In this article, the author mentioned that the enlarger is not necessary in the printing workflow.

This device (enlarger) is used for creating an enlarged image from your negatives, to be exposed to your desired size onto photographic paper. If you are able to get a hold of one for an affordable price, by all means grab it. If not, it’s not the end of the world. Having a photographic enlarger is a plus but is not essential for printing and exposing images. It is still possible to create visually appealing images without an enlarger.

Are there other techniques that can be used to expose the negative without using an enlarger?


3 Answers 3


Certainly. There's always contact printing, in which the negative is in direct contact with the paper, producing a print that is exactly the same size as the negative. All you need in that case is a controllable light source of the appropriate intensity (if it's too bright, you won't be able to adequately control the exposure time).

Needless to say, contact printing is of limited utility for small (35mm) and medium format photography. It's usually used in those cases to choose which negs to print "for reals" and/or to create an index card for a negative storage system (sheets in binders, etc.). When you step up to large format photography, though, contact prints will be of a size worth displaying, and because there are no additional optics (with their accompanying focus, contrast, aberration and distortion issues), the quality of the print can be breathtaking. Seeing a well-done 8x10 contact print up close is something you wouldn't soon forget.

EDIT: As an afterthought, I should probably note that you don't really need negatives either. With a sufficiently small light source (and a single LED would qualify if at a distance of more than a couple of feet) you can have a bit of fun with photograms as well. We used to use enlargers as the light source mostly to get reasonably collimated light from standard-sized light bulbs or cold fluorescents; but a discreet LED lit by a one-shot multivibrator would do the trick (they've gotten bright enough lately that electronic control of the on-time is pretty much necessary). And don't forget pinhole cameras with paper "negs".


Another way of making a print from a negative is to scan the negative then print digitally.

You may think I'm being flip, but for years that was my setup while I was waiting for full frame 35mm sensors to get good enough at a price I was willing to pay for. Until then, I walked around with a film camera, had just the film processed, scanned the negatives, then did everything digital from there.

This has number of advantages over optical printing, which I did before that. I still have the enlarger in the basement, but now there is a computer next to it instead of trays of chemicals. The main advantages are that digital manipulation of the picture is much easier and more flexible, and printing is much cheaper, quicker, and repeatable.


You've got the answer to your question from @stan. But what is driving this question? These days, enlargers are available used for very little money. You can get a complete film darkroom setup with enlarger, tanks, trays, timer, safelight, etc. for well under $500.

I loved working in the darkroom. Nearly flunked out of college because I spent all my time in the darkroom.

You should try it if you can, its a ton of fun.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My supposition is that failing to account for large format makes the contact print "invisible" as a practical process, and the question was mentally formulated as more of a "how in the heck do you make useful prints from 35mm negs without an enlarger?" One doesn't exactly run into Speed Graphics at the local used camera counter every day anymore or run across Sinar P2 ads every other page in the magazines, and I think Calumet is the only outfit actually featuring rather than hiding LF cameras these days, so it's easy to forget about how big a neg can be sometimes. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers your guess is right, because without an enlarger for 35mm, printing contacts is boring \$\endgroup\$
    – K''
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 3:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ My mom shot a huge number of family snapshots on a Brownie, it used 120 film and prints were made as contact prints. While they were very cheap, I think they were effectively about 1/30 @ F11 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 4:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.