How to Print a Contact Sheet from Negatives-Black and White Photography Darkroom Skills

Posted Jan 26, 2009
Last Updated Jun 21, 2012
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Photography Darkroom-Black and White Photography-How to Print a Contact Sheet from your Negatives

When you have successfully developed and dried your film negatives you will then need to make a contact sheet to enable you to clearly see what images you have on the film negatives.

This contact sheet enables you to view and select photographs on your negatives. You will frequently find that there is no need to print the whole film as inevitably, there are always photographs that you don't want.

Cut your developed film into strips of six negatives which are later stored in negative bags to keep them dust and scratch free.


Initially, make sure that you have prepared the THREE chemical baths ready for printing. You will need to make up 1 litre of Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer. The following dilutions are for the printing process and not film processing.

You must never allow water or chemicals to come into contact with the dry side of the darkroom process.


Initially make sure that you have prepared the THREE chemical baths ready for printing. You will need to make up 1 litre of Developer, Stop Bath and Paper Fixer. The following dilutions are for the printing process and not film processing.

Developer is diluted 1 part developer to 9 parts water

Stop Bath is diluted 1 part stop bath to 39 parts water.

Fixer is diluted for paper 1 part fixer to 9 parts water.

All chemicals are diluted and mixed to a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade using a thermometer. It is important to maintain temperature to give consistent results each time. Each chemical is placed in it's own respective tray.

Now, back to the dry side of the Darkroom process. Place the negative strips, emulsion side down, into the contact printing frame. The frame has small strips that hold the negatives securely in place. Usually you will need to carefully slide the edges of the film strips under these. The emulsion is always the MATT side of the film base.

Ensure that the RED safelights are now switched on in the darkroom and go to the enlarger. Red lighting is needed in order to keep printing papers safe when in use and removed from the safe bag/box. Switch on the enlarger with the timer button and place the contact frame centrally in the light's path on the enlarger's base. Make sure that the light uniformly covers the contact frame, if not, increase the height of the enlarger by winding the handle on the upright column. Then, FOCUS the enlarger to obtain a crisp edge to the rectangle of light that it throws on the enlarger's base. The focus wheel is located on the enlarger head, near the lens.

We will normally use 'Ilford Multigrade' printing paper for general printing purposes. It is a variable contrast paper which is controlled by the use Ilford Multigrade Filters (purchased separately) which are placed in the enlarger's head. Each filter is designated by a number code which changes the contrast of the paper. PLACE A NUMBER 2 FILTER IN THE FILTER DRAW located on the head of the enlarger. This sets the light contrast to an average setting for an average paper contrast.

We are now ready to make a test strip to determine what exposure the paper needs to be set at for the final print. Set the lens Aperture of the enlarger to F8 and the timer to 2 Seconds. SWITCH OFF THE ENLARGER ON THE TIMER. Don't forget the darkroom is now under safe, red lighting.


Expose the whole strip of printing paper for 2 seconds by pressing the timer switch, then by using a piece of thick card that doesn't let light through it, cover about 80% of the printing paper test strip and expose the remaining band of paper for a further 2 seconds. Repeat this process twice again.





You will now have a test strip that is exposed from 2- 8 seconds as all the exposures are accumulative. The darkest banding strip is the 8 second exposure strip, which then goes down to 6 seconds, then 4 seconds, then finally, to the lowest exposure of 2 seconds. If it ends up that these exposures are not sufficient to get a quality print, make the test strip in 4 second intervals, or, use a larger test strip of printing paper and make further exposures of 2 seconds up to around 12 seconds in total. This should cover most needs if negatives are correctly exposed.

Always use a pair of tongs to manipulate the printing papers in the chemical baths. Use a different pair of tongs for each bath.

Process the test strip for 1 minute in paper developer, intermittently agitating the tray, then place for 10 seconds in the stop bath to arrest development of the paper, and finally, place it for 2 minutes in the fixer bath to make it light proof. Give it a quick wash in a tray of running water in order to remove residual chemistry .

Inspect the test strip in a good level of natural light, if possible, to determine the exact exposure that needs to be given for the whole sheet of printing paper. Choose the exposure which gives you a good black and a clean white, with good overall print detail.

Repeat the printing process with a complete sheet of printing paper placed correctly in the contact frame and follow the above steps again.


Try to stay ordered with this process and keep all things exact. This delivers consistent results, quality prints and greater expertise.

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