Your question deals with the specific subject of proof sheets - 'contact printing' is actually a much broader topic.
The purpose for a proof sheet is to have a quick reference that shows what is on a set of negatives. It doesn't have to be rocket science, but it should be a standard process so that in addition to being able to get a quick idea of the content and framing in each negative, the contact can give you a rough (VERY rough) starting point on your printing exposure.
1. There is nothing wrong with exposing a batch of sheets, setting them aside, and then processing them together in a single batch. Latent prints won't change much over the course of a couple of hours.
2. For the past 30 years, I've bulk-loaded 35mm film so that I can have 35 exposure rolls as standard. 7 strips of 5 negatives = 35 negatives and fill an 8x10 sheet of paper. I've never used (or even seen) 9.5X12 paper, so I would be reluctant to establish what I expect to be a standardized process on a product with limited availability. But yes, I would think that you could get 7 strips of 6 frames (or 8 strips of 5 frames) on 9.5x12 paper, assuming you can find 9.5x12 paper.
3. You can do anything you want - there are no 'darkroom police' to limit your options. The only thing that matters is what works for you.
4. I've always used PrintFile sleeves. Again, the purpose is to make a quick reference print - no one expects it to be technically perfect. I will say that when I am contact printing 4x5 negatives (not proof sheets - true contact prints for display) on commercially-available silver-based paper, I don't put anything between the negative and the paper. In that instance, I want ultimate quality. On the other hand, when I am making Pt/Pd contact prints using paper that I have to sensitize myself, I always put a thin sheet of acetate between the negative and the paper to prevent any residual moisture in the recently-sensitized paper from migrating into the negative.
5. I always use RC paper for proof sheets specifically because it can be processed more rapidly.
6. I've never heard that, and I've always stored my negatives in PrintFile sleeves in archival boxes. Frankly, that keeps them flat. Never roll your negatives because over time, they will conform to that roll and you won't be able to flatten them for printing.
7. Standardize everything! There is a mark on the column of my enlarger that shows the height of the head to make a contact proof sheet from negatives on 8X10 paper, and there is another mark on my enlarger timer to show the exposure time at f8 with my standard 50mm enlarging lens. All I have to do is put the head in the appropriate position, adjust the focus so that the light spread covers my home-made contact print (a sheet of plywood with felt glued to the top surface and with a sheet of glass fastened to one edge with duct tape to form a hinge). Development time on RC paper is one minute at room temperature.
"But I was told by a instructor to make test strips for everything. Did she really meant, everything, all the time, forever? Or only while I'm still a newbie?"
Test strips are NOT the same thing as proof sheets. A test strip is a way of assessing the contrast range in a negative in order to select the appropriate paper contrast filter. You should first determine the minimum exposure time required to achieve maximum black from an exposed film rebate, and using that exposure time, make a test strip that includes both the brightest highlight and darkest shadow where you want the final print to show detail. Select a contrast filter that will give you detail in both of these areas. Then, make another test strip, but this time use a card to adjust the exposure time on the strip over and above that 'maximum black' exposure time. The steps in the variation should be significant - say 25% of the maximum black time. Use that test strip to target an initial exposure time for the negative. Then, you can make your first work-print.
Last edited by Monophoto; 11-25-2010 at 08:20 AM. Click to view previous post history.