Excellent prints can be obtained from your black and white negatives by commercial processing laboratories, and most photofinishers and minilabs. So why make your own prints?
Print making is a creative technique that is enjoyable and fulfilling. Producing your own prints allows you to choose the main area of interest for yourself and enlarge it to almost any size and shape desired. By ‘dodging’ and ‘burning’, that is, using your hands or pieces of card to hold back light from or give extra light to selected areas of your print you can emphasise key elements of the picture. Other simple techniques can be used to great effect such as using different contrasts for different areas of the print or using two or more negatives to produce one print. Developing your skills as a printer will allow you to make outstanding individual prints that give you great satisfaction and pleasure.
Making the most of your negatives is not difficult. You do not need a purpose-built darkroom, just a room that can be blacked out. The room you have chosen for your darkroom needs to be completely blacked out to stop light from entering. For windows use thick card cut to shape and held in place with black canvas tape. For doors use tape or black cloth or canvas to seal the edges. To ensure that the space is sufficiently light-tight, it is best to sit in the room in darkness for ten minutes or so. Any significant light leakage will become readily apparent.
You do not need running water, because the washing stage of print-making takes place in daylight and can be done in another room. Whatever room you choose for your print darkroom workspace you must try to divide it into two areas: A dry area for the enlarger, print composition, negative handling, etc. and a wet area for mixing solutions and print processing. For black and white work you will need a bench or a shallow sink large enough to hold three or four developing trays slightly larger than the largest prints you plan to make. You should try to create a physical divide between the two such as having wet and dry work benches set apart from one another or if the same bench must be used erect a splash barrier.
You need an enlarger, but it need not be expensive: even the simplest is capable of making fine prints on most photographic papers. It is important to ensure that the enlarger is supported on a firm base, as any vibrations are likely to cause unsharp prints. To control the exposure time it will be necessary to have a dedicated a timer wired into the enlarger circuit.
You will need a safelight that can be operated separately from the normal room light. Ideally this should be one into which you can fit different filters for use with different materials. However a general purpose filter such as an ILFORD 902 would be fine for most applications
You will need a stopwatch or similar timer for timing the dish processing stages and a thermometer for temperature control.
If you are able to make a permanent darkroom then it is a good idea to plan it out carefully so that the various movements and processes can be carried out in a logical and comfortable sequence. It is very helpful to fix a cord to run across the room just above head height to operate the room light. This can then be switched on with wet hands quite safely from both the wet and dry side of the darkroom. Cleanliness is vital in a darkroom and you should ensure that there is always a clean dry towel and that all trays and wet equipment are well rinsed and dried after each session.