More adventures with RA-4


It took me a while to drag myself away from playing Dragon Age II, but I finally shoved the enlarger back into the bathroom and mixed up some fresh RA-4 chems to make color prints. This time I was going to be using a fresh pack of paper, some Fujifilm Crystal Archive Lustre paper that I got from Freestyle a few months back.

The past few times I’ve tried to make color prints have been frustrating, due to using old paper and getting odd color tints in the base. I figured this would be a test – if I couldn’t manage to get a decent print using brand new paper and fresh chems, then I must be a lost cause.

I picked the negative above for my first test. There was a white background and bright colors so that I could easily tell how accurate my guesses on the enlarger filtration were. I did some test strips until I got bored with doing that – 3 test strips per image seem to be about my limit before I finally say, “Screw it, I’m just going to go ahead and make a print,” even if I still need to adjust my filters. 4 prints later I had the print above.

It’s not bad. I could probably tweak it a little more to get a clearer white, but I was actually pretty happy with the colors I go. My main issue was the slight cyan cast and the weird cyan splotchy bits in the upper right corner.

My next print had the cyan splotchiness in the corner, too.

Krispy Kreme

I couldn’t figure out what could be causing this. Maybe a defect in the paper? I started drying out my tank more thoroughly between prints, and as an afterthought checked my rotator base for the tank. It was a little bit off level, so I adjusted it so that the tank sat perfectly level when it rotated.


That actually seemed to do the trick, amazingly. After I leveled out the base, I got a lot less noticeable cyan weirdness on my prints. Hooray!

Anyway, I’ve been experimenting making prints with all sorts of negatives. The Krispy Kreme picture is from a cross processed negative. The waterfall pic is from a newly shot roll of way expired color negative film. Then I remembered there was something I had wanted to try, and dug out that reclaimed Polaroid negative I had salvaged from the goop of a Fuji FP-100C peel-apart photo. The negative looks like this:

My first Peel-Apart negative!

And one of the enlargements of that negative turned out like this:

David's Van

Weird! And awesome!

I made several enlargements of the leaf photo shot with the Graflex SLR:


Including one with the texture fabric over it. Not too keen on how this turned out, but it was interesting to see how the texture worked on a color photo.

Leaves with filter

It continues to amaze me how good these prints look “in real life,” you know, as opposed to scanned in on a computer screen. The detail and sharpness in the leaf print is pretty impressive. That was shot using 3×4 film, so I was working with a pretty huge negative. The detail is kind of phenomenal.

Travis went through some of our old photos from about 10 years ago, and picked out a 35mm negative that we had developed at Walmart or CVS or some place like that. We decided to try enlarging that to see how close we came to the actual photo we got developed back then.

Toby and trees

We came pretty close. Ours is a little more yellow and not quite as blue, but the aspen trunks are white and Toby is red, so that’s all I really cared about.

It was pretty refreshing to be working with paper that actually reacted the way it should. I made a bunch more prints that I haven’t scanned in yet, and some are even successful enough that I’m probably going to put them up in the shop. I know! Bold move! I just need to make sure I can ship prints safely without them getting all bent up. I’ll probably have to cut up chunks of cardboard for protection. I can haz box cutter?

One of the things I tried today that came out absolutely stunning was when I enlarged a black and white negative onto color paper. So, stay tuned for when I get pics uploaded of that goodness (or, just check out the shop tomorrow, because when I pulled the print out of the tank, I was all, “Oh hey! This may actually be art!” Surprise!).

Now that I kind of know what I’m doing with the color printing, I’m having a great time with it. I actually like it better than black and white printing, at least for right now. The whole process is so fast, and the amount of variables is huge, in a good way. For example, I exposed two prints exactly the same, same negative, same filtration, same time, etc, and they came out different. Why? I guess because the temps of my chems wasn’t stable, and I had to develop my prints for slightly different times. But that kind of stuff doesn’t bug me, I just accept it and welcome it as Darkroom Magic. I really like the process of making a print, and then tweaking it slightly – bumping up a filter by 5, or slightly shortening the development time, stuff like that, and then assessing the different results.

Tomorrow I’m going to try two different, older papers. One is just regular RA-4 paper, but 11×14. The other is 8×10 Fujichrome paper, which is supposed to be used for making prints from slides. It uses different chems and a different process than RA-4. That process is called R-3, and looks really similar to how slide film is developed – there’s a first developer, and then the paper is exposed to light, and then there is a color developer and blix step after that. My theory is that if slide film can be cross processed in color negative chemicals, then maybe positive paper can be cross processed in color paper chems. Maybe? Surely someone has tried this, but I couldn’t really find any info about it, so I’m just going to give it a go myself. If nothing else, I would think the Fujichrome paper could potentially be processed by developing in black and white paper first, then exposing to light, and then finished up by doing an RA-4 process. If the cross processing in RA-4 chems doesn’t work, I’ll have to try that.

More adventures in RA-4!

Washington DC

The past few times I’ve tried doing RA-4 (color print) processing, I’ve had problems. Mainly, it seemed like my chems were going bad too quickly. I felt like I was doing something wrong, but didn’t understand what. I think I’ve got that sorted out, finally. Hooray!

So, for the sake of learning, here’s how I think you’re supposed to develop RA-4 prints. At least, this is how I did it.

I bought the RA-4 chem kit from Freestyle. This comes in either a 2 liter or 4 liter kit. I went with the 4 liter, because I am insane.

