Black & White Paper Processing

This is a subsection of B&W Printing; it describes how you process one piece of paper; the important thing missing here is how you expose the paper and how you arrive at a proper exposure.

The equipment you need is listed the B&W Printing section.

The one-piece-of-paper process is:

  1. expose the paper,
  2. develop the paper,
  3. stop the developer,
  4. fix the paper,
  5. wash the paper, and
  6. dry the paper.

You'll see that this is similar to the process for B&W film except that it doesn't need to be done in complete darkness and development is to completion, so contrast control is a bit different.


You need to get the paper into the developer as uniformly as possible so that no part of it is wet much later than any other part, otherwise you'll get uneven development. The usual way is to slap the paper in face-down, push it under the surface of the developer, then turn it over.

Once the paper is in the developer tray, it needs gentle and continuous agitation. If you're sticking your fingers in the developer, a pair of nitrile gloves are a good idea because some developers can cause contact dermatitis after a while. Using tongs (with strictly separate pairs for developer and stop/fix) and keeping the hands dry is a better idea; it will reduce the chance of chemicals on fingertips damaging paper when you pick it up.

Development time is not critical because paper is developed approximately to completion. Most RC papers are done in about 2 minutes and most FB papers about 3. A common approach to finding the development time is "factorial development":

For RC papers, shadows should appear around the 20s mark, which means you develop for 120s. Going for an extra minute will be fine as long as you do that consistently.


Once the development is done, drain the paper by holding it by the corner and letting it drip off. Then dunk it in the stop bath; it only needs about 10s.

Retrieve it from the stop bath using the stop/fix tongs then drain it again.


RC paper needs to fix for about a minute. Dunk it in an agitate gently; since it's already wet you won't have the same trouble getting it under the surface as you did with the developer.

Once done, drain it and throw it in the first wash tray.

You can turn the room-lights on once the fixer step is complete.


To wash RC paper, it needs to spend at least 4 minutes submerged with constant agitation, and it needs to go through at least three separate baths. Alternatively, 4 minutes of running water at a rate sufficient to replace the contents of your tray a couple of times.

If you have the room for them, three trays in a row that the print passes through in order is a good way to achieve that. Once you've done a few prints, discard the first tray down the sink, promote the other two trays by pushing them along the bench, then put the newly-filled tray as the new third tray. That way, the print always finishes in the freshest water containing the least fixer.

If you're processing test strips, they just need a few seconds splashing in the first tray, you don't need to be thorough at all.

If you're processing FB paper, this washing process is nowhere near sufficient!


Slap the print up on a wall, wipe excess water off with the edge of your hand and then blow-dry the print with a hairdryer. Or place it somewhere lint-free and safe from cats to evaporate.

Back to Analogue Photography and Film FAQ