So, I recently went through my stash of photo paper and inventoried what the heck I had. Turns out, it’s a lot! I’ve got a fair amount of weird shit in there. Today, since I’m having a little bit of enlarger angst, I decided to try making some contact prints to see if any of it was still any good.
To do so, I used my trusty Kodak Photo Hobby contact printer.
The side of the printer says to use a 15 watt frosted lamp for Velox paper, so that’s what I went ahead and put in it.
The photo hobby printer is pretty small – the biggest size paper it can do is 4×5. So I just went ahead and used the tiny trays that came with the printer for my chems.
Since I could fit those by my sink, I was able to just have the contact printer, paper, and negative binder on the other side.
It was nice to be able to spread out a bit. When I’m working with bigger paper, I have to use the bigger trays and the enlarger, and I have a lot less room to work with.
What was also nice was that since I was working with mainly old, slow paper, I used an amber colored safelight instead of my normal dark red one. I also didn’t bother covering up the bathroom doorway with the big, heavy black-out curtain. I figured the little bit of light seeping in through the doorway wouldn’t hurt anything (and the curtain is near impossible to deal with if I’m moving in and out of the bathroom – I have to wrestle it down in order to open the door).
Here’s some of the paper I experimented with:
Expiration dates on the paper ranged from 1938 to 1974. All of the packets of paper had already been opened when I got them, and of course, I have no idea how they had been stored. I’ve just been keeping them in my back bedroom at room temp – I figured after decades, how much worse could that be for them? All of the papers are supposed to work for contact printing, although a few (the Opal and Portrait Proof) say they are for enlarging or “fast contact printing.”
The first thing I did, since I hadn’t used any of my printing chems in months, was to check and see if they still worked. I didn’t really feel like mixing up new chems if I didn’t have to. So I took a piece of newish (as in, I purchased new two years ago) Arista.edu photo paper, and briefly exposed it with the contact printer. Since the Arista photo paper is made for enlarging and not contact printing (enlarging paper is much faster than contact printing paper – photographic paper has speed ratings, too, just like film), I figured even just the briefest flash of contact printing light should make for a severely overexposed image. I dipped it in the developer and the paper turned black almost instantly – which was a good thing, since it meant my developer still worked.
The developer I was using is Clayton brand, not exactly this product, since I mixed it from a powder, but the same brand. This concerned me a little, since all of the papers I was using had different developer recommendations, but I figured all I could do was to try it out and see if it worked.
Things didn’t start out incredibly keen, but not a complete disaster. The first paper I tried out was Glossy Velox F-2. It expired in February 1938. It turned out there were only two sheets of paper inside, and I went ahead and tried printing on both. Here’s the best result:
It almost worked! You can kind of see part of the image I tried to print, but I got that weird black creeping crud all over the rest of the image. Anyway, both images were failures, and I used up the pack of paper. On to the next paper.
The next thing I tried was Azo E-3. It’s a double weight paper, which means it’s thick and sturdy. It expired in October, 1944. I only had a few sheets of this left, too. It’s 5×7, so I had to cut the paper in half to get it to fit on the contact printer. Anyway, this one actually worked relatively well! Here’s a 10 second exposure that was in the developer for 5 minutes:
And here’s a 12 second exposure that was in the developer for 4.5 minutes:
I wound up with only one sheet of the Azo E-3 left, so I’ll have to save that for something interesting.
I decided to switch it up with the Velox and try a newer package to see if that was in any better condition than the first one I tried. So, I found a small pack of 2.5×3.5 Velox F-2 that expired in December 1974. The first exposure I made with it was 5 seconds long, and that turned out to be way, way overexposed. So I dialed it back to 3 second exposures, and had the paper in the developer for about 1 minute, 20 seconds. Here’s one of the prints on Velox from a found negative:
And here’s one from a pinhole pic I shot a while ago:
The contact printing was going a lot quicker than I imagined it, so I rifled through the paper stash and pulled out some papers that were labeled as being for “enlarging or fast contact.” I figured since the paper was old, it may have slowed down some, and I was probably good to go ahead and try it in the contact printer.
