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07-04-2021, 07:07 AM   #1
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Tone of traditional darkroom b&w prints?

I've never had any traditional darkroom silver print in my hands, I have old "analog" color prints, but no black & white. Aiming at digital printing that looks as much as possible like traditional darkroom prints by minor toning of digital files. From memory and seeing pure b&w digital prints, I feel that traditional darkroom prints actually aren't pure b&w without any tone shift from pure b&w, but have some yellow to brown tone mixed-in. Can anyone having experience with traditional b&w darkroom prints confirm that is the case or otherwise?

07-04-2021, 07:27 AM - 2 Likes   #2
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I would say that they vary a lot. Paper and chemistry matters. You can get prints that are high contrast with silver/black contrasts and you can get quite brown images.
07-04-2021, 07:27 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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Hey Biz, it depends on paper and processing. Some papers have a warmer, richer colour. Selenium toner can really expand the tonal scale, giving more luminous whites and deeper, richer blacks; or it can turn things a bit purple - I've not mastered it.
Check out Ilford's Warmtone paper has a different look to it. Sepia toning is another process step from the old days, which was intended to protect the print, however it gives that really rich coffee stained colour.
07-04-2021, 07:29 AM - 1 Like   #4
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Also age matters, some print processors start dark and black but fade to brown.

07-04-2021, 08:15 AM - 1 Like   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by biz-engineer Quote
I've never had any traditional darkroom silver print in my hands, I have old "analog" color prints, but no black & white. Aiming at digital printing that looks as much as possible like traditional darkroom prints by minor toning of digital files. From memory and seeing pure b&w digital prints, I feel that traditional darkroom prints actually aren't pure b&w without any tone shift from pure b&w, but have some yellow to brown tone mixed-in. Can anyone having experience with traditional b&w darkroom prints confirm that is the case or otherwise?
As said above, there's a lot of variability here. Lots of RC prints done by not-great printers from not-great negs are kind of harsh. Seeing an expertly done print on graded fiber based, silver rich paper from an excellent neg will be pretty enlightening...for some people. Some people couldn't tell a Mondrian from a Vermeer if you hit them upside the head with a tire iron. And then even more couldn't tell the difference between a Caravaggio from a Ribera, or a de Kooning from a Joan Mitchell---and these latter cases are more like what we are talking about when using fine aesthetic discernment to judge the qualities of B+W silver prints. The qualities leap off the print, but only for the cognoscenti.
07-04-2021, 08:26 AM - 1 Like   #6
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It is all about the paper. Find a film shooter (or former film shooter) in your area that did darkroom work and they'll have piles of prints to show you.
07-04-2021, 08:35 AM - 1 Like   #7
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Ilford makes a very good warmtone RC paper.

FWIW today's RC papers are much improved.
RC is much easier to work with than fiber,
and highly recommended for beginners.

Chris

07-04-2021, 08:45 AM - 1 Like   #8
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Can't really say. In my darkroom days, almost all of my printing was done on Ilford Multigrade. My prints never showed any discernible yellow or brown tones.
07-04-2021, 08:52 AM - 1 Like   #9
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I think paper is a major parameter to this. Most bw darkroom prints Iíve seen , have a brown-yellowish tint. But there are a few that are really absolute grayscale, very high quality. It must also be the freshness of the chemicals. I find tints interesting anyway.
07-04-2021, 09:01 AM - 1 Like   #10
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In theory, the colloidal particles of developed metallic silver should be fairly neutral in color as should the paper.

In practice, the sulfate left over from the fixer and any acids it the paper (or storage conditions) will cause yellowing over time.

In turn, the unintentional yellowing of old photographs has given rise to techniques to create intentionally yellowed or browned prints in order to add an air of nostalgia by faking the age.
07-04-2021, 09:11 AM - 1 Like   #11
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I only ever printed on non-RC papers. I used the basic Kodak fiber, and sometimes Oriental Seagull (which was denser I think, prints were a bit crisper). Lots of people around me use Ilford. There were slight differences maybe in terms of density, matte or semi-gloss surface, etc, but they all look...you know, black & white with tones of grays. If you wanted sepia or other you'd use a special process or special paper. Only with the color papers did I think in terms of this one is noticeably warmer or cooler than some other one.
07-04-2021, 09:32 AM - 1 Like   #12
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Processing errors can cause fading, staining or tinting with age as well.
07-04-2021, 10:49 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by vonBaloney Quote
There were slight differences maybe in terms of density, matte or semi-gloss surface, etc, but they all look...you know, black & white with tones of grays.
Maybe the modern paper used for digital printing is more white than the white of traditional darkroom paper.

QuoteOriginally posted by Wasp Quote
In my darkroom days, almost all of my printing was done on Ilford Multigrade. My prints never showed any discernible yellow or brown tones.
I'll look if I can find some data about the whiteness of Ilford darkroom paper.
07-04-2021, 11:01 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by biz-engineer Quote
I've never had any traditional darkroom silver print in my hands
You might want to spread your wings a bit and maybe take a refresher course or workshop in darkroom printing.

Several factors influence the color of a traditional (silver-based) B&W print:
  • The paper stock (color, texture, weight, and materials)
  • The paper's emulsion characteristics (warm vs. cool)
  • Whether toning for archival purposes and/or effect is employed as a final step in processing.
Note that the qualification of silver-based prints. Alternative process adds an entirely different aspect. When I was doing wet prints, I used cool tone non-RC papers on bright white stock. Selenium toning was applied as the final step in archival processing and also because I like the subtle change to the appearance.


Steve
07-04-2021, 11:05 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by biz-engineer Quote
Maybe the modern paper used for digital printing is more white than the white of traditional darkroom paper.
I use a number of papers for inkjet printing, some of which are coated stock with characteristics similar to traditional photo papers. In comparison with the silver prints I have on hand, the whiteness is quite comparable. Both use a UV brightening agent and/or may also employ a baryta coating to increase reflectance.


Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 07-04-2021 at 11:12 AM. Reason: clarity and completeness
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