Revised 5 November 2001
by Ed Buffaloe
There used to be a greater variety of papers than there are now. There was printing-out paper (POP), contact paper, enlarging paper, platinum paper, etc. Only a few contact papers are left,
such as Kodak Azo. Platinum and palladium papers disappeared over 50 years ago; POP stayed around longer in the form of proof papers, but they’re virtually gone now. Most of my experience has been with
I think it would be interesting if someone would write a history of great photographic enlarging papers, but I’m
going to have to leave it to someone older and wiser than myself. All I plan to do here is relate my own experiences.
My first flirtation with darkroom work was in 1971 when I got a job enlarging microfilm of seismographic records. We made our prints on long rolls of some Kodak paper--I have no idea what it was--and developed them in four
Sometime in the 80’s Agfa came out with their Insignia paper. It has a warm-toned emulsion like Portriga on a considerably whiter paper base. It is a very nice paper but has never gained the kind of following Portriga has. I’ve managed to get some feeble though useable split tone effects with Insignia, and I’ve had excellent results dual-toning it in selenium and gold, as I do with Portriga. I made some beautiful prints on Insignia, and in fact still have a couple of boxes of it. I thought it had been discontinued too (because I never see it at the local photo shops), but it is currently listed at B&H.
Off and on over the years I’ve given Kodak Kodabromide paper a try. It was available in four grades (2-5) glossy surface only in single or double-weight. It had a very cold bromide emulsion and a clean white paper base. It remained a cold blue-black even after selenium toning, though if it were given extended toning it would take on a slight purple hue. I believe this paper saw more commercial than fine-art use. I recently checked the Kodak site, which states that Kodabromide has been discontinued.
Kodak Elite is another paper that appeared in the 80’s. It has an extra thick paper base (thicker than Kodak’s double-weight) and a silver-rich emulsion with a very neutral tone, wonderful gradation, and a premium price. Elite responds well to selenium toning, but in my experience if it is fixed in a rapid fixer the selenium will cause a nasty yellow stain. It doesn’t do this when I use a sodium thiosulfate fix. Elite happened to come out about the time I switched to rapid fix, and I no longer felt like sitting there agitating the fix for ten minutes per print. Kodak Elite seems to me to be less contrasty, grade for grade, than most other papers, and is only available in grades 1 through 3. The grade 1 has a particularly wonderful long scale, and I recall reading once that John Sexton was into scaling his negatives to print on the Elite grade 1. I don’t know a single person who uses Elite anymore, and I suspect that Kodak is losing money on it, but I think it is an under-appreciated paper. When I looked at the Kodak site I could find no mention of Elite--I think they finally dropped it.
Zone VI Brilliant appeared sometime in the 80’s, I believe. It was a very cold emulsion that gave lovely tones in selenium without warming appreciably. Like a true bromide emulsion, it did not tone at all in gold solutions. I probably would have used Brilliant more, but it carried a high price tag and had to be special ordered. These days I’m used to that, but back then I bought most of my papers at the local camera stores. Brilliant was a premium paper, capable of very deep blacks and possessing a wonderful gradation. The paper changed owners and manufacturers and I am told it is not the same paper it once was, though it is still a very cold emulsion. I have not used the new Calumet Brilliant.
I feel somewhat out of date now that most of my old favorite enlarging papers are no longer made, but I’m slowly learning some of the qualities of the current batch of papers. I needed a bromide emulsion to replace Brovira for print solarization, so I tried Forte Bromoforte, Luminos Classic Glossy Cold Tone, Luminos Classic Pearl Warm Tone, and Ilfobrom Galerie. The latter is a little different from the old Galerie--it seems to me that it is somewhat faster. Galerie gains contrast with toning in selenium, but color changes are barely discernable unless you use a very strong concentration (again, this varies with developer). Adams and Picker both noted this 20 years ago. I think Galerie is one of the nicest papers on the market today- -smooth gradation and clean whites. It has the most neutral emulsion on the market, particularly if developed in Ansco 130.
