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Black-and-white printing

An introduction to making B&W prints


This photograph was taken on black-and-white film which, when processed, produced a negative image (above). The negative was printed on photosensitive paper, making the positive
This photograph was taken on black-and-white film which, when processed, produced a negative image (above). The negative was printed on photosensitive paper, making the positive "print" seen below.

OVERVIEW

In photography, the term "printing" refers to the making of a positive image from a negative. It is accomplished by directing a controlled amount of light through the negative onto a light-sensitive surface, generally paper that has been coated with a sensitized emulsion. (Other surfaces besides paper can be made light-sensitive so that images can be printed on them, too.)

For digital photographers - Making prints in black-and-white from your digital image files can be done using your computer's printer or done professionally at most photo labs. Click on Printing digital images to learn more.

Printing takes place in a darkroom, but unlike film processing in a darkroom, the room need not be totally dark. Papers used to make black-and-white prints have properties that are similar to the light-sensitivity of film, except they are less sensitive to certain colors of light. This permits the paper to be safely viewed under a specific colored light without affecting its emulsion - that is without "fogging" it. (Fogging is unwanted density in a print caused by accidental exposure to non-image forming light.)


Such a light is known as a "safelight." The type of safelight to be used with a given print paper is specified in the manufacturer's data sheet supplied with the paper, or may appear right on the paper's package.

WHEN MAKING PRINTS, YOU HAVE A GOOD DEAL OF CONTROL OVER THEIR APPEARANCE

The final appearance and the quality of a black-and-white print can be significantly varied during the printing process, dependent on:

  • paper type (or the type of another printing surface),
  • exposure (including overall exposure of the entire print, and increased or decreased exposure of parts of the print by "dodging" and "burning"), and
  • processing.

(Note:"Dodging" is blocking a portion of the light when printing a photograph so that an area of the print will be made lighter. "Burning" refers to providing extra exposure to an area of the print to make it darker, while blocking light from the rest of the print.)

This package of paper recommends that it can be
This package of paper recommends that it can be "safely" viewed when exposed under a 902 (light brown) safelight. This means it will not be fogged when this specifically-filtered light strikes it for a reasonable time from four feet away or more

Contact printing, as exemplified by this
Contact printing, as exemplified by this "contact sheet," occurs when the negative and the paper are in contact with one another. Each frame is printed in the same size as the negative frame itself.

THE TWO BASIC PRINTING METHODS

There are fundamentally two printing methods

  • Contact printing - in which the negative and the paper are touching one another - i.e. in "contact", and
  • Projection printing - in which the negative is at a distance from the paper and light is projected through it. The light is focused by a lens onto the paper.

A contact print is a positive image that is the same size as the negative itself, whereas projection printing is usually used to make a larger-than-negative-size print, called an "enlargement." Projection printing is accomplished with an enlarger.


EQUIPMENT

The essential equipment used in black-and-white hand printing generally includes:

  • a darkroom with a work surface (e.g. a countertop),
  • an enlarger,
  • an easel,
  • a safelight,
  • processing trays (at least three, preferably five),
  • a sink and running water,
  • graduate(s) for measuring chemicals,
  • a thermometer,
  • two pairs of print tongs,
  • rubber gloves,
  • a sponge or print squeegee,
  • a length of string or sturdy cord to hang prints from when drying,
  • tacks or push pins to attach the string to the walls,
  • plastic or wooden clips to attach the prints to the string, and
  • a timer.

A darkroom timer that controls the enlarger isn't essential if you have a clock with a second hand, but is well worth having for its precision and greater assurance of  accuracy. This wall-mounted timer has precise, easy-to-use dials and a large read-out.
A darkroom timer that controls the enlarger isn't essential if you have a clock with a second hand, but is well worth having for its precision and greater assurance of accuracy. This wall-mounted timer has precise, easy-to-use dials and a large read-out.

There are several other useful accessories commonly used in hand-producing black-and-white prints. Some of these are:

  • a contact sheet printer,
  • an enlarging meter,
  • a focusing magnifier,
  • additional safelight(s)
  • hand towels,
  • paper trimmer,
  • print washer,
  • dry mount press,
  • water-temperature controller,
  • water filters,
  • anti-static brush,
  • compressed air cannister,
  • storage bottles and jugs, and
  • dodging and burning tools.


ESSENTIAL PRINTING MATERIALS

Black-and-white negative,
Chemicals - Developer, stop bath and fixer, and
Paper - Photo-sensitive printing paper.

WHAT YOU WILL FIND HERE

This section provides the basic procedures for making black-and-white prints from black-and-white negatives photographed on black-and-white film. It will be expanded over time to include more-advanced techniques and tips for improving your hand-made prints and solutions for problem prints.

The essential materials are a B&W negative, chemicals and sensitized paper on which to make a print.
The essential materials are a B&W negative, chemicals and sensitized paper on which to make a print.
Related topics...

Paper for making prints

Prepare to make a B&W print

Making a B&W print