Fibre-based photographic paper is known for its haptic quality, archival longevity and tonal sublimity. Processing FB paper can be quite a hassle, though. Washing consumes lots of water and the drying process often results in wavy prints. Expensive equipment like archival washers and dry presses might help, but they take up a lot of space when unused. After more than 60 darkroom years combined, Franz and myself (Thomas) from the panta rhei art project we told ourselves that there has to be another way. After extensive testing, that’s what we came up with as the most feasible FB paper process.
The process was designed to meet the following criteria:
Eco-friendly (low water consumption)
Perfectly flat print
Little equipment required
100% consistent results
Developing tray (not contaminated by chemicals)
It is important to note that excessive washing of FB prints does not improve archival stability and is detrimental to the flatness of the print in the end. Keeping that in mind, we recommend the following 3-step procedure. The washing times mentioned below are applicable when the print was fixed with non-hardening fixer like Ilford Rapid Fixer and Adox Adofix P.
After fixing your print, put it in the uncontaminated developing tray. Use the smallest tray possible to avoid damage to the corners of the paper during agitation.
Fill the developing tray about a third with water. Turn on the water source and make sure that there is a constant, gentle stream of water into your developing tray. Make sure that the water temperature is around 20° Celsius.
Constantly agitate the tray for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the print every minute by gently grabbing it at the corner.
Every tenth agitation, move the tray a little bit more so that some of the water spills over the tray, allowing a slow but constant change of water in the tray.
Empty the tray and pour in the washing agent which should also be tempered at approximately 20° Celsius.
Again, constantly agitate the tray, this time for 10 minutes. Do not leave the print in the washing agent longer.
Pour out the washing agent and repeat Step 1. Washing is now completed.
2 acrylic glass plates sized larger than your prints and at least 5 mm thick
10 sheets of acid-free blotting paper in the size of the acrylic glass plates
The following procedure is preferably done in a dust-free environment like a bathroom.
Take the wet print and put it on one of the acrylic glass plates. Place it as flat as possible and start to squeegee it with the roller squeegee along the longitudinal axis. Start in the middle of the paper and continue to the outer edge. Apply mild pressure. Then take the ruler-like squeegee and remove water droplets from the surface of the print.
Leave the print on the plate and let it dry in a dust-free environment. I recommend leaving the plate at a steep angle to minimise the dust settling on the prints surface. Leave the print like that until a part of the print starts lift from the acrylic plate and curls upwards. This usually takes about 45 minutes, depending on room temperature and humidity. The slow drying is essential for maximum print flatness. This step also ensures that the emulsion side is dry enough not to be damaged by the further procedure.
Prepare the second acrylic plate with a sheet of blotting paper. Gently remove the print and place it in the centre of the blotting paper. Put another sheet of blotting paper on top of the print and sandwich it between the other acrylic plate. Put at approximately 20 kg of weight (for 24x30 cm prints, increase the weight with size) on top of the stack and leave it for 10 minutes. Then, carefully replace both sheets of blotting paper. Continue changing the blotting paper every 15 to 20 minutes. After the fifth change, the print should be quite dry. You can now leave the print sandwiched between blotting paper and the acrylic plates for a prolonged period. I recommend more than two hours.
Remove the print from the sandwich. It is highly likely that fibres from the blotting paper are stuck to the prints surface. Just take the micro fibre cloth and gently rub the fibres off. Don’t worry, this won’t damage the print at all.
Storage & Framing
The procedure results in a perfectly flat print which is now ready for framing or storage. For storage, I recommend using an acid-free photo album or an acid-free cardboard box.
Processing multiple prints for increased productivity
The washing and drying procedures are suitable for multiple prints at a time. For washing, just slightly increase the water flow and the time. Do not increase the exposure to the washing agent, as this might damage the emulsion of the prints. For drying, you can put multiple stacks as described on top of each other.
Processing FB paper is always going to take more time than RC paper, but with the right workflow, it is no longer a tedious procedure!
Keep your darkroom light-tight,