I'm diving into the intimidating world of color darkroom prints (RA-4).

I've heard some things (no safelight, needs to be the correct temperature, and so on).

However, I haven't really found a concrete this is how you make color prints start to finish.

That being said, how do I do this? For example, do I do multiple exposures with the negative and swap out the different color filters or do I just expose once?

What is the ideal temperature?

What is the chemical process (in B&W it is developer, stopbath, fix)?

What are some caveats that I need to be aware of?

How sensitive is the paper (will the glow from my gralab timer effect anything)?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is... awfully broad. Maybe better as a series of questions? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 5, 2015 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I'm not looking for a cookbook recipe (as we are not a how to site), but for example on B&W prints the process is generally: Black out the room, except for a safe light, place your negative in the enlarger, focus it with a grain magnifier, make a test strip by exposing incremental parts of the paper to a consistent light, develop the test strip in developer for time, use stop bath for time, use fix for time, wash for time, and inspect to find your enlarging time, repeat for a full sheet of paper and redo the development process. If you think it is still too broad then I'll break it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm What I'm looking for (incidentally) matches Olin Lathrop's answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, sometimes it works. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Wet silver color printing is slow, tedious, and requires trial and error to get the color balance right. I don't miss those days. Even if you want to cling to film for some reason, scanning the film then printing digitally is much easier, repeatable, and faster.

My process went something like this (it's been 20 years or so):

  1. Turn off all the filters to get the most light coming thru the enlarger, open the lens all the way, and frame and focus the print on the target.

  2. Raise the enlarger the calibrated amount you previously determined matches the height of the color analyzer pod.

  3. Move the color analyzer pod target to where you know the color in the picture is gray, or if necessary swap to a different negative (without otherwise disturbing the enlarger) that contains a picture of a gray card under the same lighting conditions just for this purpose.

  4. Look in your notes for the required color analyzer readings for what you want to do, and dial in the color filters on the enlarger to get them.

  5. Put the enlarger back down to the original height, replace with intended negative if necessary, frame and focus again, then stop down the lens to the f-stop you intend to use. Turn off the enlarger.

  6. In total darkness, grab a sheet of paper out of the box, place it in the enlarger target area by feel, trigger the timer to turn on the enlarger for a calibrated amount of time, usually 10-30 seconds.

  7. In total darkness again, carefully grab the exposed print, handling it only by its edges or back, then insert it into the processing drum. Put lid on processing drum. Now you can turn on the lights.

  8. Move drum over to wet processing area. It is good to keep the enlarger area and wet processing area separate. Place drum on auto-rotator agitator.

  9. Get a decent amount of water at a few degrees above the desired temperature. This should be several times the volume of developer and the like. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water if you have acidic water. I found this necessary with my water. Pour water into drum, let it agitate for maybe 10 seconds, then pour it out.

    The purpose of this step is to pre-heat the drum and to wet the paper. Both make for more consistent and streak-free developing.

  10. Measure out the right amount of developer from the bottle that has been sitting in the temperature-controlled water bath all this time. Pour it into the drum and start agitation quickly before anything gets much of a chance to cool down. Carefully time agitation according to the developer documentation.

  11. Get weak acetic acid ready for the stop bath. When the developing time is over, pour out the developer and pour in the stop bath as quickly as possible. Agitate for a few seconds, then pour out the stop bath.

  12. Pour in the fixer, timed agitation, pour out.

  13. Ordinary water rinse step.

  14. Open drum, remove print, realize it's a bit too magenta, so repeat back from step 1.

  15. After doing the previous steps enough times, wonder if there isn't a better way.

  16. Get a good negative scanner and digital color printer, and with great relief leave steps 1-15 to history, where they belong.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Steps 14 through 16 are my favorite. :) I am expecting this to be hard and very tedious, but if I think the reward will be even greater with all the frustration that will happen. I also am using some 120 color and I think the colors and details will be much better than scanning them in. I've scanned in 35mm and I was very disappointed with the results (even at the highest setting and as a tiff). It is hard to describe, but what I saw on the screen just didn't feel correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way, can I use the same stop bath for color as I can B&W? \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sailor: Dilute acetic acid works as a stop bath for B+W and color. However, the best thing is to follow whatever directions come with the chemicals you end up using. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2015 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ It took about a week, but I finally got one! The color calculator didn't really work as I had a very cyan image. However, with a lot of work, I have one. Thanks again! \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Nov 18, 2015 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you aren't getting good results from scanning and printing, get a better scanner and/or a better printer! The ;magic' of analogue is vastly over-rated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laurence
    Jan 24, 2018 at 16:02

All true. Color processing is temperature dependent, and you can not process the paper with a black light, but must be done in complete darkness. For this reason, most processing is done using a processing tank, where the print is held in the tank, and light baffles keep light out, but let you pour in chemicals. Most also have a way of keeping the chemicals at the right temp. If you have a color enlarger, it has filter packs that are set for the film being used, and they control the color for a single exposure.

Personally, I found it less rewarding (and fun) than black and white processing, but give it a try.

Good links:




  • \$\begingroup\$ Is that a tank for paper? Like the one commonly used for developing negatives? \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Nov 6, 2015 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ yes, the tank is for developing prints. The paper needs to be developed in complete darkness. Of course you can use a (different) tank for the film, just like in b&w. \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Nov 6, 2015 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Didn't know those existed. The 2 times I enlarged color I was forced to remain in total darkness. Learned something today! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Nov 6, 2015 at 18:17

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