View Full Version : I'm looking for a printing alternative.

17-Jan-2011, 08:58
pretense: a part of this is me thinking out loud. Another part is me in frustration. In the end, I need your experienced opinion to help this novice find his way.

I've been shooting film for a while now, I've developed my own 35mm film in the past (Now i mostly shoot 4x5). I've been sending my film to a lab to be processed and printed.

I plan on doing this until I have the space and means to build my own darkroom. (small two bedroom apartment, about 500 square feet). I don't have the space yet for a suitable darkroom.

Now that I've got my first set of prints, I'm quite frustrated with the result. The black and white prints has some serious purplish colour shifts. The glossy paper they use confuses the highlight areas with shine. The colour prints aren't any better, I actually think they are much worse. THe colours and detail is just... well i might as well be sucking on a rasberry. bleh.

And there are no photo labs nearby that has a darkroom I could rent out. I don't know if there are any darkrooms in Hong Kong any more. It is hard enough to find a photo lab here that will touch 4x5 stuff, much less one that actually speaks English. (I played on both sides of the fence so I know)

One alternative, the only alternative I can think of is dropping a lot of money on a scanner and printer. Epson v700 and one of those fangled printers with 5 different shades of grey. But by doing this, i feel like I may not get the results I'm looking for. I apologize if I have unleased something evil, but I want to know if there are significant differences between a scanner + printer setup vs. traditional setup with light paper? I'm very happy with the colour i get on my colour reversal film. I'm pretty happy once I get the black and white negatives on my computer inverted and retoned (side question: is this normal? to need to retone a black and white negative, after it has been inverted in photoshop?) But the prints I have are disgusting.

I apreciate any help and patience you can provide me.

Mark Sawyer
17-Jan-2011, 09:56
It sounds like a choice of workflow... Would you consider processing your own 4x5 negatives? It just takes a tank, a couple of gallon jugs for developer and fix, a dark bathroom, and a dust-free place to hang them to dry. (In the long run, it will give you much more control over your negatives, and you'll be in good practice if you do get a darkroom one day.) Then scan the negatives and print digitally.

18-Jan-2011, 09:37
Now that I've got my first set of prints, I'm quite frustrated with the result.

The automatic machine prints that come back with your film have never been very good, especially for b&w, and are even worse now with digital printing. You're almost always going to be better off doing some of the work yourself. Even if you just scanned the film yourself and used an online printing service, it would likely be much better. As Mark suggested, b&w film processing doesn't have to be very space-intensive or require a full darkroom.

18-Jan-2011, 11:07
First thing is to start processing yourself. A good thermometer, some chemicals, a daylight processing tank (common choices include hp-combiplan,mod_photographic,jobo,btzs), and a dark place to load the tank, and a clean place to let the negatives dry. There's lots of youtube videos of people processing film without much space or stuff.

Unless you want to pay big bucks for a pro to print it by hand, you have three output options.
1. Scan & print like epson allows people to do well
2. have an enlarger and darkroom for silver prints.
3. contact print with alt processes. This choice also augments the other two options nicely too.
No option is inherently superior; the best option is the one that does what you want.

Scott Davis
18-Jan-2011, 11:43
Yeah, you've got to get with the spirit of the bathroom darkroom. This is very easy and convenient, and it inspires some discipline as you have to set up/break down after every session. I used to soup film AND enlarge up to 16x20 in a 40 sq ft bathroom (and that's counting the tub as part of the square footage)!

J. E. Brown
18-Jan-2011, 12:35

+1 for the bathroom darkroom. That is where I started and it is surprisingly easy to arrange. Frustrating at times, but it is worth it.

Also, I would agree with those who have suggested developing your own negatives. I have learned way more about what I can expect with my end prints by how TMY-2 reacts with my exposure/developing procedures. I would have missed all of that if I had a lab process my negatives.

I can relate to your frustration and wish you the best.

Kind regards,


David Brunell
18-Jan-2011, 13:15
Process, fluid scan then print...For what it is worth you can achieve excellent results with a piezography system in this manner (fangled printer with 6/7 shades of black) Fluid mounting is also a great way to get really clean scans. Certainly not a substitute for a true silver gelatin print but a reasonable alternative with outstanding results. I have been using the epson R1400 system which limits my printing to matte-only papers I am making the transition to the r1900 now and they are said to be near replicants of air dried glossy prints. I also think you should consider whether you want to learn and spend time in the darkroom. I personally enjoy the use, look and quality obtained from using a mix of analog/digital workflow and do not have a desire (yet) to spend endless hours in the darkroom...It just makes sense to me.



Good luck, I hope you find what you are looking for in your art!

Bill Burk
18-Jan-2011, 19:05

What are you doing with the second bedroom? I once had a darkroom in a bedroom. A dresser made a perfect platform for my trays and I carried water and chems back and forth to the bathroom. Can't remember if I took any pains to protect the shag carpet of the apartment I was renting.

But all you really need is a piece of glass and a few trays and the paper and chemicals. Contact prints are more satisfying than what you have right now.

Good luck.


Jim Michael
18-Jan-2011, 19:30
Consider developing your own film (changing bag and tank to negate need for a full darkroom) and making prints using alternative processes that require UV for exposure (and again negate need for full darkroom).

Brian C. Miller
18-Jan-2011, 21:32
The purplish tint on the prints comes from the lab not quite balancing the light correctly for B&W. If you are using Kodak TMax film, then it will have pink/purple stain if it has not been properly washed.

How about contacting an amateur photography club in Hong Kong? I found Hong Kong Photography Club (http://www.meetup.com/hongkongphotographyclub/). Maybe someone has a darkroom you can use/rent, or knows who can actually handle LF film and prints.

My bathroom is my darkroom, and you can see it in one of these threads. Anyways, here's how to start.
#1, make it light-tight. I initially used black cloth tape to cover the window with Delta blackout plastic. I don't know if the Delta blackout plastic is IR safe, because I never tested that, I waited until nighttime to handle IR film. This is an easy way of blacking out the room. The door will be the next area which will not be light-tight. I used black paper tape around the inside of the door frame and on the edge of the door to create a light trap. Then when I am working I put a towel down at the base of the door to block off the rest of the light.
#2, Use odor-free chemicals. Clayton and Arista both make odor-free stop bath and fixer. I don't know if you can get them in Hong Kong. If you can't and you are sensitive to the odors, see if you can use dryer vent duct ("flex duct") to route your bathroom fan over to the chemicals, so it will suck up the fumes.
#3, Once your bathroom is light-tight and the fumes are controlled, then you can start developing film. There's lots of threads around here about different techniques, etc.

As for scanning and printing, I have found that the printer is rather critical. The main reason that I don't do B&W printing on my printer is because of metamerism. The Epson 2200 inks are susceptible to this, so I don't bother with it. When purchasing a printer, get one which has three blacks. This will give you the best range for B&W printing. Any decent scanner that handles 4x5 film will give you very decent and enjoyable results.