Paper - Graded or Multigrade?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by steve_gallimore|1, Oct 8, 2020.

  1. Now that I've tested my darkroom setup and made some initial prints, I'm looking at ordering my first batch of paper.

    Given shipping costs, it makes sense to buy in reasonable quantities, so I'd like to make the right choice.

    I've used both fixed and variable grade paper in the past.

    It looks like I can only get fixed grade paper in grades 3 & 4 these days, which should cover "most" printing, but doesn't offer all that much choice. I typically like more contrast rather than less.

    Multigrade - my enlarger (Meopta Opemus 3) lacks a filter drawer. I've successfully printed multigrade both by holding a filter gel below the lens and by placing it on top of the glass diffuser, above the condensors. The square filter gel not entirely covering the circular diffuser appears to make not a jot of difference, at least with 35mm negatives, I imagine I might start to see issues with 6x6 though. I also have a Krokus 67 with a filter drawer, but the Meopta is better built and nicer to use.

    I assume that with filters below the lens, they need to be absolutely clean, or wiggle them around a bit?

    I'm using an LED bulb, so heat is not an issue.

    I will certainly get some multigrade paper, as I'd like to have a try at split-grade printing.

    So, my question is really: Is fixed grade paper worth bothering with in 2020, taking into account the limitations of my equipment?

    I'd like to pick something and stick with it, so that I can learn and understand it, rather than constantly switching products.

    Additional question, do I need a different developer for fixed grade paper, or will my current Ilford Multigrade developer work fine? I can't remember what I used 15 years ago, maybe AGFA Neutol.
  2. In my experience, you can perfectly use under-the-lens filtering instead of an above-the-lens filter drawer, with identical results.
    Obviously the filters should be in good working condition, they don't need to be new but reasonably clean and without huge scratches... I think I have never cleaned mine, some are thirty years old (or more).
    In fact, below the lens filtering is a better approach to my taste, because a revolving type holder is much easier to use for split printing. You can buy the classical Ilford one, or a DIY with larger filters (I have both, some lenses are big so the Ilford holders doesn't fit). You can also made a dual filter revolving holder specially designed for that split printing. I know a filter drawer is a more elegant solution, but a filter holder are way easier&faster to operate.
    BTW, Opemus enlargers are made in both versions, with and without drawer, an they are dirty cheap. If you want the drawer, maybe you can buy another one or just that head part.
  3. I'd go with multigrade paper, but definitely avoid using the filters below the lens (unless it's for something fancy like local contrast 'burning').

    FWIW, my favourite little Envoy 35mm enlarger came with no filter drawer. I jacked up the lamphouse, above the condenser, with a 3 sided box made from 1/2" square aluminium bar, and bent a filter drawer out of sheet aluminium to fit. Job done, and I continued using that enlarger for both colour and MG printing for years afterwards.
    Jochen likes this.
  4. Absolutely not, I'd just buy multigrade. Some papers are made graded-only, but with any multigrade paper you will be perfectly fine. Look for an available&affordable paper brand, that's all.
    I don't use Ilford Multigrade, but for sure you can use it with graded paper. In the same way you can use Neutol (I still use it) with multigrade paper.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
  5. Why? Have you experienced any problem? In my experience, a filter under the lens does not affect the image in any noticeable way. I think it is more of a theoretical dilemma than a real issue.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
  6. Standard multigrade filters aren't optical grade and may have slight ripples in the plastic substrate. Plus they have to be handled more carefully to avoid fingerprint smudges and the like. It just makes more sense to place plastic filters in the light-path above the negative, where they can't affect image quality.

    I suspect an MG filter could be simply balanced on top of most negative carriers to this end.
  7. I've had no trouble with filters under the lens. I would be a bit suspicious of the LED light source though. Multigrade papers assume (I think) a full spectrum light source, plus the filter. Depending on the spectral output of the LED, the grading might be a bit weird. I'd want to test by printing a step tablet neg to be sure you're getting what you think you're getting. Haven't used graded paper in many decades but I remember nothing could save a bad neg like Agfa Brovira #6!
  8. I actually have two LED bulbs, one 'daylight' and one 'warm', and the original 60 year old Phillips Photolux. I intend to do some comparisons once I've got things up and running.
  9. No. The filtration is geared to the red-heavy and blue-impoverished spectrum of an incandescent filament lamp.

    I suspect the printing grade got with a particular filter and LED bulb will be quite different from that using an incandescent bulb.

    The blue output of a filament bulb is far less than that of a comparable LED spectrum. There's also a distinct cyan droop in an LED spectrum and a much increased violet output. I suspect this would push the MG paper further toward a high contrast result with any given filtration.

    As Steve says; experimentation and comparison will be needed. But my money would be on needing 'softer' filtration with LED bulbs to get a comparable filament-bulb grade. Especially using a cool white LED.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
  10. AJG


    I printed for many years with Ilford Multigrade filters below the lens without any sharpness issues. I always kept them in the plastic case they came in when I wasn't using them and occasionally dusted them with compressed air. I used these for 20 years with an Omega D 2 that I used with a cold light head. The cold light head required a 40 cc color gel (taped over the diffuser) to make up for the fact that the fluorescent light was around 5400 K and the filters and paper were designed to be used with a tungsten light source of around 3200 K. My guess is that the warm LED will be closer than the daylight one for VC paper and filters.

