MC paper or graded paper?
Old 02-15-2007   #1
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MC paper or graded paper?

What are the downsides to using multi-contrast paper vs. graded paper? I need to buy some more paper, and am trying to decide whether to spend money on multicontrast paper and a set of filters, or buy a few grades of graded paper. It seems on the face of it graded paper is the cheaper way to go, but what are the real pros and cons of each?

Thanks for any comments.
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Old 02-15-2007   #2
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many years ago (many), Graded paper could do 1/2 grade steps with Filters or a color head. So it was cheaper to buy 100 sheet box and change the filter as needed. Also, with cleaver tech. you could have several grades of contrast in one photo to fine tune it all. I don't print anymore, so I am not "up" with the newer papers.
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Old 02-16-2007   #3
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I haven't used graded papers much, O.K. almost not at all.
The usually stated advantages for variable contrast papers are that you only need one box of paper on hand, that more range of contrast is possible, and that with split filter printing you can alter the contrast on one part of an image realtive to another.
That said I typically use only the #'s 0 and 5 filters, for two exposures. I love it, I have such complete control of the outcome.
Sorry I can't comment on the advantages of graded papers more thoroughly. I know there are people who swear by them.
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Old 02-20-2007   #4
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I know there are more people here with experience with graded papers. I'd really like to hear from some people who can give me some idea of it's strengths.

Basically, I'm wondering if I would benefit from using graded paper rather than swapping filters between composing and exposing for each print. I don't really see what benefit I would see with one box of paper vs. a few, considering it seems I will be aiming to expose and develop to a standard grade anyway. Eliminating the need to swap filters between composing and exposing for each print seems like a worthwhile goal. I can see how multigrade paper and a set of filters could be handy, but I'm not really seeing an advantage for me.
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Old 02-20-2007   #5
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40oz:

"Advantage" is the key. With variable contrast RC paper you only need to buy one box of paper instead of four or five. Being an older guy, I used graded papers (usually double-weight) because RC/VC papers hadn't been invented yet, and when they were we photographers in the bay area felt they were inferior to fiber-based graded papers.

Of course we were comparing them to Agfa Portriga Rapid and other superb graded papers, perhaps unfair at the time. Certainly RC/VC papers have come a long way since then.

If you can "read" the contrast of a negative as it's projected on your easel, and become experienced at it, then you either select the appropriate filter for your VC/RC paper or pick a sheet from one of your boxes of graded paper.

The money outlay for 4-5 boxes of graded paper is obviously quite a bit more than for one box of variable contrast paper. The upside is that you aren't buying boxes of paper that often.

(Unless you're metering perfectly in similar lighting conditions with the same film all the time and you're printing almost exclusively with, for example, Grade #2 paper, then the other boxes you originally bought sit moldering on the shelf, and then of course you keep buying more and more boxes of grade #2.)

Ted

Last edited by tedwhite : 02-20-2007 at 07:44.
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Old 02-20-2007   #6
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First, don't confuse RC (Resin-coated) paper with VC (variable contrast)paper. Let's assume we are talking only about Fiber-based papers here. Todays RC papers are certainly much better than they were 30 years ago, but fiber-base is still better for longevity and subtlety.

Graded papers were the accepted king of the heap for a long time, but I believe multi-contrast or VC papers have finally outstripped graded papers, especially when used with split filtration technique Bryce mentioned. This is mostly because the best graded papers are no longer available, and not in the best grades. I think we will all agree that most of the time, it's all about getting the greatest range of tonality out of the negative and paper combination. Graded papers will yeild a set range of tones from white to black; the higher the grade paper, the fewer the range of tones the paper can give. So grade 0 or 00, or grade 1, or whatever was a manufacturer's lowest grade paper would give the longest range of tones between white and black, and the higher numbers- grades 4 and 5, or even 6 would yield fewer greys between the relative absolutes of white and black. With negatives that had less silver, due to under-exposure, under-development, or some combination of the two, you would need a higher grade paper to print a satisfactory image; this would give you fewer tones in the midrange, but still give acceptable contrast with whites and blacks. A better negative, with a longer range and good delicate shadows and nicely dense highlights would give a great print on grade 0 or grade 1 paper, and show lots of detail. You could coax more out of any paper by playing with filters and get about a half stop range, or tweak the development with different developers or concentrations of developers which would change the contrast, or with bleaching to alter the range after the development.

