A fine product from Ilford and a mainstay of many darkrooms in this country is Multigrade IV Resin Coated paper. It’s the paper I use most with my students and it comfortably facilitates a novice’s first steps towards a satisfying print.
Not all darkroom papers are equal however, and if you have begun your darkroom journey with a paper such as this, you may wish to consider trying a warmtone paper too. For me, warmtone is my paper of choice, and you will often come across advice to make the switch to it on grounds of an improvement in quality.
Now, I’m not sure it is objectively ‘better’, nor do I quite agree with the advice I sometimes see that it will give you a ‘better’ tonal range (as if merely making the switch is enough to ensure printing contentment).
What it does give you is a different distribution of tones at different grades, and, with the right negative, this may well result in a more satisfying and expansive tonal range. I know it does for me in the vast majority of cases.
Multigrade IV has a very long reach into the highlights at middle grades, while it is somewhat lacking in local contrast in the midtones. If your negative has a lot of midtones, this can result in a muddy and disappointing rendering. Multigrade IV Warmtone on the other hand, has much more ‘punch’ and tonal separation in the midtones, albeit at the expensive of the highlight scale. It gravitates towards a crisp white in the highlights quicker than its cousin, and this may not be an issue in the case of the midtone dominated scene. As is so often the case in photography, this is a question of compromise, or more accurately, of the right compromise for your particular equipment and visualisation.
It is good darkroom practice to know the tonal characteristics of your paper and to match them to your negative. In reality one paper may very well suffice for the majority of your printing, but if you haven’t tried any alternatives, how do you know? It may be time to try the warmtone option, and to see how it works with your negatives and vision.
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