Pick the Perfect Paper Posted On 12th April 2017 To Learning Zone & Beginner Series
ILFORD PHOTO offer an extensive range of black & white photographic paper. A photographer's choice of paper is a subjective decision based on personal tastes and preferences. It can also be impacted by the type of images you shoot and the final look you want to achieve.
Papers all have different characteristics and purposes and so this guide will walk you through the terminology and choices available to help you pick the perfect paper for your darkroom printing.
Base: Resin coated versus Fibre base versus Cotton Rag
The first decision to make is which paper base you want to use. The majority of our papers cover two different base types, 'Resin coated' (RC) or 'Fibre base' (FB), explained below. We also have a beautiful Cotton Rag paper which is similar to fine art inkjet papers.
RC paper is sealed between layers of polythene with the emulsion and a 'super-coating' on top. This makes them a typically more robust paper and therefore quicker and easier to handle during the printing process. Because of this they are ideal for beginners although they are also extremely popular with experienced / professional printers too.
FB paper has a layer of baryta (barium sulphate) applied to the paper base which is then coated with emulsion. These papers have a hand-crafted look and feel and a heavier weight which can result in prints of superb quality with deep blacks that make prints look richer and add depth.
The image on the print can also be enhanced from showing texture as a result of emulsion being coated onto the grain of this type of base. They are also particularly suitable for toning applications, and when correctly processed, FB papers are stable and perfect for archiving (especially if they have been selenium toned).
The handling and processing of FB paper is typically more demanding than RC papers and the process itself is longer (primarily due to needing a long wash time). They are therefore recommended for more confident and experienced printers and have become the choice of professional photographers / printers for exhibition work.
Note - all of our papers use chlorobromide based emulsions.
Grade: Variable Contrast papers versus Fixed Grade papers
The next choice will be whether to use a variable contrast or a fixed grade paper.
Variable contrast papers are designed to be used in conjunction with MULTIGRADE filters or an enlarger with a colour head. This allows the full range of contrast (00 soft through to 5 hard) to be attained from negatives. If variable contrast paper is used without any filters it equates to approximately grades 2-3.
Fixed grade papers are designed for use without filters and therefore avoid the added cost of buying filter kits. Graded papers were traditionally very popular but have largely been replaced by variable contrast papers. As such the ILFORD range only includes grades 2 and 3.
Graded papers can be an excellent option if your negatives are correctly exposed and if end prints can be acceptable as a mid contrast. However, if your processed film negatives have extremes of highlights and shadows or high contrast areas then graded paper can be more restrictive. Variable contrast papers are better at compensating with different negatives because of their ability to cover a broad contrast range.
The surface of the paper will help determine the final look and feel of the print. There are a number of choices and this is where personal preference and the image you are printing will determine which one you go for.
Glossy - a smooth surface that can boost contrast and make blacks pop and whites shine bright.
Pearl - a subtle pearlescent finish that helps images look sharp and clear with added depth.
Satin - a smooth finish without the shine of gloss or pearl but all the contrast.
Matt - a smooth, clean and natural looking surface without the shine of gloss. Perfect for lighting conditions were reflections may impact the viewing of a gloss paper.
Semi-matt - a smooth and natural looking finish with similar qualities and attributes to most matt surfaces.
ILFORD RC papers are typically offered in glossy and pearl surface options with MULTIGRADE DELUXE RC also available in a satin.
ILFORD FB papers are available as glossy, semi-matt or matt surfaces.
The MULTIGRADE ART 300 (Cotton Rag) paper has a textured matt surface with an egg shell sheen finish.
Many ILFORD papers have a choice of tone covering cool, neutral and warmtone. Images can also be toned using chemistry as part of the printing process with FB papers particularly suited to this.
To help you make your choice, we put together this handy Paper Range Overview