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Photography QnA: What Do I Need to Build My Own Darkroom?

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Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Film-Based Camera Equipment : What Do I Need to Build My Own Darkroom?

Are you asking yourself, what do I need to build my own darkroom? Get answers to this question and more in this Q&A discussion about darkroom chemicals and equipment. Additionally, here's a very informative article on the same subject: Do It Yourself Home Darkroom.

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Photography Question 
CLaro T. Cagulada

member since: 6/2/2007
  1 .  Chemicals for a Darkroom?
What are the name of the chemicals needed for darkroom photography? Is there any other substitute aside from the enlarger?

6/2/2007 12:12:28 AM

  Using an enlarger and building a darkroom may be quite an undertaking. There is also the option of working in a 'digital darkroom' by either scanning your film negatives or just shooting with a digital camera. I have an enlarger and haven't used it in many years now...and all the chemicals stay at my digital printing service rather than in my home/darkroom. In fact, I took down the darkroom and now have more space in the basement.

If you already have a computer (and I assume you do as you accessed this forum), setting up your digital darkroom may be as easy as purchasing a program like Photoshop Elements for image editing--or even using software that you already have on your system or that came with your camera or scanner. In comparison, you would have to dedicate a lot of effort to learning not just how to use an enlarger, but to setting up a darkroom space, and collecting all the other equipment that goes with it.

Is there a specific reason you are looking for an enlarger rather than 'going digital'?

6/2/2007 2:59:10 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/17/2005
  CLC, the "digital darkroom" that Rich mentioned can be quite an expensive undertaking as well. These days, as in the older ones, you could set up a small place to process film and print in the evening, even just making contact prints of negatives, by placing a piece of plywood across a washer and dryer in a laundry room with or even without a sink to hold a few print processing trays. Wash prints in the kitchen sink or even a bathtub.

The chemicals needed to process are pretty cheap as are the storage bottles for mixed or stock solutions.
PLUS, there's a real joy to using the wet darkroom technique to process your own work on film and archival photo paper. In fact, at the university level, we still teach that process to students and it's still an essential part of their photographic education.

Remember too, you're asking your question on a website that's essentially dedicated to digital photography, so the answers, especially by most of the instructors here are going to be digitally oriented. Then there are us older-timers, like moi, who still shoot exclusively film and have it processed or process it ourselves (including moi).

If you're really into film work, there's a website you'd probably like a lot called Analog Photographers Use Group that's strictly dedicated to film shooting and processing your own work. Check it out.

Now to answer your question specifically, the chemicals you'd need are:

Developer for paper like Kodak Dektol;
something to stop the development process like either water or stop bath;
Film developer if you're processing film say Kodak D-76 or another like Rodinal, Ilford makes Ilfotec which is good too.

Then after stop bath for both film or paper, you need something called "fixer", either regular or rapid fixer and preferably another chemical called "hypo clearing agent" that let's you wash film or paper in much less time than if you didn't use it.

Substitute for enlarger? No. Not in the wet darkroom process. But you can pick up a good clean used enlarger, like a Besseler 23C II for about $150 bucks in the newspaper or even on E-bay. The cost of chemicals, trays, a film developing tank say a Paterson with a couple of film reels, and a few extras like a thermometer, funnel, a pack of coffee filters to strain your chemistry through before putting it back in the bottle, and a safelight for printing would probably run you less than $120 bucks. A LOT less than a scanner, a color printer, photoshop, and a digital camera.

Oh, and BTW, if you go digital, be prepared to be investing and reinvesting in newer technology as the manufacturers continue to develop the digital world at the expense of consumers. Film technology has been around and a stable part of the photo industry for some time. And yes, you'll be able to get film and chemistry for quite some time, I think, (and most of the manufacturers of film products and digital equipment seem to agree).
Take it light ;>)

6/2/2007 6:00:07 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/17/2005
  One thing I forgot to mention is one of the significant reasons why we still teach wet-darkroom techniques. You'll probably find that a lot of us older-time instructors do that because we've found it connects students with the entire process of photography, including studying things like light and filtration, tonality, contrast, density, color saturation, exposure latitude and other things.

Most people who start shooting digitally without having known film or the inner workings of film, are hard-pressed to understand filtration and those other things I mentioned and have a hard time getting a handle on the intracacies of Photoshop. That's not to say they can't learn them in a strictly digital sense, but from my experience with students, they can do it much easier and more meaningfully with an education based on knowing the film process and having processed at least their own b&w film.

