Making Good Cibas via a Contrast Mask
I have read that in order to make a realistic-looking Ilfochrome print, one must use a contrast mask for roughly 90% of the prints. After finding little information on this process in libraries and books in my photography collection, I turned to the internet. I find one site with some good information (however much was out-of-date) that talked about needing to keep the slide in registration with the mask, but then my computer crashed and I don't have another three hours of search time. Basically, what I want to know is this: What type of film makes the best contrast mask? Should I use sheet film in registration with the paper or film in registration with the positive (I use mostly 35mm)? How does one determine the proper exposure for a contrast mask? Finally, where would be a good place to get registration equipment to keep contrast masks lined up? If there's a good, up-to-date site that any of you know of, I'd gladly take a look at it instead of a long-winded answer, as I'm sure that all of these questions are answered somewhere out in cyberspace. Thanks for your help.
Strosser pin registration systems were what I used for making contrast masks. Ilford did publish a small manual on making contrast reducing masks with highlight seperators.
This proceedure was quite common in the 80's and I have read a few threads on this forum from other posters that do masking for black and white work.
Ilford introduced three levels of paper contrast for ciba . therefore the need for masks was limited. As well clients denied paying the fee to have a very good mask made.
The methods of making these masks are straightforward but do indeed require immaculate cleanliness for dust, as anything will show on a cibachrome and retouching the is very difficult if not impossible.
A good source of pin registration (used and cheap) would be any printing companies or film seperation houses in your local area or larger photolabs that did display work in the 80's and 90's as they would of done photocomp and would use the same systems ie strosser systems, nuark vacumn and light tables for registering multilayer films.
Can I ask why a contrast mask is needed? I produced some ciba's a while back with a straight print and they looked fine.
If you are satisfied with your results without a mask, then you don't need to make them, but it's a good skill to have in the kit.
I think that many of the contrast problems people have with Ciba/Ilfochrome come from using films that are oversaturated or excessively contrasty. I used to get nice Cibachromes without contrast masks usually on pearl surface Cibachrome from Agfachrome 100 and EPN transparencies--relatively neutral films that picked up just enough color with Cibachrome without turning into the "glossy placemats" that Sandy King referred to in another thread, and which could be identified as a characteristic "Cibachrome look."
But try to print Velvia or Ektachrome 100VS on Ilfochrome without a mask, and it's no surprise that the results might look a bit overcooked.
Oh - I used Velvia and quite liked my glossy placemats!
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Most transparencie's contrast substantially exceeds Ilfochrome's reproduction capability. This can be corrected by dodging/burning or using a contrast mask. In general, the contrast mask is a better route as it lowers the contrast of the entire image to fit with the paper's contrast. Dodging/burning only addresses selective areas of the image.
The lower contrast Ilfochrome material is helpful but still only addresses about 40% of the images in my experience.
For the life of me, I have no idea why people allude to contrast masking as some superhuman effort requiring Jedi tricks and use of the Force to accomplish. Anyone, I repeat ANYONE with compentent black and white darkroom skills and a modicum of cleanliness can make a contrast mask.
Go to an art supply store, buy some 3M graphic arts tape - comes in the blue plaid box.
While your're at the art store, get some frosted Mylar or frosted acetate - whatever they have. Cut some 4x5 pieces when you get home.
Get a contact print frame. I prefer the hinged type with the spring back as I can leave the small side attached to the print frame and open/close the larger side as the working side of the print frame. Also, helps prevent the film from shifting that will (at some point) happen even if you're super careful if you slide the entire back into the print frame.
Get an Ilford anti-stat cloth (if they're still available). Also, get an anti-stat brush. Get canned air.
Check the print frame back for lint, dust, etc. Blow off with canned air. Make sure it's as clean as possible. Clean the glass on the print frame inside and out with a good quality glass cleaner using lintless paper towels. I like Kim Wipes.
Blow off the glass on the inside of the frame & outside. Brush the glass lightly with the anti-stat brush to ensure you've neutralized the stat charge from the air as much as possible.
Put the back on the print frame engage the spring clip on the small side - and use the hinge to open/close the larger working side.
Get your transparency. Clean it using an anti-stat film cleaner. Blow off any remaining particles using canned air. Using the Ilford cloth or film brush, give the transparency a final neutralizing brush or wipe. Check the both sides of the film for dust by holding it under a strong light at an angle.
