RC prints look dull
I haven't had a darkroom for 24 years and just started printing again this year. Long story so suffice it to say raising 3 kids and working left little time.
Anyhow, I bought a 100 sheet box of Arista Edu RC VC to get the hang of printing again. After a number of sessions the results are less than what I expected. The prints look dull or even might be described as muddy.
Fresh chemicals mixed according to directions were used. Test strips were made. Dev/fix according to directions.
I did a safelight test before starting. There is no fog even at 15 minutes.
Compared to the Polycontrast FB prints made years ago the RC paper has no 'snap' or crispness.
I've never tried RC paper before so I must be missing something either in exposing or processing.
Any suggestions or tips are welcomed.
What surface are you using - glossy, pearl or semi-matte?
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
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Well, it sounds like your paper is bad.
RC paper, altough plastic and very unpleasant to touch (the glossy kind), can be a pleasure to look at. Behind a glass you are not supposed to see a difference VS. FB.
It's possible that your negatives are under-exposed or under-developed or that you are printing at too soft a grade. I'm not familiar with the Arista product (I use Ilford MG RC) but check your filtration settings and what grade that gives you. It sounds like you may need to print on a harder grade to bump up the local contrast, possibly combined with dodging/burning to keep global contrast within the paper's range.
Are you using contrast filter or a color head for contrast control?
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To get a bit of a confidence level about the negs, make a contact print such that the film-base is almost (but not quite) completely black at Grade 2. You'll easily be able to see if the negs are too thick/thin/flat etc etc. compared to a sort of average result that would print ok at Grade 2. Remember of course not to pull any prints too soon from the developer, they'll probably be needing at least a minute or 90s depending on the dev.
Muddy = low contrast, is that correct?
Are you using the Ilford Filter set with the paper or are you using a dichroic head? If using the dichroic head, is the yellow swinging all the way out of the way and does the magenta move?
There are two common causes for the muddy look - underdevelopment and bad paper. I have bought packs of supposedly new paper that have been bad. Chemical fog is the usual suspect, and it can give that look to the prints. So can old paper.
Even when the print is good, RC looks a bit more dull than its corresponding FB surface. I like the look, but it may be slightly different than you might expect.
What paper developer are you using, at what dilution, for how long and at what temperature?
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A couple of things come to mind. Others have mentioned your negatives and of course the problem may be there. Here's a test I have conducted whenever I work with a new paper, new chemistry or in a new darkroom. I also advise my student to do this. I take two small pieces of paper, fresh from the package. I develop and fix one without exposure. The second piece I expose to bright room light for a couple of seconds and then develop and fix that. Assuming your paper fresh and your chemistry fresh and properly mixed, the first piece should be pure white the second should be pure black. If this is the case, then compare one of your prints to those two test pieces. If you don't see similar blacks and whites in your prints, it's probably your negatives.
Also, my experience has been that Ilford Multigrade contrast filters fade over time. I have seen this numerous times. I've never used Arista paper, but Ilford RC paper has a good reputation. My technique has always been to develop it 2 minutes with typical B&W developers.
One more thing, the best way to do a safe light test is to expose a piece of paper first. Put the paper under the enlarger and expose it for one second. Then put a coin on top of the piece of paper and leave it for 10 - 15 minutes, then develop it. The paper may not remain pure white, but any sign of the coin means the safe light is causing fog. Exposing the paper increases it's sensitivity and gives a more typical working condition.
Good luck. If possible you may want to post an image.