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Thread: Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?


    I need some recommendations on what’s currently hot and what’s not in b&w printing materials.

    May and October are the two months when wives seem to become obsessed with redecorating. Here in Olde New England, their fancy falls to items such as bayberry-scented soap balls for the guest bathroom.

    Having, at present, no guests living in our bathroom, we are beginning the re-hab in the living room. All the mature furniture, drapery and wall art have been donated to worthy recipients. Only the mature carpet remains, waiting another four years or so for Chester the mature springer spaniel to die. I’m trying to outlast him, but some days it’s nip and tuck.

    In the meantime, as in the old days when a congressman was coming to visit our military base, everything that doesn’t salute gets a new coat of paint.

    And the entire “house gallery” gets reprinted.

    In the fifteen years since I last had one of these printing frenzies, many materials have disappeared. And as I have mentioned before, my photographic background is much more utilitarian and pedantic. I have little experience in creating masterworks with lots of razzle-dazzle to hang on the wall. Getting enough shadow detail for the lithographer to reproduce on uncoated stock always took priority over winning a blue ribbon for whimsey.

    Specifically, I’m wondering about your learned preferences for paper developer, fixer and brown toner.

    Ilford has timed their discontinuance of Bromophen perfectly. Apparently the terminally lethargic prefer liquids. I tend to prefer a powder, given what the developer goes through, bouncing for days in the back of an unheated, unrefrigerated UPS truck. It arrives too hot to touch in summer and frozen solid in winter. And heavy jugs of liquid ten to overwhelm the lightweight cartons B&H uses.

    I could go back to Dektol. I certainly used a lot of it, back when it came in a tin can. But I just wondered if there currently might be something dramatically better. Something which even a simple soul like me couldn’t fail to notice.

    Heard nice things about Photographers’ Formulary version of Ansco 130. Is this really that much better than Dektol? They make Amidol sound like a major problem to use. Is it really that nasty?

    My fixer question is whether anyone has successfully tried eliminating the stop bath tray and going straight from print developer to TF-4 fixer. I know it will tend to shorten the fixer life. But I’m making only a few 16x20's at a time which won’t begin to exhaust the fixer before I dump it.

    The reason I ask is that things are a little tight in my 30" by 96" retirement sink for 16x20 trays. I could use the space that stop tray occupies for a toner tray.

    And lastly, the brownish toner. I have always used Kodak two-part sepia, but find the odor objectionable. I tried Berg copper once. It looked great, but lasted only a few weeks before the prints self-destructed. Found out the hard way that it isn’t permanent.

    I bought some sort of brown toner from Photographers’ Formulary a few years ago, but never had the guts to mix it up. The directions had some warning about how the dust particles given off while mixing would eat holes in my eyeballs. Terrific!

    So anyone have any better ideas than good ole’ Kodak brown toner or selenium on something like Ilford warmtone RC paper?

    Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: RC. I’m not crazy about it either.

    But years ago, when there was only fiber paper, I wasted hours upon hours sitting around with a Magic Marker, idly drawing bikinis on navel oranges, waiting for my DuPont Varilour to wash and dry. Now I haven’t got that many years left. ;0)

    Any other tips to enhance my great living room printing caper would be much appreciated. Nobody cares about shadow detail on uncoated stock anymore...


  2. #2

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    "My fixer question is whether anyone has successfully tried eliminating the stop bath tray and going straight from print developer to TF-4 fixer. I know it will tend to shorten the fixer life. But I’m making only a few 16x20's at a time which won’t begin to exhaust the fixer before I dump it."

    Actually it might give you longer fixer life. Acid stop prolongs the life of acid fixer but I can't see stop doing your TF-4 any good. Personally I added a water tray between the stop and my TF-2 fixer. The feeling being the acid carryover wouldn't do the fixer any good.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    The "Live Free or Die" state

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    For a brown tone without toner try mixing up some Agfa 120 (recipe in the Darkroom Cookbook) and using it 1+3 on a warmtone paper such as Forte Warmtone. It comesout very brown as if you had toned it. I haven't tried it on RC, but it might work.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    St. Simons Island, Georgia

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    If you're going to try amidol, I'd recommend the Michael A. Smith formula found at - his formula, unlike others, will last all weekend in a tray.

