Contact printing 4x5 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm getting back into 4x5 after years of medium format. Wishing to produce contact prints, I set out to obtain a 4x5 printing frame and contact paper of various contrast grades; however I was told that these are no longer available and that I would have to build my own frame and learn to work with variable contrast enlarging paper. I find this hard to believe and would appreciate any input on the matter.

-- Maurice B. Kasen (, August 30, 1998


Graded papers are certainly available, either fibre or RC. Paterson (a UK company) make contact frames, 10x8 or A4. I haven't seen any smaller ones, apart from old wooden ones.

-- Alan Gibson (, August 31, 1998.

There is a 4 x 5 contact frame for sale in under Photo / darkroom.

-- Michael Kadillak (, August 31, 1998.

You can still get Kodak Azo for contact printing, and excellent paper perfect for the task. But you might try some of the newer papers and see how they do as this could open up some creative options for you as well.

-- Dan Smith (, August 31, 1998.

Maurice, A bit of lengthy advice to save you some time and money:

You do not really need a contact printing frame to do contact prints, particularly with the type of silver-based papers you are considering. The type of traditional, hinged-back, contact printing frames you mention are only necessary when using many types of alternative printing processes--like platinum, palladium, or other POP (Print Out Paper) materials.

These traditional, hinged-back, printing frames allow you to open up and close a section of the back of the frame--part way through the usually lengthy exposure times necessary with alternative materials--to visually inspect the degree of paper exposure/development, without disturbing the negative-to-paper registration while doing so.

Historically, these traditional contact frames were carried and placed outside, to expose in direct sunlight--the best UV light source available at the time. I don't think you'll be doing this with silver-based papers!

This was/is very helpful because alternative printing materials actually reveal the progressively gradual degree of paper development throughout and during the exposure process. That is to say, the positive image on alternative printing materials emerges slowly, right before your eyes, during the lengthy exposure process itself, making it easy to judge the proper exposure of the material. Thus the need for the traditional, hinged-back contact printing frames.

With normal silver-based papers, the latent positive image is not revealed till the material is placed into the paper developer. Hence, there is no need to inspect the degree of paper development during the exposure process--because it is not visible during exposure, only after being placed into the developer. Additionally, silver-based materials (projection speed papers), unlike alternative materials, require extremely short exposure times, and they do not require UV light sources.

The only thing you really need to contact print 4x5/8x10 negatives onto silver-based papers is a 1/4" thick piece of glass, about 10"x12" or so. This is much faster, and a lot less expensive, than using a traditional contact printing frame in your darkroom.

I contact proof my 4x5/8x10 negatives by simply laying out a sheet of 8x10 paper (any of the excellent graded, FB silver papers available; like Ilford Galerie or Kodak Elite Fine Art), emulsion side up, on my enlarger board. I then place the negative(s), emulsion side down, in contact with the paper, and place the 1/4" sheet of glass on top. The hefty weight of the glass provides excellent and uniform contact between the paper and negative emulsions.

If you're a traditionalist--and like using expensive and time-consuming, hinged-back, contact print frames--by all means do so. Also, if you plan on doing some alternative materials printing, you will need a contact printing frame.

Hope this helps, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (, September 02, 1998.

You have gotten some good advice here and all that I would add is that Azo is a wonderful paper and worth getting. Last year I started contact printing my 4x5s and I wasn't happy with the results using the new mulitgrade papers. I remembered reading an article in View Camera (July/August 1996) by Michael Smith about using Azo and Amidol. Tried it and loved it.

-- Michael Wellman (, September 22, 1998.

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