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Contacting printing without an enlarger

I know a number of people have successfully done contact printing in a darkroom without an enlarger. For example, that was the norm in the early days of photography. Some folks recommend using some kind of diffusion with the light source to reduce it's intensity. This does make sense because using a bare bulb may only allow extremely brief exposure times of perhaps a second or two. However, if you used multigrade filters in conjunction with a bare bulb (like a Grade 2 filter for example), would this allow decently long exposure times like 3 or 4 seconds?

Regarding paper types, a number of people recommend using graded papers so that any light source can be used with them for contacting printing minus an enlarger. Supposedly, multigrade papers can only be used with very specific light sources. However, someone on another forum reported that he got good results contact printing with Ilford multigrade paper and Phillips 5 watt and 7.5 watt bulbs held about 4 feet above the paper.

Edit: would a moderator be able to change the title of this thread to "Contact printing without an enlarger"? The current typo may possibly cause some confusion.
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Active member
When I was Pt/Pd printing, I used a UV light source which consisted of 8, I think, bare fluorescent bulbs. I've known people to use a mercury vapor bare bulb as well as the great big point light source in the sky. I don't think that diffusing the light source matters unless it isn't covering your contact frame. A diffused light source gives the advantage of time, thus allowing you to do some dodging/burning of your negative.




Active member
In the past silver chloride papers were available from all makers, now only Adox has one in production, is has the old Agfa name for this paper, "Lupex"

Silver chloride is much slower than the standard silver bromide papers, it needs 7x more time to exposure and this gives much more safety during the exposure process.
The other point is that the silver chlorid paper has a finer grain.
It is made only in grade 3 but it is possible via pre exposure to reduce the grade to 2 or 1.

But is has a disadvantage, it is very expensive, a 8x10" sheet costs nearly 2 Euros in Germany and I don´t know if it is available in the States.


Well-known member
A regular bulb or halogen lamp will work--that is what most enlargers use. You don't need a source high in UV unless you are doing something like platinum printing, but then you can use sunlight.

I would simply put your bulb on an enlarger timer to control exposure. You can then use fractions of a second. Manually using a light switch is not great.

If you are contact printing for final prints, then the distance from the light source will be important, not only for even illumination but also sharpness. When building a contact printer for lith film for a single bulb source, we found around 10-12 feet to be a minimum distance. A large diffused source is not ideal.
Sometimes, I used to use a sheet of glass over the negs, paper underneath, and turn on the 40watt bulb on the ceiling, exposures usually around 5 sec. It worked perfectly. If you want longer times to dodge & burn, and don't want to use an enlarger (why ever not though?) you can use a bulb with a tin can 'lampshade'. I used to have a 'contacts bench' in the darkroom with a screw top coffee tin above, hanging upside down with a low wattage bulb in it, and a small selection of spare tops, each punched with a slightly different size of small hole which effectively 'stops down' the light source. Exposures can be thus adjusted to anything you need. You could add a timer, we just used a foot switch and counted elephants! A multigrade filter can be slipped inside over the pinhole if needed. (We only used it during rush times when both enlargers were busy and you couldn't turn on the ceiling light, but mostly we used an enlarger to make contacts as its so easy.. )The tiny pinhole gives a good sharp result with the bulb around a metre above. I did pro quality contact sheets for years with this. Cheap too! One side advantage was that you could swing it in a circle on its flex when making 'pen & ink' images by cross-contacting Kodak Type 3 Ortho film.. a long lost art now that Type 3 is dead in the water. :(
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