    I have used the PF version of Ansco 130 - it seems to be just like the Ansco formual. Amidol and Ansco 130 are the only print developers I now use - I like the contrast each is capable of producing, and at the same time, they produce very different prints. The 130 prints are a bit warmer than the amidol.

    For paper, I have been using Kodak Azo for the past few years. I had used the old Zone VI graded papers and the old Oriental Seagull. I have seen prints made on Kentmere bromide paper and like them a lot. I'll probably buy some and give it a try.

    The problem with changing materials is, indeed, frustrating. That's why I have begun mixing my own developers - no changes there. The Azo and Kentmere papers seem to be pretty much the same over a long period of time, so I hope they will remain.

    I've never tried going directly from developer to fixer with prints. I know using an exhausted stop bath can sometimes lead to fog problems with film - I don't know if there is a similar problem with prints.

  5. #5
    MIke Sherck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Elkhart, IN

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    With so many manufacturers encountering "difficulties" in the past few years and even the healthy ones dropping materials without mass demand, many of us have encountered the same questions you raise. Not surprisingly, we all seem to have come up with different answers! Such is the life of photographers...

    About the time Oriental withdrew from the US market I was switching from RC to fiber paper. I tried New Seagull, aka Cachet, and liked it a lot, but they kept switching suppliers and sometimes I liked their product and sometimes I didn't. I tried a number of papers and ended up with Forte. Then they disappeared; maybe they're coming back and maybe they aren't but I wasn't interested in ceasing to print while they sorted things out so I tried some more papers and ended up using Ilford Warmtone for warmer results and, now, Kentmere for a more neutral print. Kentmere looks a lot like one of the New Seagul/Cachet papers I liked and is what I would describe as a "determindly neutral" image tone. Those are the papers I use now, all fiber based, of course, 'cause I'm one of those nasty elitists you hear talk about. I never cared much for RC, which is odd considering that I haven't been photographing and printing for as long as many here and I started with RC paper (Kodabrome II.) As an aside, I used a lot of Kodak Polymax over the past year and, if you wash the heck out of it to get the overdone flourescent brighteners out of the paper, it's a pretty good paper. A pity that I'm not enthusiastic about two hour plus washes...

    Waiting for fiber prints to wash isn't nearly the chore it used to be: I use Ilford's rapid fix process with Orbit Bath and get a clean wash in about 15 minutes; I wash for half an hour just because I can.

    I see little wrong with Dektol: it's been around forever because, I think: it Just Works. I bought and tried some Photographer's Formulary BW65 (I think that's the one you were referring to,) last autumn and the difference between it and Dektol 1:2 was subtle. Highlights were a bit cleaner or brighter (however one describes these things.) It isn't something which is going to leap off the paper and slap you in the face, but put the same print side-by-side and I don't think you'd have heart-searching difficulty telling which was which. Amidol is most certainly NOT a pain in the ass to use: just use it like any other developer except that you may (or may not) be able to work with the same tray of solution all day long. That said, it tends to produce a colder print than I like and I tend to only use it for Azo, upon which it produces superb results and even were it ten times more difficult to use, I wouldn't consider anything else (I've tried other developers with Azo and... yuck. Azo and Amidol were seemingly made for one another.)

    I agree with the above comment re: omitting the stop bath. An alkaline stop bath probably doesn't need an acid fix just beforehand. If you just can't make yourself take the print straight from developer to fixer, make the stop bath plain water.

    I last used Kodak's brown toner a number of years ago, about the same time as I last used sepia toner: I'm just not a (strongly) toned sort of fellow, I suppose. I tried Berg's copper toner once and got truely hilarious results which, as with your experience, didn't last. Selenium works well for me; at 1:20 it doesn't change the print's color but does deepen the blacks a little bit.