When you've verified it as being clean put it into the print frame emulsion side down in the lower right corner about 1-inch from the bottom of the frame and 1-inch from the right hand side of the frame. Using a piece of the 3M tape, tape it to the glass on one side so it won't move. Put the piece of frosted Mylar over the top of the film. Close the print frame back.
Turn out the lights. Get your 4x5 film (more about that later) out of the box, and verify that it is emulsion side up. Open the print frame back, place the film in the lower right hand corner of the print frame and close the back. Lock the spring clip so the back won't flop open. The film will now be back to back. That's right, you're exposing through the back side of the film.
Flip the print frame over, give the glass a blast of canned air to ensure no boogers are on the glass, and expose the film.
Now for film and processing.
I like to use Ilford FP-4 and Ilford ID-11 for masking. I use 4x5 film for 35mm through 6x7 formats, and 5x7 film for 6x12 and 4x5 formats. The larger size makes it easy to align in the print frame, handle in processing and cut out to leave tabs for registration.
I use an Omega D2 enlarger with a Beseler/Minolta colorhead. You will have to do some trial and error exposure tests for your equipment - that's just part of the process.
Run the enlarger head to near the top of the column and set it at F/8 for starters. Try exposing for 5 seconds. Process in ID-11 (or D-76) diluted 1:3 for 5 minutes.
After fixing, look at the film. You should be trying to create a negative that looks like you'd have to print it with grade 5-6 black and white paper. You want density in the highlights that tapers off at the midtones and has NO density in the shadows.
If the density is too great - try a smaller f/stop, adjust the exposure time, etc. until you get the combination that gives you the density needed with the developer dilution and 5 minute processing time.
Registration: yep - you can use registration pin punches, if you can find one. Otherwise you can do it on a light table using a good magnifying loupe.
Actually, 35mm is quite easy to register because you can use the sprocket holes as registration guides.
Cutout the mask from the 4x5 film. On my D2 I leave a small tab on the right side to attach the film and cut the long sides at the top of the sprocket holes (film edge on the transparency). I have to do this to fit the carriers on the D2 which have small pins in them for film alignment - if you own or have seen the carriers you know what I mean.
Tape the mask emulsion side up on the lightbox using the edge of the small tab. Place the film emulsion side up on top of the mask.
Have several small pieces of the 3M tape pre-staged and hanging on one edge of the light box.
Fiddle with the film under the magnifying loupe until you are satisfied that the film is totally registered with all sprocket holes along both edges of the film.
Hold the film in place and tape the edge of the transparency to the small tab on the mask using a piece of the 3M tape.
At this point, you will have taped the film to the light box twice. Liberate the film & mask from the light box by using an X-Acto knife to cut the tape at the edges of the mask tab. The transparency will be hinged to the mask.
You now have a transparency with a mask. Clean both sides of the film & mask. Don't forget to clean between the transparency and the mask. I just use canned air and gently blow off any dust.
Put the transparency mask sandwich into the enlarger with the mask on top & the transparency on the bottom emulsion side down.
Make a test print on the Ilfochrome material and then start making printing adjustments for density, color, minor dodging/burning etc.
I think that it is important to explain here that first generation masking is always going to create a reduction of contrast. Whether that is of color materials as addressed here or if it is of black and white materials.
The best first generation masks are made from conventional continuous tone panchromatic materials. I have made contrast reduction masks from ortho lith film using highly dilute Dektol as the developer (usual dilution 1-30). The best masks for this purpose are unsharp masks and one does not need pin registration equipment to do unsharp masking.
As others have mentioned the reason for contrast masking of transparency material is that the exposure scale of the transparency will typically exceed the exposure scale of the paper. At least that was my experience when I did color over twenty years ago.
Just to clarify, when exposing the film to make the mask the orientation of the films is:
Originally Posted by steve
emulsion/ masking film
Hopefully my ASCII drawing came out, but if it didn't the backs of the films are together, and the emulsions face outward. Therefore, no matter which side of the taped together sandwitch of transparancy and masking film you look at, an emulsion side is always facing out.
Is that correct?
That is correct
Originally Posted by Craig
That's correct. Except...you need a diffusion sheet between the two pieces of film. That's what the frosted Mylar or acetate is for. Plus it separates the film and helps make the edges unsharp.
Originally Posted by Craig
Using your example it would be:
------------- frosted Mylar or acetate
emulsion/ masking film