How do you know which is best and what do you recommend? : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I am a senior in high school and my photography class is researching the best equipment to buy to build our own dark room. We have to choose equipment and tell why we would choose it. I was wondering how to know which easels are the best? How do I know which size is right for me? (In our scenario money is no object.)

-- Martha Gray Deans (, November 02, 2001


Greetings Martha,

One way to ascertain the best equipment is talk to people who have been using it for years and identify what works and what doesn't; exactly what you are doing. Regarding easels, some of common characteristics are that they hold the paper flat, are easy to adjust and repeatable in their operation. If you set 1" borders and make 20 prints, your first print through to the last should all have the same 1" border. That sounds easy, but there are easels that can't do that.

Size of the easel is important and should be based upon the size prints you usually make. The price seems to jump exponentially with size, but price is not one of your criteria. If 90% of your printing will be 8x10's it doesn't make sense to get a 16x20 easel. A 16x20 easel is quite a large and heavy beast and may prove very cumbersome to move under the enlarger for making 8x10's. In this instance an 11x14 easel makes much more sense. A second easel could be purchased for larger prints.

There are different types of easels, i.e. 2 blade, 4 blade, borderless, vacuum, etc. Personally, I have never used a borderless, or vacuum easel, so I cannot comment on those. 2 blade easels are usually cheaper and much less flexible it their use, but they can meet the requirement of holding the paper flat, ease of use and repeatability. Most people like 4 blade easels and these allow you to adjust all 4 borders independently, offering great flexibility.

I have an old 4 blade easel that was made in the 1950's and while it does hold the paper flat and is easy to use, it isn't very repeatable and the border sizes change from one print to the next - very frustrating! I recently purchased a Saunders V-track 16x20 4 blade easel and it's great. I based my decision on research and the recommendation of a friend who is a commercial printer and has used a Saunders 4 blade easel for many years and swears by it. My only regret is that I didn't get it sooner!. It is a big heavy easel and I would not want to use it if I were only printing 8x10's most of the time. Good luck!


-- Pete Caluori (, November 02, 2001.

The best masking frames (we call them that in the UK, it saves confusion with the wooden contraptions that painters use) are made by a company called R.R.Beard, or RRB, for short. They're ridiculously expensive, and heavily over engineered, but will last you several lifetimes.

-- Pete Andrews (, November 02, 2001.


I've never used an easel by R.R. Beard, so I can't comment on them, but I do have a Saunders 20"x24" Universal easel. I believe it is the largest that Saunders makes. Since it fits on my enlarger base and the blades that hold the paper down can be adjusted anywhere within the 20"x24" area, I can use it with all sizes of paper without having to move it around a lot. That's good, because it is heavy. But it works very well and it keeps the paper very flat. It costs just under $500 from Calumet. I could have bought a much cheaper or smaller model, but I could never have printed larger than 16"x20" without it, and I decided to blow the money once on the best I could get.

-- Don Welch (, November 02, 2001.

I've used a bunch of easels, from the fixed size slide-in ones, to borderless, to two & four blade models. Since the edges of prints are apt to be damage by handling or environment, borderless printing is not good practice unless you need it for some special purpose. The slide-in easels are fast if you have to make a lot of prints, but they can slide around and you're limited to one size border. If the border size on two-blade easels is adjustable at all, it's very limited. That leaves us with four-blade easels as the best all around choice. The quality of design and construction determines how well the border width will repeat, and how well you can set it to begin with. After fooling with various others, years ago I bought a Saunders, though not a V-track, and that has proved rugged and reliable. At the time it was considered expensive, but cost is quickly forgotten, whereas bad quality will plague you until you toss the unit and buy what you should have to begin with. Though I rarely print larger than 8x10, there are times when you want an 11x14, so that was the size I got. A larger easel is just too much of a pain if you don't routinely use it to capacity.

-- Conrad Hoffman (, November 02, 2001.


You are getting some good advice, so I will fill in with some missing pieces. Two important things to consider are (1) what is the largest print that you can make with your enlarger setup, and (2) what is the largest size print you wish to print. Obviously, if you can only print up to 11 x 14 with your enlarger setup, getting a 16 x 20 easel is not an option. So first consider your physical setup. Next, you should determine the maximum size you want to print, and then ideally get an easel one size larger (provided it will fit under your enlarger lens).

Also, the type of paper you will use can be a factor. If you are using RC paper, then borderless easels can be considered and used with relative ease (with larger sized prints, you might need to use something to help keep the paper flat such as double sided tape or poster putty). With fiber paper, borderless easels can be very problematic because of paper curl unless something like a vacuum easel is used, which is expensive and can be bulky and cumbersome (not to mention somewhat noisy).

One suggestion, especially if money is no object, is to have a variety of easels. They make printing easier, and it can be a real drag to try to improvise if you don't have the appropriate easel. 4 bladed easels are a must if money is not an object. Get the largest your setup can accommodate. It is also nice to have several single- sized easels, whether they are quick print easels or something like Saunders Single Size easels (which I find easier to work with).

I have not used a Beard easel, but have read about them and talked to people who have used them. They seem to be the cream of the crop, and can even produce hairline borders that look neat. You can find information about them at, and they are sold under the Calumet brand name. There was also an article in Shutterbug magazine several months ago on "borders" around prints that talk about them. Just go to the library and look up some of the back issues (hey, this is a research project, isn't it?).

-- Jim Rock (, November 02, 2001.

Hope that's enough to get you a good grade on your mid-term. And, look at it this way, you didn't have to do a bit of research yourself. Boy, the Internet's great - better than a library!

-- Alec (, November 02, 2001.

Hey Alec, cut her a little slack. Sometimes I wish my kids had the initiative to copy off other people's papers, let alone looking on the Internet for something useful. At least she was honest about what she was doing. I'm still expecting a report on the Shutterbug article.

-- Jim Rock (, November 02, 2001.

Well Jim, I just pray your comments about your children making it through life by dishonest means are meant as a joke. Sure would have liked to see a at the end, though.

-- Alec (, November 03, 2001.

No need to pray, Alec. They're typical teenagers. You should get a couple and you'd see what I mean. I'm sure there are plenty of parents who would lend you some for a year or two.

-- Jim Rock (, November 04, 2001.

Thank you all! Hey Alec, Easels aren't the ONLY thing i'm having to research--and i'm a senior i'm exempt from exams in Photography. haha. Besides, i've still got to find the one I want. (however, truthfully, i find your sarcasm hilarious) Thanks again to everyone.

-- Martha Gray Deans (, November 04, 2001.

I'll agree with those who favor the four bladed easels. I find that it is nice to be able to print with wide (half-inch) borders, which are later trimmed off for mounting. This minimizes damage to the image area during processing and drying, from tongs and accidental bumps.

ps. I'd say that asking those who have experience with different types of equipment is a much more reasonable research method, than buying all the equipment to test. However, when it comes to image making, there is no substitute for personal experience. You will learn as much from failures as successes. Just be organized about your experiements, and change one variable at a time.

-- Chris Ellinger (, November 06, 2001.

Consider building an easel.I've constucted several, sized to the paper I would use . Making borderless frames that I could divide into smaller print sizes using masks to cover the paper as each section of the larger sheet is exposed. I even cover the frame with an top to register each new negative for printing . Crafting a easel for using 8x10,11x14 or 81/2x11 to make repetitive quarter size prints can test your building skills . Be glad to share details if any one wishes . Russ

-- Russell E Brubaker (, November 06, 2001.

Martha, Saunders 4 blade adjustable easle. Goes from 5x7 to 11x14. A real joy! Ken

-- Kenneth Bruno (, May 26, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