    Good luck!
    Politically, aerodynamically, and fashionably incorrect.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    No. Virginia

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    Meaning no disrespect towards Chester, there is an old saying; Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies. I do hope you make it.

    A few years ago I took a BTZS course and the computer model showed that my favorite film (Tri-X) and developer (D-76 1+1) would work well with Forte Polygrade V FB. I've been quite happy with the prints. It takes toning well too. I have stopped printing with RC so who knows?

    I had a big one a few years back and since my retirement I don't mind waiting for the prints to wash. I too am reprinting anything worthwhile.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Mar 2002

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    For a print developer, you might consider Kodak Ektaflo type 2. I was introduced to it at a George Tice workshop a few years ageo He showed that the contrast range was similar to Dektol, but with more open shadows.

    Even though you prefer a powder, this is a liquid that comes in a bag-in-a-box container that slows oxidation. The concentrate lasts a long time this way. I use it 1:9 on Ilford Galerie and get neutal tones although the developer is considerd to be warm tone. It would probably produce warmer results on a warm-toned paper.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Frisco, Texas

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?


    An after thought. You don't need to tone the prints at the same time you fix them. I only have room for three 16X20 trays on my sink rack. So, I process, then wash and dry the prints without toning. At a later session, I change the developer, stop, and fix trays on the rack to water, toner, and hypo clearing agent. Re-wet the dried prints and complete the toning process. Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner works great with the Ilford Warmtone FB paper.

  9. #9

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    You might look at Ethol LPD developer. It has a long shelf life after mixing. Print tones can be controlled with dilution. The biggest advantage for me personally is the lack metol. I developed a skin rash with D-76 and I had to change to a non-metol developer

    If you do print only ocassionally, the long life is great feature. I use factoral development to keep track of the developer strength. I also practice replenishment to extend the life of LPD.

    As far as papers, all I have used in the last 10 years is multigrade FB IV. I learned that to get good prints, I stick with one paper.

    One other thing to check is your safelight. When John Sexton looked a my prints he immedately picked up a safelight problem. No one in our B&W club was skilled enough to pick if up. Conduct a proper safelight using Kodak K-4 publication, Feb 1994. If any one wants a copy of this, let me know. Once I got my safelight safe, my print quality improved dramatically. I now work in a very dim environment. Often when I print the final "fine print", I turn off the safe light.

  10. #10

    Your preferences in b&w printing materials?

    I now only use the TF-4 fixer for both film and paper. I have NEVER used a stop bath for film in 35 yrs. With TF-4 on paper you DO NOT use a stop bath it says so on the bottle. I use a water bath before fix. Fix RC ( undergraduate printing, yes I am an elitist) 30 seconds, fiber paper (post graduate printing) 1 minute. Capacity is 30 8x10 prints fiber, and 60 for RC per liter. Capacity for film is 1400 to 1600 sq in per liter. I test it with a peice of, crap I forgot to close the shutter film. I wag it in the fixer and throw it out when it wont clear in thirty seconds. It is a liquid, so if you just have to do powder you can mix TF-3 from the film cookbook but it is a little more alkaline. It does have that amonia smell but it is worth it to me I just turn on the bathroom fan. Claim is it's more archival as there is no acid in the whole process. Just copied this off the bottle.
    For paper I use oriental, it's not the old seagull that we all liked so dear but not bad. I like forte paper also not the new as much as the old. Dektol 1:2, magic doesn't happen till after 2 minutes though. I've had some good luck with Edwal ultra black too. I'm always striving for those contrasty II & III weston zones. You can't get em unless you try though. I am like you in that getting back into film after 4 yrs of the digital thing, everything I used to use is gone. I just wish I knew about Pyro when I was shooting Supper-XX. I'm now giving a hard look at the BTZS. Just don't let her talk you into fufu frames though.LOL

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