I'm sure you're going to find a gazillion people here who would disagree with my philosophies and reasoning, but as I said, this is a digital site. Go to and you'll see what I'm talking about.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it ;>)

6/2/2007 6:37:39 PM

I answered as I did not out of some dedication to digital but because the question seemed to come from a perspective of not having much experience in the darkroom. The person posting the question seemed to be interested in going it alone (not getting instruction on a campus), and knowing what the process is like on both ends and the complexities, my suggestion is simply that digital is a quicker, easier, and less expensive. It wasn't meant as an affront to film or darkroom processing but as a practical suggestion.

I disagree about the expense of digital. The biggest expense you have in going digital for darkroom adjustment is a computer, and that expense seems to have already been made as the question was posted, obviously using a computer. One does not need Photoshop for a digital darkroom, and I believe I suggested much less expensive alternatives that will certainly do the job. You also do not need to invest in a scanner AND a digital camera—that would likely be either/or. As you can have negatives scanned very inexpensively to multi-resolution Kodak Photo CDs, you wouldn't even need a scanner...but even then a decent starter scanner (4800 spi) can be had for under $100, brand new. I wouldn't waste money on a home printer (if you don't already have one for free, as you get with many home system purchases) as that just adds complexity. I advocate sending files to a service and let them worry about the stocking, chemicals, maintenance, color calibration, etc...I do my 'darkroom' work and just FTP the files. If there is interest in any of these areas (scanning, digital cameras, printing) the devices can be added over time. The initial outlay in getting started working with digital can be $0--as long as you already have a computer. It 'can be' expensive as you say...but there is no reason it has to be.

I do think, as you suggest, that understanding darkroom processing is valuable, and I can attribute some of the techniques I use in digital editing to it. I can also credit my experience with pre-press and offset printing for other bits of understanding it is likely one would never have gotten working with digital images alone. Prepress and camera separations too have filtered into my techniques, but I'd not suggest someone start exploring photo processing by going and getting a pre-press job.

I think an answer to my question might give us quite a lot more to go on, as it would help clarify what CLaro actually has in mind.

6/2/2007 7:25:29 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/17/2005
  Thanks for your comments. But Rich, my question to you is: What are you using all that extra space in your basement for now that your darkroom is gone?

I do all my processing in a darkroom that's about 60 square feet 10'x 6, with the separate wet and dry areas.

6/2/2007 7:43:01 PM

  Hi Claro,
There are many developing agents. Probably the two most common are Metol (CH3NHC6H4OH)2H2SO4 and Hydroquinone C6H4(OH)2. I have heard that you can get some burgundy wines to act as developers, but I have no experience with using them for this purpose.

The most critical chemical for photography is fix. There are only two chemicals that can easily make a silver image light safe. The most common one is sodium thiosulphate. Discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1819. Herschel is a critical figure in early photography: he introduced the word snapshot and discovered the cyanotype process.

I sometimes see that Craig’s List has enlargers for free, a good price. The enlarger mark suggests is very good, but if you can get an old Omega D2 you would be doing well. Instead of an enlarger you can get a large format camera. Nothing like shooting a camera that makes an 8X10 inch negative.

I use the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography as my desk reference on these matters, but I would suggest the Darkroom Cookbook. The cookbook is really good, but it is in the darkroom.

May good fortune follow you in this endeavor!
John Siskin

6/2/2007 7:56:08 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  You were given the stuff for black and white, so, Claro, in case you meant color, speak up. You'll be able to get film for a long time, but the chemicals maybe not. Some working guys (not talking about senior portraits and wedding people) have said they're seeing it beginning to get harder to have their stuff processed. So the chemicals in the store may become a rarity at some point. Selling to individuals should go away before labs, since it's bought in bulk by labs.

6/3/2007 2:18:07 AM

Brewing equipment. I occassionally compete in homebrew competitions. Fermenters/carboys, bottles, grains, 2 turkey fryers (so I can brew in the yard) and other paraphrenalia take up most of the previous space on a steel storage rack...but there has been overflow from the 'office' put there too...a stacked book shelf, and some studio equipment--with room to get at everything. I've considered a lagering fridge, but it might be a little too tight.

I think darkroom work can be a passion and an art in itself, but I moved that interest to the computer.

6/3/2007 3:29:56 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/17/2005
  Hi ya Richard ! Yeah, I heard those fryers really work great. Thought about getting one but for a once a year deal, didn't think it was worth the oil disposal fees. I'm trying to persuade my wife to get a Wolf stove so I can improve the quality of meals around here. Never thought much about doing home brewing though. Had a college roomate in the dorm who did that in a 40 gallon plastic trash can until we got busted by the dean of housing. Apparently his brew had a yeast-like aroma all it's own. LOL !!