    As for paper, I would certainly go for good VC paper over graded. I have found the quality to be comparable to graded paper and it is certainly more economical to buy larger quantities of one kind of paper instead of stocking multiple grades.
  11. Sorry, "full spectrum" to me means some amount of output over the visible spectrum, unlike most non-incandescent sources. If it actually means "sunlight", I need a new term. :)
  12. No offence meant Conrad. I was just trying to clarify what MG filters were designed to be used with.

    Most 'white' LED spectra are actually continuous, if you take that to mean there are no monochromatic spikes or zero-output gaps. However, it's by no means a flat spectrum, but neither is that of an incandescent bulb.
  13. Please do it.
    From the first day LED bulbs hit stores, I started using them, looking for a cooler and softer output... former ones had a weak brightness but current ones are much better. So I have been printing with LEDs for several years now. You can check out a few samples in my portfolio.
    As soon as I found the new bulbs suited my needs, I stopped testing and started working; I remember that I preferred warm ones, but I have no scientific proof; I only suspected that the cooler temp ones gave a closer contrast separation, but I repeat, I have not tested it in depth. In those days, bulbs were available warm (around 3000K) or cold (around 5700K). I try to remember that the cool ones were not that bright. Right now the offer is vastly wider. Warm up time was also an issue, some were unusable, so I had to use premium ones (Osram, Philips).
    I see some points here:
    -Printing times do not follow a precise rule (for example, a #4 or #5 filter requires twice as long as #3 or below filter). Who cares? Reality is that the images are not mathematical formulas, in a given image you may want it to be deeper if it has more contrast or softer if it is flatter ... and I find that good prints are usually split printed, with several dodges and burns. So, in the end, the printing times are individual and non-transferable if contrast changes are made.
    -You may not get a true # 5 or higher contrast, or maybe a #4 is actually a #3 + 2/3 ... not a problem at all. Same as above. And if your negatives are reasonably good, they will be in the # 2- # 3 range, maybe # 2 to # 4, split printing method aside.
    -If you are learning the MG process, or just want to have "fast easy prints", you may want the contrast separation rules to be perfect for better initial control. For example, for an "easy" image, where you find that contrast #3 is not enough, you may want #4 without doing a new test print, by just doubling the printing time as the rule says. With a little experience you will soon notice that it does not apply to 100%, LED, tungsten or whatever bulb or head you are using (for sure it applies with the bulbs used by the manufacturer to build those graphics, but not with mine).
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
  14. I've ordered both a pack of VC paper and a small pack of grade 3 (both Foma RC), with the intention of using the graded paper as a 'reference' to see if I'm getting a true grade 3 from my filters and LED bulbs.

    We'll see what happens when it arrives. Please don't expect highly scientific tests though, it'll just be a minimum to see what works.

    For me, the attraction of LED bulbs is that they are easily available and less than half the price of traditional enlarger bulbs. Combine that with less heat output for glassless negative carriers and the appeal is clear.

    I'm trying to reduce the number of variables to a minimum, so once I've found something that works, I'll stick with it rather than constantly changing the process.

    Anything has to be better than the 20? year old paper I was using for my initial tests though. Ilford MG 4 and AGFA grade 3, boxes were still priced in francs. I was struggling to get any contrast at all, but it was good enough to prove that I still remember how to print!

    When did AGFA last manufacture paper in France?
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
  15. Less heat AND the ability to have different brightness, quality options... think that depending on the film`s image and the enlargement required you may need more or less power to get the right printing time (shorter or longer at your choice, regardless of the lens aperture)...
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
  16. That's a really good idea. I had to do the same some years ago when I had old paper, a Zone VI VC head that was misbehaving and home mixed paper developer. Too many variables to sort out. (The problem turned out to be mostly the head in this case)
  17. I haven't looked lately, but the tradition for LEDs was a blue LED and yellow phosphor. So a sharp blue spike, and somewhat continuous over the red and green range.

    Exactly what that means in this case, I am not so sure.
  18. Years ago, I was interested in color printing.

    At the time, there were books describing acetate CP filters that go above the lens, and gelatine CC filters below the lens, the latter much more expensive.

    I believe the same is true for VC filters.

    I inherited a set of below the lens Varigam filters from my grandfather about 50 years ago.

    More recently, I got a set of 3x3 inch acetate filters, which I use with an Omega B-22.

    As I understand it, the same filters are close enough when used for Ilford, Kodak, or other VC paper.

    Much more recently, I got a set of real Polycontrast below the lens filters from a thrift shop, for a low enough price that I had to buy them.

    As I understand it, it isn't how clean you keep them, but that acetate filters aren't designed to be optical quality.

    You could, of course, use a cheap plastic lens with your enlarger, but most of us want a quality glass lens.
    With EL-Nikkor easily available on the used market, it isn't hard to find a good one.
  19. White led's spectrum is bimodal. A peak in blue, a sharp drop off and then rising again going to longer wavelengths.
  20. It seems that they should work with VC papers, but maybe the filter numbers will be different.

    The color they look to us isn't so good at telling the blue vs. green needed for VC papers.

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