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What is Enlarging Paper?

Enlarging paper is a special type of photographic paper designed to produce prints from film negatives using an enlarger. Its light-sensitive surface reacts to exposure, capturing the image in high detail and contrast. Whether you're a photography enthusiast or a professional, understanding the nuances of enlarging paper can elevate your printmaking craft. How will it transform your next project?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Enlarging paper is paper which has been covered in a light sensitive emulsion for the purpose of developing photographs. Using enlarging paper is an important step in film photography, as it turns film into prints. Some people call enlarging paper photo paper or developing paper, referring to various other steps in the developing process. Many photography supply companies sell a range of enlarging papers.

The base of enlarging paper is, of course, paper, which is covered in an emulsion of a photo-reactive metal such as silver or palladium suspended in gelatin. Specialty papers may have additional layers as well, intended to perform various roles in the developing and archival process. When exposed to light, the photo-sensitive emulsion reacts, and the image can be brought out with the use of developing chemicals.

Black and white photography utilizes a particular type of enlarging paper.
Black and white photography utilizes a particular type of enlarging paper.

The emulsion on enlarging paper is designed to be sensitive to a particular wavelength of light, often blue/green, allowing photographers to use “safelighting” in a color such as red or orange. This low light level allows photographers to see what they are doing as they work in the darkroom. Specialty enlarging paper may be treated for different wavelengths.

Using enlarging paper is an important step in film photography, as it turns film into prints.
Using enlarging paper is an important step in film photography, as it turns film into prints.

Different types of enlarging paper are used for different styles of photography. Black and white photography requires one type, for example, while developing color photographs involves a different sort of enlarging paper. Most enlarging paper is designed to work with a negative to positive process, meaning that the film is a reversed negative of the final image and the enlarging paper will yield a positive when it is exposed.

Some enlarging paper is made with a resin layer, which can be used to make a photograph matte or glossy. Resin is also easier to work with than fiber paper, another type of enlarging paper, since it takes less time to process. Fiber paper absorbs photographic chemicals, meaning that it needs to be carefully handled and thoroughly washed before it is dried. This enlarging paper is more stable in the long term, and is often used for professional prints.

There are a number of ways to expose enlarging paper. Most people use the paper in the context of a darkroom, which is a controlled light environment. Photographers can use a darkroom tool called an enlarger to project an image into enlarging paper, or they can make a contact print, by pressing a negative or object directly against the enlarging paper and then exposing it. After exposure, the enlarging paper is developed, stopped, fixed, and washed to produce an enduring photographic print.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is enlarging paper and how is it used in photography?

Enlarging paper is a type of photographic paper designed to be used in the darkroom process for creating larger prints from film negatives. It is coated with light-sensitive chemicals that react when exposed to light through an enlarger, which projects the negative image onto the paper. The paper is then developed, stopped, and fixed using chemical baths to produce a visible image. Enlarging paper comes in various grades and finishes, such as glossy or matte, allowing photographers to achieve different aesthetic results.

What are the different types of enlarging paper available?

There are primarily two types of enlarging paper: resin-coated (RC) and fiber-based (FB). RC paper has a waterproof plastic base, making it more durable and quicker to process. FB paper, on the other hand, has a 100% cotton fiber base, offering superior archival quality and a richer range of tones. Both types come in varying contrasts, from low (soft) to high (hard), and with different surface textures, such as glossy, semi-gloss, and matte, catering to the artistic preferences of photographers.

Can enlarging paper be used with both black and white and color photography?

Yes, enlarging paper is available for both black and white and color photography. Black and white enlarging paper is coated with silver halide emulsions sensitive to light and is processed using monochrome chemistry. Color enlarging paper is coated with three emulsion layers corresponding to the primary colors and requires color chemistry for processing. Each type of paper is specifically formulated to produce the best results for its respective photographic medium.

How does the grade of enlarging paper affect the final print?

The grade of enlarging paper refers to its contrast level, which significantly affects the final print's appearance. Lower-grade papers produce softer contrasts, ideal for images with subtle tonal ranges, while higher-grade papers yield stronger contrasts, enhancing the definition between light and dark areas. Multigrade or variable-contrast papers offer a versatile solution, as they can produce a wide range of contrasts depending on the filters used during the exposure process in the darkroom.

What should I consider when choosing enlarging paper for my darkroom prints?

When selecting enlarging paper, consider the desired contrast, finish, and longevity of your prints. Contrast can be managed with fixed-grade or multigrade papers, while the finish (glossy, semi-gloss, or matte) affects the visual texture and reflection. For archival purposes, fiber-based papers are preferred due to their durability. Additionally, think about the paper's compatibility with your negatives (black and white or color) and the processing chemicals required. Personal preference and the intended display context should also guide your choice.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Black and white photography utilizes a particular type of enlarging paper.
      By: eldadcarin
      Black and white photography utilizes a particular type of enlarging paper.
    • Using enlarging paper is an important step in film photography, as it turns film into prints.
      By: olly
      Using enlarging paper is an important step in film photography, as it turns film into prints.