Printing Overview

The standard process for printing varies a bit less than that for film, but is similar. The following describes the process in outline.

  1. 1. Mount negative in holder. Check for dust, then place in enlarger.
  2. 2. Adjust easel for size, then adjust enlarger height and focus. Open the enlarger lens all the way to get the most illumination.
  3. 3. Stop the enlarger down. This may be up to three stops, depending. Not enough, and the print time will be too short to control. Too much, and the print time will be overly long.
  4. 4. Test for exposure.
  5. 5. Completely process test print.
  6. 6. Evaluate test print under good light.
  7. 7. Print the enlargement, based on the test
  8. 8. Process and evaluate.
  9. 9. Repeat as necessary.

In Detail

Enlarging is a process which varies somewhat depending at least on what materials you are using, particularly the type of paper. The following, though greater in detail, is still general. Contact printing, the use of polycontrast filters, test strips, and paper processing also have their own section.

The Negative

The negative needs to be mounted in the negative carrier, emulsion side down. Looking at it in the negative sleeve, if you can read the frame number correctly, you are looking at the film side, and the emulsion side is opposite. The film will curl towards the emulsion. Also, the emulsion side will be a bit less shiny than the film side.

Open the negative carrier. They are usually hinge, but occasionally are two piece. The negative carrier will have some kind of guides to help align the negative in the carrier. They may be posts, or slotted posts. Carefully place the negative over the opening, emulsion side down.

Close the carrier, and hold it up to a safelight to check for alignment. Then, to check for dust, turn the enlarger on, and hold the negative in the carrier at a raking angle, nearly parallell to the light path. Carefully examine both sides of the negative. Dust will show up as bight spots. Use either compressed air or an anti-static brush to remove any dust. If you are using compressed air, don't shake the can, and spray at an angle to the film, not straight on.

Turn the enlarger off, and place the negative carrier in the film stage. The carrier will rest firmly and snugly in the film stage when seated properly. There will be some mechanism to align the carrier. Beseler uses a circular ridge or a set of guide pins that fit in the opening. Other may use a different system, but as stated, it will fit snugly.

The Easel

The easel is primarily used to hold the paper flat, rather than cropping, although it may well be used for both. Place it on the enlarger baseboard, with the opening closest to you. With the enlarger off, place a sheet of photo paper in the easel. Adjust the blades to just cover the edges of the paper, maybe 1/4 inch. Remove the paper, placing it back in its package.

Turn the enlager on using the focus setting on the timer. Adjust the height and the focus. When printing full frame, the entire negative, get the image on the easel so that it is as large as it can be, without going beyond the blades. Don't worry about open space that is not covered. If light does not hit the paper, it will not be exposed. For example, about the biggest you can print a 35mm negative on 8 x 10" paper without cropping is a bit over 6 x 9", leaving 1/2" borders on the short side, and 1" on the long sides. So if the edges are covered by about 1/4 inch, that's a fiar amount of space, but just center the image.

The Enlarger

When adjusting image size (enlarger height) and focus, open the enlarging lens all the way. Turn the timer to the focus setting, and rotate the lens aperture counter-clockwise until it stops. You will see the image get brighter. Adjust the height, moving the enlarger either up or down, simultaneously focusing by turning the focusing knob. Once the image is correctly sized, carefully refocus. If available, use a grain enlarger (focusing aid).

With the image sized and focused, stop the enlarger down. How far depends, but usually in to ƒ/8 or ƒ/11. This puts the lens in the middle of its aperture range, and gives just a bit of depth of field, to help correct for minor focus error. Stopping down also allows for reasonable exposure times. The first test print will determine this.

Making the Print

Start by making a test print. If you are using polycontrast (multigrade) paper, there are two approaches to take as far as controlling contrast. The first is to start with no filter, run the test, and then decide which way to go with filtration. No filter is equivalent to about a #2.25, or medium contrast. To add contrast, use a higher number filter, 2.5 or higher, and to lower the contrast, use a filter numbered lower, 2 or lower. Then test again. Repeat until you get the contrast where you want it, then make the full print.

The second method is called split-filter printing, and is described in detail in the this section. Essentially, split-filter makes use of the two extreme filters, the #00 and the #5, to control highlights and shadows independently. This method, even with two initial tests, is actually faster, as you can get closer to correct faster.


The chemistry for processing paper is set up in trays in the following order, always from left to right: developer, stop (or water bath), fixer 1, fixer 2, rinse. The trays holding the chemistry should have about an inch of solution. For 8 x 10 trays, that is a liter or so.

Paper is processed for set times, unlike film, which changes. Agitation is continuous for all steps, gently rocking the tray. Start by curving the paper, emulsion side down. This is to prevent air from being trapped. Immerse the paper quickly and fully.

Processing sequences for resin coated (RC) paper and fiber paper are given below.

Processing times for RC paper
DeveloperDektol 1:2*2 minutes
StopStock Stop Bath*1 minute
Fixer 1Fixer2 minutes
Fixer 2Fixer2 minutes
WashWater5+ minutes

For fiber papers:

Processing times for fiber paper
DeveloperDektol 1:2*3 minutes
StopStop Bath**1 minute
Fixer 1Fixer3 minutes
Fixer 2Fixer3 minutes
WashWater5 minutes
Wash AidHypo-Clear2 minutes
WashWater30+ minutes
* Dektol 1:2 is the most standard paper developer around. A different one may be used, of course. Follow the directions.
** A water bath may be substituted for stop bath, 1 minute in running water, or 3 changes.

When the prints are finished washing, squeegee the excess water off. RC prints can be hung to dry. Fiber prints should be placed on drying screens, face down, to dry.