6/3/2007 9:29:59 AM

  The fryers are for boiling the wort for the brews...I've never had a turkey in either. I've used them all times of year. This is much different than fermenting with rogue yeast in a trash can. You might get a lambic out of that, but i'd think it would be a little rough around the edges. I can't imagine that in a dorm room...could be nearly asphixiating!

6/3/2007 9:51:36 AM

Gay Domoney

member since: 4/17/2004
  Don't be put of learning to print black and white in a darkroom. I am still learning, but it is so absorbing. Yes, I 'do' digital as well, but nothing (in my view) can beat a black and white image properly printed in the dark room. Have fun!

6/5/2007 7:57:38 AM

Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 3/3/2005
  Hi Claro, The basic chemicals are developers for prints or negatives, stop bath, and fixers. These potographic agents along with papers, and other req. euipt. such as trays, enlargers, and lights are available at many retail stores and on-line sources such as Adorama, B & H Photo, and others. Hope this helps. Good luck!

6/5/2007 12:08:19 PM

Melissa Defernandez

member since: 6/25/2007
A helpful site for chemical info and developing times etc is

Yes I agree with Mark F. as there is something special and enjoyable about developing and printing your own photos in a darkroom. Somehow it seems to be more engaging. Sure digital is quicker, easier and probably more convenient but each to their own. I've recently found a darkroom at a community centre that I can use very cheaply and I still have the grin on my face 2 weeks later as I am looking forward to rocking those chemical trays!

7/26/2007 10:45:33 PM

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Photography Question 
Ashley C. Abeyta

member since: 11/28/2002
  2 .  prices on top darkroom equipment
I want to start my own darkroom and I would like to know where abouts I'm looking at in the price range, how expensive the equipment is? Maybe a website you know with prices?

11/28/2002 10:52:05 PM

member since: 3/7/2003

3/7/2003 6:06:45 PM

Malinda S. Walters

member since: 3/25/2004
  It varies upon whether you want to purchase Used or New equipment. I purchased my enlarger/darkroom equipment used since the technology has not changed. They worked perfectly and I didn't break the bank. I was also able to get more for the same price points.
A good website to check for New pricing is:

Ironically, I am selling my equipment with travel cases (I used to be a consultant and do this in my spare time). A link to my equipment is:

Great for storage.

Good Luck!

3/25/2004 12:35:38 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 11/20/2002
  3 .  Were to compare prices of darkroom equip.?
I was wondering were to go to look for darkroom equipment. I need somthing good but not thousands of dollars.

11/20/2002 9:42:02 PM

Michael F. Harrington

member since: 10/27/2002
  Look on the web!

11/23/2002 5:15:30 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 11/20/2002
  4 .  B&W and Colour enlargers, whats the difference?
I'm planning on setting up my own darkroom, and am starting to look for an enlarger... my only problem is which one? Is it possible to produce Black and White prints on a Colour enlarger? I'd rather have the option of processing both.

11/20/2002 5:48:30 AM


member since: 11/20/2002
  this is my question exatly!!! maybe email your findings to me at

11/20/2002 9:43:57 PM

Deb Thomas

member since: 4/18/2001
  Yes, you can make B&W prints with a color enlarger. On a color enlarger you use the color adjustments filters to control contrast instead of using the conventional contrast filters used in B&W.


11/22/2002 8:30:36 PM

Larry Greenlee

member since: 7/14/2003
  Its easy to make both B&W and color prints from a color enlarger, color is much easier to make than quality B&W, most B&W photographers that I know (including myself) will prefer a condenser head for high quality prints, which you can also make great color prints from by useing a low cost filter set, I do love good B&W , try old barns and old farm houses and do some toneing

7/14/2003 6:26:57 AM

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Photography Question 

member since: 10/8/2002
  5 .  darkroom safelights
I'm building a darkroom and cannot decide what kind of safelight(s) I should buy. I will be doing strictly black & white. My room is approx. 6' x 12' with my sink and enlarger on opposite sides of the room. Any brands that you prefer and what kind? I can't pound a nail so I'm worried about installation too. I'm at a loss.

10/8/2002 5:07:09 PM

Melissa Corkum

member since: 11/8/2002
I'm not sure on specific brands, but I usually use independently standing safelights. That way there is no installation. I don't think they are too expensive and sometime they are being sold on ebay. You should have as many as you need to see what you're doing. I've attached a picture of a PREMIER safelight to better describe what I'm talking about.

