Printing your own photos from film negatives is not as common as it once was, but it’s endlessly satisfying. It takes some research for newcomers to the process, and along the way you will have ample opportunity to explore the scientific side of the art form. One important step in the process is choosing the right photo paper for your film enlarger. As for finish, that’s largely a matter of preference, and it can be fun to experiment with super-shiny glossy sheets, velvety matte papers, and semi-matte options. Whatever effect you want, a high-quality paper is key. Here are our top recommendations.
1. Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe Resin Coated VC Paper
Ilford has a history of more than 100 years, one that tracks alongside the history of photography itself. The company’s easy-to-use variable-contrast paper for black-and-white prints works with all enlargers. It’s forgiving enough for beginners and those with makeshift darkroom setups (hello, red light bulb in the bathroom) and provides a clear and striking image that would satisfy a professional.
2. Fujifilm Fujicolor Crystal Archive Paper
For color printing, paper options are limited. You want a specialized paper that shows true color and holds that color for a long time. Fujifilm’s Fujicolor paper passes the test, producing prints with vivid tones and crisp highlights that will last in climate-controlled storage for at least 20 years. There is a tendency toward slight mottling in the darkest shots, but this paper is still a solid choice.
3. Arista EDU Ultra VC RC Black & White Photographic Paper
Developed to maintain quality at an accessible price, the Arista EDU line stays true to its mission even as the costs of other papers climb. These variable-contrast sheets won’t necessarily create the prints that you frame or sell, but for student practice or for contact sheets, Arista EDU is a reliably smart choice for black and white shots. Note, however, that this paper does not work with amber safelights.
4. Adorama Variable Grade, Black and White Resin Coated Photo Enlarging Paper
Adorama is a well-known creative tech store in New York City. These papers for film enlarging work have all the technical specs at a decent price. It’s a surprisingly good stand-in for Ilford papers but is notably faster—set exposure times much lower if you’re used to Ilford.
5. Ilford Multigrade IV Fiber Based Black and White Glossy Paper
Fans of fiber-based photo paper will extol its virtues until the cows come home. Fiber-based paper is made without the outer polyethylene layer that resin-coated paper has. This means that the emulsion takes on some of the texture of the paper itself. You’ll have to be very attentive as you work with it, though, as it’s much less forgiving than resin-coated paper.