How To Make a Simple B&W Contact Printing Setup For Darkroom Printing

February 05, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

How To Make a Simple B&W Contact Printing Setup For Darkroom Printing by Tim LaytonHow To Make a Simple B&W Contact Printing Setup For Darkroom Printing by Tim Layton In this article today, I am going to show you how simple it is to make a black and white contact printing setup that you can use in a spare room, bathroom, or any small space that can be made temporarily dark.  

Photography can be as simple and pure as you want it to be and that is one of the reasons why I love large format black and white photography so much.  All I need is my camera, some sheet film, and a very basic light source to make elegant and beautiful prints.  If Edward Weston could use his simple setup for his entire life, surely we can follow in his footsteps and enjoy making some contact prints too.  

If you would like to be able to make some black and white silver gelatin contact prints, but you are thinking you don't have an enlarger or the space to do it, I am going to show you how simple and elegant it can be to make contact prints.

Sunflower - Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim LaytonSunflower - Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim Layton I personally prefer to make 8x10 contact prints, but I also love making smaller 5x7, 4x5, and even 4x10 and 6x17 panoramic silver gelatin contact prints from my negatives too.

I use this same simple setup to make my proper proofs on RC paper to determine if I want to invest the time and effort of making an archival fiber print. I store the RC proper proof along with the negative in the archival binder. 

I will list everything that I use to make this simple B&W Contact Printing Setup so you can duplicate or use it as inspiration.

Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim LaytonLarge Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim Layton Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim LaytonLarge Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim Layton Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim LaytonLarge Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim Layton Large Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim LaytonLarge Format B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Print by Tim Layton

Over the years I have heard from hundreds of photographers around the world that say they would love to be able to still make real silver gelatin prints, but they just don't have room for a darkroom anymore, so they scan their film and make inkjet prints. While there is nothing wrong with making any type of print, we all know that contact prints are very special and for good reason.  

Rocky Creek Waterfall at Klepzig Mill large format B&W contact print by Tim LaytonRocky Creek Waterfall at Klepzig Mill large format B&W contact print by Tim Layton While it can be very easy to scan your film and making any number of digital-based outputs, there is nothing like a large format contact print.  

I am going to will walk you through how you can build a simple solution for making silver gelatin contact prints in this article, so you won't have any more excuses not to do it... :) 

Even if you enjoy both digital and analog photography, that is even more reason to embrace a true analog workflow by making some stellar black and white contact prints.  

Just like the famous Edward Weston 8x10 contact prints, you only really need a simple light source and a way to keep your negative flat and tightly sandwiched to your desired silver gelatin paper. Of course, you will probably want some type of safelight to help you see what you are doing while working and I personally recommend some Ilford Multigrade Variable Contrast Filters because modern darkroom paper is no longer graded like it was back in the days of Weston and Adams. 

In this section, I will list the basic components that I used to make my personal DIY B&W Silver Gelatin Contact Printing setup and then share my thoughts about some of the important details. 

Simple B&W Contact Printing Light Source with Ilford Variable Contrast Filter by Tim LaytonSimple B&W Contact Printing Light Source with Ilford Variable Contrast Filter by Tim Layton

You need some way to mount or place your light/filter source above your contact printing frame.  I already own a Beseler Copy Stand so that is what I use.  I have previously made a stand out of white artboard and also out of som one inch PVC pipe. I will show you those pictures below so you can see that you don't need an expensive copy stand or even an enlarger to make beautiful black and white contact prints. Refer to the images below of some more of my DIY contact printing solutions. 

Simple B&W Contact Printing Light Source with Ilford Variable Contrast Filter by Tim LaytonSimple B&W Contact Printing Light Source with Ilford Variable Contrast Filter by Tim Layton

This DIY contact printing setup is made out of some white artboard that I got from the hobby store.

PVC DIY B&W Contact Printing Stand.PVC DIY B&W Contact Printing Stand.

This DIY contact printing setup is made out of PVC pipe from Home Depot to mimic my more expensive and less transportable Beseler Copy Stand.  I take this PVC copy stand on the road with me to make contact prints in my hotel room. 

And some of the printmaking supplies include:

  • 8x10 Darkroom Processing Trays (available from B&H and many other places)
  • Nitrile Gloves - I recommend you should protect your hands and skin 
  • Paper Developer - Mix your own or use a commercial formula like Dektol, Ilford Multigrade, etc.
  • Stop Bath - I recommend an eco-friendly formula or Eco-Pro which is a commercial solution. 
  • Fixer - I recommend an eco-friendly formula or Eco-Pro which is a commercial solution. 
  • Hypo Clear - I recommend an eco-friendly formula or Eco-Pro which is a commercial solution. 
  • Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner - Used to make your fiber prints archival quality and improved tonal qualities.
  • Distilled water - I always use distilled water to mix my developer and to mix my Selenium Toner. Distilled water is typically always available at any grocery store. 

B&W Contact Printing Setup by Tim LaytonB&W Contact Printing Setup by Tim Layton

If you want to know my method for making black and white silver gelatin contact prints, I have several articles that I have written on this topic that I will list below for you.

How To Make Proper Proofs in the Darkroom

How To Determine Base Exposure For Contact Prints in the Darkroom

How To Make Contact Prints in the Darkroom - Step by Step

Video Workshops For Analog Photographers

Tim Layton Fine Art All Access Pass B&W Darkroom Photography Video WorkshopB&W Darkroom Photography Video Workshop Large Format Photography Video Workshop SeriesLarge Format Photography Video Workshop Series B&W Large Format Floral Still Life Video WorkshopB&W Large Format Floral Still Life Video Workshop Large Format B&W Film Testing Video WorkshopLarge Format B&W Film Testing Video Workshop Large Format Paper Negative Video WorkshopLarge Format Paper Negative Video Workshop DIY UV Printer Design & Build Video WorkshopDIY UV Printer Design & Build Video Workshop Platinum & Palladium Printmaking with Vellum Video WorkshopPlatinum & Palladium Printmaking with Vellum Video Workshop

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