RA-4 processing is actually easier to do than black and white processing (same thing as developing color film versus black and white film). You’re only working with two solutions – the developer and the Blix. So, go ahead and mix up your chems. The developer is a combination of 3 liquids inside the kit, plus water, and the Blix is two liquids, plus water. Since I wasn’t going to mix up the whole kit at once, do some math wizardry and figure out the correct ratio for all of your chems. Use warm water, since the chems will need to be warm. I mixed up one liter of each of the developer and the Blix, since I had brown plastic bottles of that size.

The chems need to be kept warm (between 75 degrees and 105, preferably – that’s why doing color print processing during the summer seems so appealing, where you can work at ambient temps), so chuck them in a warm water bath and let them heat up.

You can do color print processing in trays in the dark, but screw that – I don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark, trying to keep all of those chems warm. So, I use a rotary processor. I’ve got my motorized base…

Rotary base

And my set of print developing tubes…


So I’m good to go. After the paper is exposed, you slide it inside a tube emulsion side up and then close the tube. The tube has a trough running the length of it, so that when you pour in chems, they don’t actually touch the paper and start developing until you make the motor go on the base. The beauty of this set up is that you use very little chems when developing paper. When I develop an 8×10 sheet of paper, I only pour in 120 ml of chems at a time.

Which leads me to the next step – you need to find very small containers (like, yogurt cup sized) with water-tight lids. Get two of them. Mark one as developer, and one as Blix. Draw a line on them with a Sharpie showing exactly where 120 ml is on them. Then, pour that much developer and Blix into each of those containers, seal them up, and chuck them back into the water bath. These little containers are your working solution. The big containers? Your replenisher.

Got your chems? Made a print? Stuck it inside the tube? Put the tube on the motor base? Good. Get your working solution of developer and take its temperature. Over 75 degrees? Good. Use the magic chart that came with your chems to figure out exactly how long you need to process the print with the developer – since developing times are so short with color printing, it’s important that you check the temp of the developer every time before you process so you don’t accidentally over or under develop your print. Check the developer temp every time before you make a print. The Blix times will fluctuate based on temp, too, but I normally just assume that the Blix is about the same temp as the developer. I don’t get real stressed out about it.

Pour your chems into the tube and start it rolling. Process it for the required amount of time, pour the developer back into your working solution container, and then pour in the Blix. After the Blix has been processed, pour it back into its working solution container. Pop the lid off your tube, fish the print out, and set it in a tray of warm water. Wash the print for a few minutes, and then hang it up to dry.

Now, here’s the important bit – look back at your working solution containers. The amount of developer you poured back into the container is less than the amount you put in. About 8 or so ml got sucked up and absorbed by the paper. Oh noes! This is where the replenisher comes in. Pour developer back into the working solution container with your developer replenisher until the amount of liquid reaches the line. Then cap your bottle of replenisher and put the lid back on your working solution, and put them back into the water bath.

The Blix allegedly needs replenishing too, but my Blix always multiplies, like the loaves and fishes. So, after every few prints, I’ll pour a little bit of my working solution out, and replenish it with the Blix replenisher, just to keep the chems active.

So, that’s how you develop color paper! I think. At least, that’s how it works for me. Travis and I tore through the entire 1 liter of chems over the course of three days. I think we probably developed over 40 prints, so I’m happy with that output. However, the RA-4 chems are more stable than C-41 or E-6 chems. The replenisher of Developer is supposed to stay good for 6 weeks, and the Blix even longer.

We developed a ton of paper. Mainly contact sheets of negatives, with a few enlargement attempts thrown in. Now, did those prints actually come out like they were supposed to? Erm… not so much.

Apparently color paper is supposed to be kept in cold storage – preferably, refrigerated. Well, I only have a few different boxes of color paper (I got a box of Agfacolor Signum paper a few days ago, which I’d guess is between 10-15 years old), and I doubt either of them have even seen what a refrigerator looks like. So, after much experimentation with the Agfa paper, I’m waving the white flag and admitting defeat. No matter what sort of filter combinations I try, all of my prints seem to come out with this odd orangey cast.


Lincoln and other

Those two contact sheets were of C-41 negatives. I did those for a while, and then switched to doing some contact sheets of cross processed slide film to see if I got any change.

Lomo DC!

More Washington

Still there!

Cross processed film is funny, because the base color of the negative varies so much from film to film, as opposed to regular C-41 color negative films, which are just pretty much universally orange. Here’s this again, showing the difference between what the negatives can look like:

Xpro Comparison

This led to a lot of wild guessing as to how I needed to adjust my filters. Sometimes I got it close to right:

New York!

And sometimes, things just went really, completely bizarre:


The negative to the horse picture was bright, dark blue. My 4×5 Fuji Velvia 100 slide film is normally tinted a pale aqua, but for some reason, this particular sheet of film came out entirely dark blue. I tried compensating for that by using a filter level of +90Y +130M, but… yeah.

I only tried making one enlargement on the Agfacolor paper. I used a Kodak Portra 400VC negative, processed correctly, and here’s the best I could get the color:

Capitol, with tulips, from 1952

In retrospect, I could have done better with the color – the orange cast is there to stay, but I could have at least knocked down the green tones some by increasing the yellow filters. That said, I kind of like it. Travis said it looked like a photo from Life magazine in the 50s, and I think now that I know how the old Agfacolor paper is going to behave, I might be able to use it for some fun effects.

That being said, I’m still going to order a box of new, fresh, in-date paper next time I place an order from Freestyle.