very much for your generous support and encouragement, and it's very good to see you here. I fly through Seattle every 3 weeks, and I would be happy to meet you anytime. Thanks for the pin registration tip!

Jim Noel
14-Jun-2010, 10:15
Assuming that you enjoy looking at original Edward Weston prints, he printed with a bare light bulb suspended above the bench.
Big fancy light sources are certainly not a necessity.