By adjusting my technique, I was able to get the grade 4 of most of the above bromide papers to solarize reasonably well. In the case of Ilfobrom Galerie I have also solarized grade 3. Ilfobrom grade 4 is probably the best of the lot for consistent solarization, but the other papers have useful properties as well. The Luminos Classic Graded Cold Tone is a typical bromide emulsion that solarizes very well (grades 3 and 4). Luminos Classic Warm Tone is a very interesting paper that is available in one grade only (approximately 2-1/2)--it is unusual in that it is a warm-toned emulsion that solarizes like a bromide paper. Most warm-tone papers will not solarize. It also responds very nicely to gold toner, whereas most bromide emulsions do not change color when toned in gold. Luminos also makes Classic Warm in a glossy finish. (Note: Some of the Luminos papers don’t seem to keep well, so store them in the freezer.)
Some of the best (non-solarized) prints I have made recently have been on Ilford Multigrade FB, particularly the semi-matte version. It seems as though this paper’s curve matches that of my PMK negatives very nicely. Due to the yellow/green stain of PMK negatives, I sometimes have to print them with a grade 2 to 4 filtration to get adequate contrast. I prefer to develop in Adams’ Ansco 130 Variant. The high contrast filtration gives excellent tonal separation and clean high values while the low-contrast developer prevents details from being lost in the shadows. The fact that Ilford Multigrade does not change color much in selenium is a plus, making it easy to match print color for multiple prints at different contrast grades. I am able to warm it considerably by toning in selenium at a dilution of 1:4. I have observed that Multigrade FB is difficult to print with strong magenta filtration if a PMK negative is too dense--the exposure times can get very lengthy. Ilford’s Ilfobrom Galerie does not require such long exposures with dense PMK negatives, so I sometimes resort to it instead of Multigrade.
A photographer friend who is going all-digital recently gave me a 250 sheet box of the new Oriental VC paper. Wow! I like it. It is colder than Ilford Multigrade FB, and it tones much more readily in selenium. In fact, it tones so rapidly that I only give it 30 seconds in Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner (1:15). The blacks are very deep.
I have also tried a few warm-tone papers, looking for a suitable replacement for Portriga Rapid, which at one time had completely disappeared. Forte Polywarmtone is a very nice paper that tones well in both selenium and brown toner, as does their graded Fortezo. Forte Elegance Polygrade V FB is described as a glossy variable contrast fibre base paper with a neutral tone--but it tones to a beautiful warm brown color in selenium toner.
The more I use Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, the better I like it. I recently compared some prints I made on it with prints made on Portriga and found them remarkably similar. The Ilford MG Warmtone can be toned effectively in Kodak Selenium Toner (1:15) in 4 to 7 minutes. In a dilution of 1:4 it will tone in a minute or two. Multigrade warm split tones very clearly in selenium. It has the advantage of being variable contrast, and also possesses very clean whites.
Agfa’s Multicontrast Classic has a warm chloride emulsion which responds well to selenium and gold toning. I printed through a box or two of it, but I couldn’t get quite the same tones I get with Portriga.
I bought a box of Bergger Prestige grade 2 recently. Prestige is obviously a premium paper. It is thicker than anything made by Agfa or Ilford and is a joy to handle in the darkroom--almost as thick as the old Kodak Elite. It has a warm emulsion on a very clean, white paper base (due in part, I presume, to optical brighteners). I did some side-by-side comparisons with Agfa Portriga grade 2. The Bergger whites are shockingly white compared to Portriga. The Prestige is not as contrasty as Portriga, nor as fast. I can use Prestige grade 2 to print negatives that I usually reserve for a grade 1 paper, and I have a few very contrasty negatives I would like to try printing on the Prestige grade 1, if I can get some. Prestige responds very well to selenium toning. I give it 1 to 2 minutes in Kodak Selenium Toner (1:15). The color is very different from Portriga--it seems to reflect more magenta--but I’m starting to like it. Prestige is remarkably versatile--it can be reduced in a ferricyanide reducer, without yellowing too much, so you can bleach the high values, then emphasize the low values with selenium toner. It is truly exceptional when developed in fresh Ansco 130.