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Finding and Using Darkroom Easels and Negative Carriers

Developing film in the darkroom is a very hands-on way to create images, and it requires some specialized equipment if you want to do it right. Easels and carriers are essential for enlarging negatives into full-sized images for display.

What Are Easels and Negative Carriers Used for in the Darkroom?

  • Easels are typically used when enlarging negatives. They hold the photographic paper in place so that you can create the image on it using your enlarger. The enlarger shines a bright light through the negative, and the resulting image is focused by the enlarger lens onto the photo paper.
  • Depending on the size of your easel, you can produce different sizes of prints. Manufacturers like Saunders make a lot of adjustable easels so you can produce a lot of different print sizes.
  • Negative carriers hold the negative in place. They slot into the enlarger to put the negative in the right place.

Which Features Should I Look For in an Easel?

  • Find an easel big enough to make the prints that you want. If you only want to print 4 x 6 inch prints, you don't need as big an easel as if you wanted to make poster-sized images. A lot of models are actually adjustable, so it's possible to make a lot of different print sizes from the same device.
  • A lot of easels have a frame around the edge, which helps to hold the paper in place but also creates a plain border on all of your prints. Some manufacturers like Saunders also make borderless easels. These don't have a frame around the outside so you can print all the way to the edges of the paper.
  • Different easels have different numbers of blades. These are the moving parts that define the borders of the print. A four-blade easel has four independently-moving blades, offering different shapes than a two-blade easel. Many designs have locking blades, so you can count on them not to move while you are working.
  • The backboard provides a solid surface for the easel to rest on while you are using it. Different models use different materials for the backboard. Some include heavy-duty rubber feet to prevent it from sliding while you are trying to work.

How Do I Choose a Negative Carrier?

  • Make sure that the carrier is the right size for your enlarger. If you get one that is too big or too small, it won't snap into place properly.
  • Carriers can have glass panels to hold the negative in place without stopping light from getting to it, or they can be glassless. A glass carrier helps to make the negative lie completely flat so you won't introduce any distortions into the final print. However, any dust or scratches on the glass can negatively affect image quality, problems that don't exist with a glassless carrier.

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