But that was the old days- most manufacturers don't make the papers for this anymore. These days you are lucky if you can get grades 2, 3, and 4. Which means first of all that you cannot take full advantage of your best negatives, which would have printed most beautifully with the low grade 0 or 1 paper, but rather you are relegated to printing them on grade 2 or 3, and getting a reduced tonal range with a much tighter curve than you would like. And with your barely saved negatives, that should need grade 5 or even 6, you are just out of luck- you will have a hard time getting a good image on graded paper- it will be at least slightly flat.

Meanwhile, today's variable contrast or multi-grade fiber papers have a contrast range which blows away the possibilites of a single contrast grade, and still have all the archival and beauty benefits of fiber-based papers. But you have to work to take advantage of this. Which brings us back to the split-filter process Bryce and I advocate. I make one exposure with the grade 0 filter, which yeilds my highlights, and affects all grey tones up to the midrange, or about Zone V. I then make another exposure with the grade 5 filter, which gives density to shadow areas. The thing to remember is that these two exposures do not affect the other end of the spectrum at all. There are some greys in the middle which will pick up density from both exposures, but you could leave the lens open for5 or 6 times the required exposure on the grade 0 filter and still not get true black anywhere; likewise, you can do the same wth grade 5 filter, and never get delicacy in the highlight areas. But by treating the highlights and the shadows as completely separate exposures you can build a range into one print which at least equals- and probably bests- what was available with the best low grade papers which are no longer available.

In short, with what's available today, use VC fiber papers in a finish you like, and get into split filter printing. It's a little tricky to learn, vs. single filter printing, but yields the best results you can hope for.
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Old 02-20-2007   #7
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Thank you both for the thorough explanations. I bought VC RC paper to use with the enlarger I got not long ago, and ran into a few issues revolving around not having a filter set. My local camera shop has filter sets, but I decided I needed to find out what it is I am doing prior to purchase.

OK, so I now understand the choice I am making. Heh, just wished I'd had some idea of all this weeks ago - "you never know the things you don't know," I guess.
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Old 02-20-2007   #8
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One thing to know about filter sets is that it's not really important to match your brand of filters to your brand of papers. Yes, theoretically they are matched, but in reality, any VC/MC paper (RC or fiber-based) will change contrast roughly as expected when exposed though any brand's contrast filters. Occasionally you may find certain combinations to be more or less favorable than others, but in general practice, it makes little difference. Just use whatever paper you have with whatever filters you have. (This is especially so when using the split filter method, which basically only employs the two extreme filters of 0 and 5.)

Good luck going forward with your printing. Feel free to PM or email me if there's any way I can be of any help. Aside from shooting and printing b&w for a living, I teach black and white process darkroom work- let me know if there's any way I can help.
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Old 02-20-2007   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
I haven't used graded papers much, O.K. almost not at all.
The usually stated advantages for variable contrast papers are that you only need one box of paper on hand, that more range of contrast is possible, and that with split filter printing you can alter the contrast on one part of an image realtive to another.
That said I typically use only the #'s 0 and 5 filters, for two exposures. I love it, I have such complete control of the outcome.
Sorry I can't comment on the advantages of graded papers more thoroughly. I know there are people who swear by them.
For "normal" b/w printing i follow the same method of printing as Bryce using nos "0" and "5" filters on a cold cathode (blue light) head (Devere 504) or the single condenser heads of the Leitz Focomats and i like the Foma and Ilford Warm Tone MC fibre based papers (i've never liked the RC papers which IMHO don't yield good deep enough blacks or hold the highlights when the paper drys)

For "lith prints" i've always found the graded fibre based papers to be more reliable favoring a grade "3" or "4" simply because they tend to split more precisely when selenium toning - Forte was my choice of available paper in the UK - before that it was grades "2" and "3" of the old version of the Kentona fibre baesd paper which was one of the most flexible papers i've ever used for "lith prints" yielding several different colours depending on developer dilution and developer temperature.

However since i've been away, i've read that Forte is to discontinue its production of paper stock so i will have to re-examine my printing methods and perhaps move towards a more dedicated MC Split Grade printing head like the Heiland range of enlarger heads which fit the Focomat enlargers.