The first one I tried was Kodak Portrait Proof R single weight paper that expired in 1958. This paper was supposed to be 5×7, but the original owner seems to have cut all the sheets of paper in half. Which is a little weird, but saved me the trouble of having to trim down one of the pieces of paper. What is interesting about this paper was that it has a tweed surface, which is kind of rare.
I used a 3 second exposure on the first attempt, which proved to be way too long, and then a 1 second exposure on the second try. It was still too long of an exposure, though, and the picture came out ridiculously dark, albeit with a cool dark brown tone.
Anyway, the paper still seems to work, but is probably better off being used as an enlarging paper rather than a contact paper.
The other paper in this category was Kodak’s double weight Opal Z. This was one of the papers I’ve been most looking forward to trying out, and it didn’t disappoint. This pack of paper expired in 1966, and was billed as having an “old ivory, lustre, tapestry” surface. Neat! The paper size is 8×10, but there were a few smaller pieces inside, and maybe two or three larger pieces. I worked with the small pieces.
After seeing the Portrait Proof paper come out overexposed, I decided to only use a one second exposure time for the Opal.
Pretty freaking neat, right? I really loved the Opal, but, like the Portrait Proof, I think it would probably work better as an enlarging paper. Since I only have a few sheets left, I’m going to save it to try it with the enlarger.
I had a pack of paper that I had wrapped in tin foil at some point, and promptly forgotten what the heck it was. It turned out to be a pack of Kodak Azo G-3 from the 1940s in a torn-apart package. Seriously, it looked like a mouse had been nibbling on it at some point. I gave it a go, first with a ten second exposure, and then a 2 second exposure.
Yeah. The paper is pretty fogged beyond use. The Azo G-3 is going in the lumen pile.
The other paper that wound up going in the lumen pile is a big box of Kodak Velox F-3 that expired in 1944. I had high hopes for this, since the box was in pretty good shape, and heavy – it originally held 144 sheets of paper, and probably over 100 remain. Unfortunately, either the paper refuses to work in the Clayton chemistry, or, more likely, is completely fogged. Oh well. It’ll be good for lumens, anyway.
I had two more packs of Velox that had been opened – each pack was 2.75 x 4.5 inches. The F-2 (for normal contrast negatives) expired in 1955. The other pack, F-4 (for very low contrast negatives) expired in 1964.
Here’s the F-2, done with a 3 second exposure:
The F-4 seems to work as well, but I didn’t really get a good print with it, since the paper drifted on me when I closed the contact printer (my negative was 4×5, and my paper smaller, so it cropped weird). But, still, it’s an image, albeit a messy one.
That was the end of my contact printing marathon, and all in all, I’m really pleased with the results. Only a few packs were trashed, and even then, I can probably still use the paper in lumen prints (I’ll probably try that out tomorrow).
Overall, so far, the rule of thumb seems to be that if the paper is in the yellow Kodak packaging, it’s probably still going to work. If it’s in the brown Kodak packaging, well… there’s probably a good chance it’s gotten fogged.
I still have a bunch more paper I need to test. I didn’t quite make it through all of my contact paper. I still have some opened Azo Grade B No. 2 (1940), Azo E Grade 3 postcards (1935), Velox F-3 (mid 1940s), Azo F-2 (1956), and Agfa Cykon Code 2 (1940). Then, I also have unopened packages of Velox F-2 (1971 – this is an adorable little package of 2.5 x 2.5 sheets), Velox F-2 (1962), Velvet Velox No. 2 (1935), Velox F No. 3 (1943), Glossy Velox No. 2 (1933 – probably my oldest paper, and in an immaculate package – it looks brand new), a box of 100 sheets of Velite probably from the early 1960s, a pack of Opal Y (hooray! Although I’ll probably use it for enlarging, not contact printing – 1958), and probably the rarest paper in my collection, Marvel contact printing paper, made by Sears Roebuck (1946). And that’s not even getting into all of the enlarging paper…
Anyway, the point is, decades old paper seems to work more often than not, so don’t be afraid to try it out if you should run across any. I’ll keep you updated.