Peter J. Blackburn presents a simple printing device capable of producing sharp prints with ease.
For many alternative photographic printing processes, images are typically created using massive quantities of UV light, large negatives, and a device capable of maintaining constant, even pressure of those negatives with the surface receiving UV exposure. We commonly call those devices contact printers and they can be simply classified in two categories: wired and wireless.
“Wired” contact printers are those which are connected to or incorporated within an electrical unit providing UV light. More common names for electrical exposure units include plate burner and platemaker. Plate burners, such as those made by NuArc and commonly found in universities or commercial graphic production houses, feature powerful UV bulbs arranged inside a compartment allowing light to shine through a glass surface onto an intended substrate. Some plate burners can include the amenities of pin registration, electronic timing with a buzzer, and a vacuum system for maintaining perfect negative/paper contact. While convenient and consistent, plate burners can also be quite expensive to buy and operate, and many require special electrical sockets and wiring.
For 25 years I have preferred the more basic “wireless” versions of the contact printer. At first I used a piece of glass and a hinged board mounted in a finished wooden frame similar to the type now sold by Freestyle and others. It allowed me to drop the hinge and visually check the progress of my exposure while keeping both paper and negative securely in place.
When pin registration became important, I opted for an even simpler design which I still use today. It is a piece of 1/4 inch thick plate glass which rests on top of an unframed board (hinged or unhinged) which has been covered with a double layer of black felt. Spring clips keep the glass firmly in place while applying appropriate pressure ensuring sharp images.
The photos below tell the story. You can make the frame large or small for your requirements. With larger frames, however, there is a tendency for insufficient contact in the center of the image. This can be resolved by placing additional smaller bits of felt in the middle of the frame before placing the negative, paper, and glass on top. Alternatively, you can soak the wood prior to construction and with pressure, allow the board to acquire a slight bow as it dries. Having a subtle bow (warp) in the center of the board will act as a pressure point when applying the spring clips.
What materials do you need? Plywood, felt, and 1/4 inch thick plate glass all cut to your desired dimensions, spring clips, hinges, and dowels or “feet” to raise the printer from the tabletop (optional).
Basic spring clip contact printers can be positioned in the sun for exposure or placed underneath bulb style exposure units and overhead lamps. I love these simple printers and have rarely been tempted to use the more elaborate versions. To each his own, I suppose. Enjoy!