Last edited by Simon Larbalestier : 02-20-2007 at 16:54.
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Old 02-20-2007   #10
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Thanks again all. I'm going to pick up some filters and see what happens this weekend. I've still got some VC RC paper left, so we'll see what 8x10 masterpieces I can conjure in my kitchen
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Old 02-20-2007   #11
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Drewbarb:

That was a very well done treatise. I appreciated your explication of the 0/5 filter switch. The people that run this site should archive it.

And for 40oz: Don't use up any more VC/RC paper until you get a filter set. It doesn't work well without filters.
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Old 02-20-2007   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drewbarb
Which brings us back to the split-filter process Bryce and I advocate. I make one exposure with the grade 0 filter, which yeilds my highlights, and affects all grey tones up to the midrange, or about Zone V. I then make another exposure with the grade 5 filter, which gives density to shadow areas.
Excellent explanation on this method -- I have not tried that but it sounds like an excellent idea. The one question I have is --- assuming you have a certain exposure established for a negative, say, 20 sec. at f11 with filter 2 -- how would you adjust that to the split-filter printing? Or is there no such thing as a rule-of-thumb, and you have to re-establish the optimal printing times for the two filters?
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Old 02-20-2007   #13
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Ted- thanks for the vote of confidence.

Mike- unfortunately, there is no such rule of thumb. A given time with a single filter will usually mean little in terms of where to start for a good split-filtered print- you'll have to start over. I start by making a test strip at grade 0. I am only looking at the highlight areas for this- ignore the shadows for now. I choose the time which yeilds the best, most delicate detail in the lightest highlights- the Zone VIII or Zone IX areas, for you Zone types. I then make a another test for the grade 5. I start by giving the exposure for the grade 0 filter, and then over that I do a test strip for the grade 5 filter. Once I have my base times with this method, I will decide what adjustments (burning and dodging) might need to be made with each exposure.

Once you have some practice with this method, it's sometimes possible to do a single combined test strip which incorporates both filter exposures on one sheet of paper- but this requires an image with a good distribution of highlight and shadow areas through out the image. With the right image, you can do a grade 0 test strip in the horizontal path, and a grade 5 test strip in the vertical, or vice-versa. This yeilds a sort-of checkerboard patterned test print, and you can judge both filter times by looking at the different characteristics together on one test print. But this is tricky, since it seems fairly unusual to have a composition with the right distribution of highlight and shadow areas to be able to judge one in one direction and the other in the other direction, if you see what I mean. So although it would seem to save paper and time to test them both together, I find it's usually better to do two separate tests.

This method is a bit slower than other ways of working, but in the end I find I waste much less paper than I used to, and I have yet to find a negative that I can't get a good print from using this method. When I started doing this a few years ago, I only applied it to tricky negatives, perfering the speed of single filtration for those negatives that seemed to print well enough. But I found I was getting such good expanded tonality with this method, that I now use it for all my final prints, and only do regular single filtration prints for my first roughest prints when all I care about is judging the quality of the composition.

Last edited by drewbarb : 02-20-2007 at 22:52.
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Old 02-20-2007   #14
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Mike-
I know of no direct correlation technique between straight filter and split filter printing.
Here's how I go about establishing rough exposure with the split method-
First, put one filter in and make various exposures across the frame, like you would do normally. Do this from lest to right.
Then, on the same piece of paper, make a second series of exposures with the other filter, only this time from top to bottom.
Now develop the test print and establish which "square" in the grid appears best.
Make another test print of the critical areas of the image, i.e. where there are both true blacks and subtle light tones, develop. This should give you a good idea whether you're in the ballpark.
When you later experiment with local burning/ dodging it should be fairly obvious which filter to increase or decrease local exposure on.
Try it, preferably on a negative you already like the results from. I think you'll like the results. It sounds more complicated than it is, I promise!
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Old 02-20-2007   #15
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Drewbarb-
Looks like you beat me to the punch, but better- there are two slightly different ways of establishing exposure listed now.
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Old 02-20-2007   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
Drewbarb-
Looks like you beat me to the punch, but better- there are two slightly different ways of establishing exposure listed now.
Haha. Between us, we'll get 'em there.
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Old 02-21-2007   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
Drewbarb-
Looks like you beat me to the punch, but better- there are two slightly different ways of establishing exposure listed now.
Drewbarb / Bryce --