11/8/2002 1:27:11 PM

Melissa Corkum

member since: 11/8/2002
I'm not sure on specific brands, but I usually use independently standing safelights. That way there is no installation. I don't think they are too expensive and sometime they are being sold on ebay. You should have as many as you need to see what you're doing. I've attached a picture of a PREMIER safelight to better describe what I'm talking about.

11/8/2002 1:28:06 PM


member since: 10/8/2002
  Thanks for the information Melissa.

11/9/2002 4:49:30 PM

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Photography Question 
Victor E. Best

member since: 9/24/2002
  6 .  What lens & bulb for a DURST 606 enlarger please?
hi all-hope someone can help.
i'm about to take delivery of a DURST 606 enlarger apparently in good shape-bought it on the net for £35pounds ($60) inc. delivery. Has anyone any experience with these enlargers? More importantly its coming without a bulb or lens and I need to know what bulb to get and what type, size, thread of lens to go for-its for printing 120 rollfilm. Is the thread issue important and r there many different types of thread?-i dont want to go hunting for a lense if it'll be the wrong type-Any help will be most welcome-many thanks-VICTOR (N.Ireland)

10/7/2002 2:48:57 PM

Sara R. Perkins

member since: 1/4/2003
  I got a Durst 606 enlarger as a hand-me-down, also without bulb or lens. What I ended up doing was buying a lens I felt I could work with and using a lathe to cut the threads. Since then, everything else in the enlarger has failed on me at least once, but I've had no problems with the lens. If you have a lathe and are capable with it, that's the way to go.

Good luck. If anyone can tell me why the whole dang thing leaks light, I'd be glad of the help!

1/4/2003 6:39:46 PM

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Photography Question 
Tj Williams

member since: 10/3/2002
  7 .  black and white enlargers etc.
I have everything to develope negatives but nothing to put it on paper please help me

10/3/2002 12:26:50 AM


member since: 1/23/2003
  for the beginner the best thing to do is buy the rc paper. one of the cheapest places on the web to buy it is B&H photo. Ilford is usually a really good brand to deal with.

1/23/2003 9:57:00 AM

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Photography Question 
Jonathan Williams

member since: 1/1/2002
  8 .  need help with enlargers
dear all,
I need some names of enlargers that would work for me here is what I need.

I am looking for an enlarger that is for printing color prints. I would like it to be able to print 10 by 12 but 8 by 7 is okay. I will be using 35mm film but might latter on want to get larger into medium format but no bigger than that. I would like it to have great quality and also dichroic filters for easy use. All I need is entry levle. and resenably priced, 200 down. They do not have to be new modles, I will look at ebay and used shops.

7/3/2002 8:13:02 PM

Larry Greenlee

member since: 7/14/2003
  I have used the Omega B66 for years , you can make up to 16x20 prints right on base board if you get the XL (extra long ) pluse it will take the medium format neg. all you need is a carrier for that and a 75mm or 80 mm lense for the med. 50mm for 35mm, a great enlarger for the home shop, also Beseler 23c

7/14/2003 6:36:37 AM

Jonathan Williams

member since: 1/1/2002
  Thank you Larry for your response I Have not yet bought an enlarger. I have been using one at school. I will now be looking for the omega.

7/14/2003 11:09:32 AM

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Photography Question 
Carrie Ryan

member since: 6/17/2002
  9 .  daylab jr
i am interested in the daylab jr. I can't seem to get to the page where there is purchasing info. can you help me? thanks carrie

6/17/2002 11:19:03 PM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  Hi Carrie,

Here is the link to our brief review .

But it appears that Amazon and the other resellers that we monitor do not carry it anymore. You may want to check ebay, B&H photo, and your local camera dealers to try to find one.

I hope you have success... it is really a fun tool to have on hand.

6/20/2002 9:16:39 PM

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Photography Question 

member since: 5/12/2002
  10 .  Equiupment priceing so I can sell???
A good freind of mine moved away and left me a box of goodies. They included a beseler 23cII enlarger(in great shape excluding the arm that raises it up and down is broken off at the end), a Schneider-Krueznach 2.8,4,5.6,8,11,16 coponarC2.8/50 lens, 35 mm neg. carrier, timer, an assortment of polycontrast acetate filters, a enlarger focusing sight, and trays, beakers, tongs, etc... Basically, I wanted to know how much they are worth.

5/12/2002 5:57:01 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  Check out some of the places that sell used gear and see what they're selling that stuff for. Look at B&H and Keh Camera for starters.

5/13/2002 12:07:44 PM


member since: 5/12/2002
  Thanks Jeff, that helped alot.

5/13/2002 2:38:47 PM

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