Try using a projection print scale
With a piece of 4x5 (maybe smaller) paper you will get very close to the final exposure, then from there you can fine tune.
re enlarging meter, here is an article to read
You could use a normal light meter, but you have to know how to use it for enlarging use. w/o an enlarging attachment it would be difficult.
I use a Unicolor enlarging meter like this one:
This one from Ilford will do.
With all enlarging meters, you still have to calibrate it by printing a "good" print first, then calibrate the meter to that print.
And you have to learn how to use it to its best potential.
The only way I think to save money is through using paper from a smaller size for a test strip. Say you are planning to do an 11x14 or a 16x20 print, you can use a strip from a sheet of 8x10 of the same paper type and grade in an area you are focusing on to save you the cost of cutting up one of the larger sheets.
Gossen once made a meter-attachment "Lab" that fits all meters that accept a attachment, which is half a dozen.
In all honesty, I would keep notes. If you are enlarging the same kind of film to the same kind of enlargement, and you are working with an average (that is, not difficult) negative for whatever contrast you prefer, then you should be printing at around the same time for any particular paper. Of course, once you change the variables, then you have to start using some more paper again, which is why standardizing is good. I would sacrifice some paper to do some tests for every different kind of paper you use...but once you know how it works, you shouldn't need to test again. RC and fiber will be different, and different brands will be different. The Art 300 is considered slower than the other Ilford papers, so it really can't be used as a baseline against other papers. And of course you need to deal with drydown as well. Les McLean has a good article about that here.
OP might want to gain some experience with different paper and hone in some skills before using something like ART300.... This is not meant as an insult. But based on some of other questions OP asked, he may not be able to fully utilize a special paper like this.
As mentioned above I use a Projection Scale Exposure Aid 4x5". I usually do 11"14" so I sacrifice one in the beginning of a package and it usually works all the way through as when I am getting to the end of my test pieces I only use a small square (3"x3")right in the middle of the test scale as I really don't have to see the times printed on the test strip to know the proper time
RC test prints are a good idea if you are going to be doing any dodging or burning - it can often take a few tries to get it right. And making a 5x7 full frame test print at the start can tell you a lot about the image and how you want to crop it. After getting the print 'mostly right' on RC [with a large pile of 'mostly wrong' prints at the bottom of the trash barrel] you can move to the final FB paper.
Usually small test strips, and final test prints, are best made on the paper you will be using for the final print. You can expect differences in both exposure and contrast when moving from the RC to the FB version of the "same" paper.
Enlarging meters have a terrible reputation. You can find them in most darkrooms sitting in the junk box under the bench. Not surprising as most of them are next to useless when making a fine print.
You have to control exposure to 1/10th of a stop or better - about 1 second in 15 seconds. You can be a bit sloppier at grade 2, but at grades 3 1/2 and up your exposure has to be very accurate.
You need to measure better than you control: if you want to cut a bit of wood to the nearest inch your tape measure has to measure to 1/2 inch or better.
So you need a meter that can meter to 1/20th of a stop or better. The Darkroom Automation meter measures to 1/100th of a stop - a bit of overkill but 1/100th is the next digit over from 1/10th and the resolution can be useful for checking local contrast, evenness of enlarger illumination and when using the meter as a densitometer for Zone System work. I believe the metering portion of the RH units works in 1/24ths of a stop, but someone from RH would have to comment.
The Ilford EM-10 is a comparator. It can tell you if two levels of illumination are identical. Some have tried to calibrate the Ilford unit - but you need a very accurate enlarging meter to do the calibration. You can't accurately calibrate a meter to a projected step tablet as the effective densities of the tablet are changed by Callier effect, flare, stray light, variations in illumination and vignetting.
Originally Posted by pentaxuser
Well that is what I call unequivocal and tells the OP what he needs to know in one word :) Thanks
Originally Posted by Jim Noel
Certainly sounds as if you just need to be prepared to spend a bit of money if you go in for Ilford Art paper. There is no easy way to save on paper
I recommend using strips of the paper you are going to print the final print with.
And never print a full sheet without running a test strip first, no matter how much you think a neg looks like the previous one.
Being decisive and consistent like that, will save you a whole sheet of paper now and again, and that's pretty good economy.