I'd like to make my own Ilfochrome prints from 4x5 transparencies. Is this easy, or should I leave it to the lab? I can make B&W prints from negatives, but I don't have a ton of experience in the darkroom.
Are there preferred chemicals, techniques, books, or other things that I should know?
No, it really isn't easy.
Chemicals: You must use Ilford chemicals. They make two sets, the P30 chems for home use (the three chemicals self-neutralize so you can dump them down the drain) and the P3 set for pro use (you must neutralize the chems before disposal). Both chems are the most expensive chem kits out there (about $40 for a 2L kit, enough to process about two dozen 8x10's).
Technique: Since the Ilfochrome paper has all the dyes pre-made in the emulsion (and processing bleaches out the areas that must be light) it is of necessity high-contrast paper. If you are trying to print modern reversal film (Velvia, Provia F, E100) the result is a very high-contrast print. The normal way of handling this is to make a contrast-reducing mask using some B&W film for each slide you print. It's a total pain to do, and requires mush experience to get the mask exposure right to match the contrast of the slide.
Equipment: Of course an enlarger is needed, and one with a color head (with three dichroic color filters) is the eaisest to work with, though I'm told a good CC filter set from Kodak is usable. The process also requires very strict time and temperature control, so most of us use a Jobo processing bath and drums. The bath holds the chemicals at a fixed temp (30 C) and the light-tight tube that holds the exposed paper will be rotated in the bath to keep the developing and fixing steps also at 30 C. You can do the process with out a processor, but you must still manage to control the temperature. If you don't mind a warm room, you can heat the entire room to 24 C and increase processing trimes. The pamphlet that comes with the chemistry shows the times for both 24 and 30 C.
Colors: The current Ilfochrome chem/paper has a problem that I don't think the older chems/paper had: serious color crossover. I find that often it's very difficult to print a scene with white clouds in a blue sky. Because of color crossover, if you want a blue sky you'll get purple clouds. If you want white clouds you need a slate-colored sky. This isn't something you can fix by adjusting the color filters in the enlarger head, it's built into the process. If you are printing a scene with a set of colors that does not cross over, then printing is a lot easier.
But truth be told, when Ilfochrome works, it works magnificently. It just takes a lot more time and effort to get a good print than the other reversal paper process. It's also the most archival process (about 200 years according to Wilhelm Research). All the best Ilfochromes I've seen were done on a lightjet printer, where a color profile that included methods of negating crossover was used, and those prints are just grand!
The other process is the Kodak R3/R3000 reversal process. It's more like the chemistry of the RA4 process, only with a reversal step. It's also very archival (175 years) and much easier to print.
The trouble with R3 (pro) and R3000 (home) is that R3000 isn't sold in the US anymore. You can still get hold of R3 chems, but in large batches (12.5 or 25 gal kits). I use R3 now, and the only difference between them is that R3 needs a reversal exposure in the middle of processing (dismount the drum, lower a bright fluorescent light inside for a minute, then remount the drum and carry on), and that the R3 chem is replentishable, so you use much less chemistry per print than the R3000 chem. Very efficient, provided you can organize long-term storage of Color Developer component B, the only component that is air sensitive and not boxed properly already (the air-sensitive first dev comes in a cubitainer and keeps very well; I put my color dev B into baby food jars and sealed them with wax for storage, each jar goes into one gallon of working solution).
R3 is very easy to print, very realistic, and I find that in an evening in the darkroom I can turn out half a dozen good R3 prints, where I could only make maybe one or two good Ilfochromes. (When I say make a prinit, I mean to figure out all the filter settings and time needed to print a particular slide well). I use the Fuji Type-35 paper, which I find to be a very nice match for the characteristics of Fuji reversal films. I presume the Kodak Radiance III paper will provide a similar match to Kodak pro reversal films, but I haven't tested them yet.
For more information about color chems and processes, please refer to my personal page on them: http://chem.dynu.com/photo/chemistries.asp and http://chem.dynu.com/photo/colordkrm.asp
Wow. That is very comprehensive. Thank you very much!
Bear in mind that the lab you use, unless they specialize in Ilfochrome or you pay for custom printing, isn't likely to be using contrast masking either. It's wonderful when it's done right, but it's not easy.
I was just getting interested in trying R-printing as R-3000 and its various analogues (Tetenal and others make similar kits, which are available in Europe) became unavailable in the U.S. I occasionally send transparencies to dr5 (www.dr5.com), which is mostly known for B&W reversal processing, but also makes excellent R-prints using the R-3 process on Fuji Type 35.
I like R-prints for smaller enlargements and contact prints from large format negatives. For bigger enlargements, I'll spring for a drum scan and LightJet print from West Coast Imaging.
Thanks for the info. I checked out the dr5 site. Their services, in my opinion, are very expensive. For those prices, I would expect top-notch customer-service, and processing/enlargements that were near flawless. If that's what they provide, then I certainly would consider sending things to them. Is that what they provide?
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Absolutely. Proprietor David Wood is a fine printer and processor and all around decent fellow who is really dedicated to what he does. He's probably one of a handful of people in the country who offers custom B&W negative development by inspection as a regular service. If he thinks there is more than one way to make a print, he'll sometimes print variations for you at no additional charge. If you are in New York, drop by the lab to see his B&W transparencies on the lightbox, which are wonderful, and he's happy to chat about film and processing when he's not too busy. If I had any need for B&W transparencies, I would definitely use dr5.
Same goes for West Coast Imaging, if you choose the digital route. If you say "match the slide, but give me 5 CC more magenta," that's what you get. Friendly personal service, and reasonable prices for excellent custom work.
I'm always happy to learn about labs that people trust because most of the ones where I live are, in my opinion, a big joke. I won't share the stories. Do you know of any others like those two?
A&I in L.A. is a fine lab. I use their E-6/K-14 mailers frequently. They also do nice C-41 machine prints--pro quality at half the cost of New York pro labs, but if you use the mailers you obviously have to wait for them. www.aandi.com.
My favorite local New York lab for all around work that I send out is Modernage. I don't know that they have a decent webpage yet, but you can get their phone number from www.modernage.com and request a price schedule which lists all their services. They're very comprehensive, friendly, and do very consistent work.
When I was a grad student, I used to earn some extra cash by shooting actors' headshots, and the best lab for headshot repros in New York is Kenneth Taranto.
That's helpful. Thanks, David.
I'm familiar with A&I and Modernage, but I hadn't heard of Kenneth Taranto.
A couple of years ago I sent two rolls of 35mm E6 to A&I, using the mailers that B&H sold. The slide boxes that came back became sticky after I removed the packaging, and the slides themselves were very dusty. I was surprised that I would encounter those types of things with such a well-respected lab. I haven't used A&I since. I wish that you would send me some of the good luck that you appear to have with labs.
I haven't had the dust problem with A&I, though I've had it with other labs. I have had film go missing that I've sent there, but that's most likely the Post Office. Now I send film to them in batches, combining mailers in a box or small padded envelope, and haven't had a problem since.
I don't have such luck with every lab. I just don't recommend or talk much about the ones that don't work out.