View Full Version : Black vs white easels

Don Wilkes
26-Mar-2004, 10:10
Some time ago, someone mentioned that improvements could be seen in print quality if you painted the surface of your enlarging easel black. By luck, I happened on the twin one of my easels recently, going cheap in a shop with used photo gear. Five bucks, and a bit of flat-black spray paint later, I was ready to give it a go.

I picked a neg with large areas of delicate highlights and significant shadow detail -- an old white clapboard building, with an open set of wooden steps. Once I'd zeroed in on my exposure, I made two prints in quick succession, with the only change being the easel. The paper was Ilford Multigrade RC.

Result: no perceptible difference, either in the highlights nor in the shadows, as seen by myself and two other photography buddies, plus a non-photographer with a good eye.

I do love the theory, but it doesn't seem to be born out in practice. If anyone has had conflicting results, or suggestions on better testing procudures, though, I'd love to hear about it.


don wilkes, Victoira, B.C.

26-Mar-2004, 10:51
Maybe you need to use single weight paper?

Jay DeFehr
26-Mar-2004, 12:02
I've heard that theory before, but haven't noticed any real differences between prining directly on my white easel and printing on a piece of black paper. It seems that many easels are yellow, which should be a "safe" color for B&W materials, and still allow focussing on the easel. For your tests, perhaps you should consider printing a step wedge?

Gem Singer
26-Mar-2004, 12:08
Hi Don,

The color of the surface of the easel is important if you are composing and focusing directly on the easel. For many years, I used an easel that had a black surface. I was told that a white surface would reflect light back through the paper during the exposure. Especially, when using single weight papers. So I got an easel that had a black surface.

I would place a scrap sheet of enlarging paper (with the white back side up) into the easel. I would then compose and focus on the white surface of that piece of paper. When it came time to make the exposure, I would remove the scrap sheet, replace it with a fresh sheet of enlarging paper (with the emulsion side up), and complete the exposure. The black surface of the easel made it difficult to see the projected image during composing/focusing. The white surface of the scrap sheet of paper acted as a temporary means to change the color from black to white.

Having to replace the white focusing/composing sheet of paper each time I wanted to make an exposure was a pain, to say the least. When I replaced my old easel with a new larger one, I purchased an easel that has a non-reflective yellow colored surface. I can now compose and focus on the actual surface of the easel. The yellow color prevents surface reflection from shining back through the paper, but it is still bright enough to see the image on the easel for composing. I have attached a piece of printing paper (the same paper I use for making my final prints) to the bottom of my grain focuser to compensate for the thickness of the printing paper. No longer needing to use that scrap of print paper for composing/focusing makes the printing procedure much quicker and simpler.

Don Wilkes
26-Mar-2004, 12:40
Nick & Jay: I'm not *trying* to find a difference, just seeing if it shows up in my normal practice, which in this case is with regular RC papers.

Eugene: I've always composed and did critical focus as you did: on the back of an old test print. It's such a habit after all these years that it's not a nuisance to me. As for taping a scrap onto the bottom of the grain scope, that would certainly be an alternative, but it wouldn't compensate for different paper thicknesses. I do use several kinds, and assume I'll use more in the future. Yeah, I know it's being somewhat anal to consider the paper thickness, but hey -- it costs no more, and really isn't that much more hassle, as far as I am concerned. <grin>. Your mileage may vary...

Cheers, and thanks for the comments, all. donw

Gem Singer
26-Mar-2004, 13:45
Hello again, Don,

I became a nuisance to use that scrap sheet of print paper for composing/focusing when I began making 16X20 prints, exclusively. It was difficult to find a place to store a 16X20 piece of paper, during the time I was making the exposure. Since I only use double weight FB Ilford Mulitgrade IV paper, fastening a piece to the bottom of my grain focuser corrects for any focusing discrepency.

Beseler is now finishing their 11X14 and 16X20 4-blade easels in a flat black epoxy finish. That necessitates the use of a sheet of scrap paper for composing/focusing when using those particular easels. Saunders and Ganz use a flat yellow finish on their easels. Some Beseler easels still use a flat grey finish. It's probably the reflectivity of the easel surface, and not the color, that could cause a problem when using thin, light weight papers.

Conrad Hoffman
26-Mar-2004, 19:08
I can show the difference between white and black with no problem, but it's questionable if it matters in practice. The trick is to use a target with a fine pattern of high contrast objects. I use a USAF test target, 2x2 inches, with about 400 or so sets of targets. If you contact print the target on a piece of Multigrade RC or similar, and back it up with 1/2 black, and 1/2 white, the targets over the white area (white dots in a sea of black on the photo paper) will be more subdued and the surrounding black will bleed into what should be clean white area. The targets over the white area don't show this. In practice, most easels are yellow, and act as a reflective "safelight". I couldn't find any difference at all between black and yellow. Note that I contact printed the target. Not sure if it would be as easy to see anything on an enlargement, and how well the paper is held to the easel is anybodies guess :-)

Alex Hawley
27-Mar-2004, 08:50
Funny. I just started using SW paper for enlargements but have not noticed any difference in print quality, given the same old white easel.

neil poulsen
28-Mar-2004, 06:07
As someone else pointed out, it just occurred to me that my Saunders easel is about the same amber color as my safelight. This should accomplish the same purpose as black.

I insert the same thickness paper for both focus and composition.

Tom Johnston
30-Mar-2004, 18:19
Remember, the paper serves another purpose besides being easier to see the projected image when composing....It also allows you to focus on the same plane that the actual paper will be on. If you focus on the easel itself and not a piece of paper, your plane of focus is different. Just as you want your ground glass to occupy the same plane that your film occupies when exposing the film, when you enlarge, you want to focus on the same plane that the printing paper will occupy. Some printers glue a piece of the paper that they use on the grain or image magnifier for this purpose.

As for focusing, remember that when you use a grain focuser or image magnifier, you are not actually looking at an image on the easel or paper at all. Judging by some of the responses above, it seems that some people are confused on this point and think that they are looking at the image on the paper or easel. They are not - at least with any grain focuser or image magnifier that I have ever seen. You are simply viewing and image that has bounced from the mirror of the focuser. You can focus just as easily on something that is flat black. You are not looking at surface of the easel or anything on the easel.

Using a scrap piece of paper is NOT to make focusing easier or brighter. It serves two purposes .... 1) It makes focusing more ACCURATE because you then focus on the same plane that the print paper will be in and ....2) It makes composition easier because the image is easier to see with the naked eye on a white surface, obviously.

I have never found using a scrap paper to be a nuisance at all. If you do find it to be too inconvenient, go ahead and compose on your bare easel if it is lightly colored enough to do so. Then focus by putting a small piece of scrap paper under the grain focuser. You DO NOT need a full sheet for focusing. If you have been putting down a full sheet of paper thinking that it makes for brighter focusing, you have misunderstood what is happening. If you always use the same paper or papers of the same thickness and you want to focus on the easel itself, just glue a small piece of the paper on the base of the grain focuser. That will raise it so you are focusing on the proper plane.

I find it almost inconceivable that a printer does not have scrap papers to use for composing. Heck, you can compose on any sheet of white paper if your easel is dark. Then all you need is a tiny piece of scrap paper of the same kind (or thickness) that you print on to put under the focuser so that you are focusing on the correct plane.