Thanks for the detailed information -- I'll have to try this out next time I descend into the room that's dark by design
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Old 02-21-2007   #18
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I print the other way: sort out a base exposure value for the Grade 5 then sort out the base exposure for the Grade 00 and then work them both up until i have exactly what i want - the advice i was given when i first started split grade printing was that if i worked with the higher grade first it didn't break the threshold of the papers which allowed for more subtle highlights but it seems, as always with process of photography, there is more than one way to skin a cat. As it were.
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Old 02-21-2007   #19
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In defence of graded papers, you don't really need five boxes, most work can be printed on a #2 or #3. I use Ilford Galerie and Kentmere Bromide, I think they're both great products if you're into fiber based papers.
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Old 02-23-2007   #20
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Rob: What's the drying procedure for the two papers you mentioned?

Ted
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Old 02-23-2007   #21
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Rob- my knock on graded papers isn't about not wanting to stock the whole range; it's that I can't, since they don't make the low grades any more, and it's those 0 and 1 papers which yield the fullest range of tones. Split filter printing can be a bitch, but VC paper is sensitive across a longer range, and yields a longer tonal range than grade 2 or 3, never mind 4 papers. If I could still get grade 0 papers, I'd print on them a good deal, too.

(And- I have Ilford Gallerie in grades 2, 3 and 4 for those negatives that are just right. The matte finish especially is great for toning, BTW.)

As for drying, I do all fiber papers the same way. I think the key starts with the wash. Make sure they stay in long enough to wash out all the fix, but don't leave them in too long. They can get damaged and weakened. Squeegee very carefully, and thoroughly, and lay them face down on a clean, dry screen. I press them under glass once dry.
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Old 02-24-2007   #22
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Drewbarb. Spot on about the wash period. I have some large (24X30") white blotters I got from Freestyle. I've been using them to dry RC papers and they work well.

Would they work with fiber-based papers as well?

We just got a bunch of 24X36" screens designed specifically for drying photographs and will be making racks to hold them. My concern here would be curling, but pressing them under glass sounds like a plan. We have a piece of 30X30" glass that would no doubt do the job. Its chief use so far has been for squeegeeing prints. One of my partners, Desert Shooter (an rff member), does this, but I don't as I've scratched prints on more than one occasion.

Ted
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Old 02-24-2007   #23
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I find the squeegeeing to be a major factor in reducing curling. I lay the prints first face down on the glass, and run the squeegee once in each direction, being sure to wipe the squeegee between runs, so I'm not putting the water back on the print. Ithen carefully lift the print, and then squeegee the glass to remove the water standing there, then lay the print face up, and run the squeegee over the front once top to bottom, wipe the squeegee, then once side to side. Removing the water from the squeegee and from the glass is important- the goal is to get the water off and out of the print, so why let it casually come into contact with more water here?

I made a set of drying racks out of materials from a home improvement store for making window and door screens. Mine are 26 inches across and 4 feet long, and can handle 2 20x24 prints, or a bunch of smaller sizes. I lay the prints face down on the screen, and they finish up with minimal curl after 12-24 hours of room temperature drying time. Pressing can be done under glass or a metal platten. I have a padded table top, onto which I place a few prints, then lay the glass down over them, then stack books or other heavy things. After a couple of days my prints are quite flat. This applies to all fiber-based papers, and works like a charm.
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Old 02-24-2007   #24
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Drewbarb:

Thanks for the very clear explication. I appreciate that. Back in the seventies I had an electrically heated Premer drum dryer and it worked quite well, plus I also had one of those large blotter books. However, when RC paper came along all you needed was a drying rack. I still have it. Prints are laid in vertically and the rack slants a few degrees so the prints rest against the prongs and air dry, sooner or later, depending on the humidity.

Will be trying out the screen racks soon.

Ted
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Old 02-25-2007   #25
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When I finish washing my prints I just squeegee them and put them face up on a table. I cover the table with a clean towel first. They do curl but I have a dry mount press so I just pop them in for a minute and flatten them.
Graded papers aren't for everyone... of course neither is fiber based paper, but I still think a well printed fiber based print is hard to beat.
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