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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Dark Room in 2023?

Do you want to start a dark room business and you want to know the cost breakdown? If YES, here are 10 factors that affect the cost of building a dark room.

According to Wikipedia, a darkroom is used to process photographic film, to make prints and to carry out other associated tasks. Dark rooms allow for the processing of light – sensitive photographic materials, including film and photographic paper. Various equipment used in the darkroom, include an enlarger, baths containing chemicals, and running water.

To get pictures from camera film, the film must first be cut into separate pieces, called negatives. The negatives are then used to project the photographic image stored on them onto special photographic paper.

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Photographic papers are known to react to light to produce the image taken by a camera and stored on film. Since photographic paper reacts to light, pictures using camera film need to be produced (a process called developing) in a room that is completely dark.

Choosing a Location for your Dark Room

Indeed, you need to choose a location with outlets for your darkroom. This can be any room you can make light-tight, be it a spare bedroom, spacious closet or basement. A room with no windows is preferable, but if you choose a room with windows you will need to black it out, using either blackout curtains or blackout sheeting to tightly cover them so the room is completely dark.

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You will be able to confirm that your room is light – tight by turning off all the lights and letting your eyes adjust, if there is even a small crack of light, you will be able to tell.

Estimated Cost of Building a Dark Room

Many photographers think building a darkroom is expensive, time – consuming, and difficult. This is not true. One of the very first things to consider and probably the cheapest when building a dark room is to evaluate your available space.

Cost of location in this endeavour rarely matters especially since a dark room can be built in a closet, guest room, garage, or basement. Majority of the building cost will go to equipment, and they are outlined as follows:

1. Tanks and Reels: $27  –  $40

Tanks and reels are vessels and coils or frames that allow you to immerse your film – either rolls or sheets – in the chemistry necessary to develop it. Split between two categories, there are daylight tanks and open tanks (or not – daylight tanks).

Just as the name implies, a daylight tank allows you to develop your film safely in ambient light. On the other hand, an open tank, which is generally reserved for sheet film development, forces you to work in total darkness. Daylight tanks are much more common and, outside of a professional lab, are the de facto standard for processing roll film.

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However, they are also split between two categories – steel and plastic – and comprise a cylindrical tank, some form of a light baffle, and a lid that permits pouring chemistry in and out with the room lights on. Inside the tank, during development, are reels, around which your film is securely wound.

The reels prevent the film from sticking together and ensure even development. Just like the tank, reels can be constructed from plastic and steel.

They must also be matched to the tank material. Plastic reels go in plastic tanks; steel reels go in steel tanks. Plastic reels are typically easier for the novice to load since they incorporate a racketing mechanism that is often called an “autoloader.”

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Steel reels, on the other hand, are a bit trickier to load and need a bit more dexterity in the way of slightly arching the film width – wise, and manually spooling it around the reel.

Plastic tanks have the advantage of simplicity, ease of use, and reels often can accommodate various sizes of roll film; steel tanks have the advantage of being more durable, require less chemistry for processing, and have better temperature stability.

2. Film – Developing Chemistry: $12  –  $35

In the most general terms, black – and – white film developers are split between powder and liquid formulas. Both will become a liquid working solution at some point, though it just depends on your preference for shelf life versus mixing protocol.

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Liquid developers are much easier to mix, can usually be mixed in smaller amounts, but often tend to have somewhat shorter shelf lives.

While powdered developers must be mixed with water in a certain manner, often requiring mixing with hot water and then waiting for your solution to cool before use, but they do have a nearly infinite shelf life when the package of powder is unopened.

Aside this difference in preference, different film developers are available to achieve distinct effects and some are well – suited for certain films, certain processing techniques, or for certain printing methods. Coupled with a film developer, the other essential chemical needed for processing your film is fixer.

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Fixer helps to stabilize your film after development and removes the unexposed silver halide to create a permanent image.

Other chemicals commonly used during film development, which are optional but often highly recommended depending on your film type, include stop bath, to immediately terminate the process of development prior to fixing; hardeners, which are sometimes added to fixers if working with films with a softer emulsion; washing aids, or hypo clearing agent, which help to expedite the process of washing fixer from film prior to the final water rinse; and wetting agents, which help to minimize water spots or streaks forming on your film as it dries.

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3. Accessories: $19  –  $42

Since most chemicals need to be diluted prior to use, and it is unlikely you will use all of your mixture at once, storage bottles are a convenient way to keep the working and stock solutions. Note that graduates are available in a wide variety of sizes and help with mixing certain quantities of chemicals to ensure consistent, accurate results.

Film clips, which honestly do work better than clothespins, hang your film securely when air drying. A second clip is attached to the bottom of the roll holds it taut to prevent curling or clinging. Last, but not least, a proper thermometer is indispensable and will help you achieve that perfect 68F during development, for consistent results.

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4. Enlargers and Lenses: $30  –  $170

The key component for printing a negative is an enlarger. With the exception of contact printing, an enlarger is the key component that allows you to produce prints of varying sizes from a negative. Simply put, an enlarger contains a light source that illuminates a suspended negative and projects an image through a lens, which is focused on an easel, resting on a baseboard.

A piece of light – sensitive paper is held flat in the easel and is exposed to the projected image, and then developed in chemicals to create a photographic print. Another very important accessory to printing is an easel, which is used to hold your paper in place – and flat – during printing.

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Easels are available in three styles – adjustable, borderless, and fixed borders. Adjustable easels are by far the most versatile, and feature individual blades that let you crop your imagery and set varying – width borders on your prints. Borderless and fixed – border easels are more useful for specific tasks.

Another unique tool is called a grain focuser. Most photographers find this tool difficult to use and others find it indispensable for making perfectly sharp prints, but this mirrored magnifier is used to gain a clear view of the grain structure of your film to achieve sharp focus more objectively, versus viewing a dim image on the easel.

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You might also have to invest in multi – grade printing filters. When working with variable contrast printing papers, these filters allow you to fine – tune the contrast of your print across 12 steps to compensate for overly contrast or very low contrast negatives.

5. Papers and Paper Chemistry: $11  –  $83

Just like film and film developer choice, your selection in printing paper, developer, and toner can add a further layer of character to your final photograph.

Also similar to film, the specifics of different paper types and how various developers interact with those papers, plus the techniques involving their use, could be an endless discussion unto itself. But to briefly cover the main points of darkroom – printing consumables, start with a primer on black – and – white printing papers.

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Those papers can be divided into two main categories – fibre – based and resin – coated – then further classified as variable contrast and graded, and finally broken down into various surface finishes, including glossy, matte, and several degrees of lustre or semi – matte, depending on the manufacturer.

However, the key decision is choosing between fibre – based and resin – coated papers. Fibre-based paper, or FB, is a true paper and is the classic printing medium for fine art photographs and achievability. While resin-coated, on the other hand, is a polymer and is best suited for quick processing, washing, and drying.

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Fibre-based paper tends to have a longer tonal scale and deeper blacks, but on the downside, it is much more difficult to work with due to its increased washing and drying times, the fact that the paper curls when drying, and that prints are prone to the dreaded dry – down effect where they darken as they dry.

Resin – coated papers are durable and very easy to handle, but have a distinctly more plastic – like feeling. RC paper is an ideal medium for learning the craft, whereas FB papers, when handled correctly, will truly make your prints shine.

6. Additional Accessories – $140+

Even though black-and-white printing permits the use of a safelight to see, a dark room should still be set up in a way that provides total darkness.

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Special seals and blackout cloth can be used to guard against light entering your darkroom, or for more permanent constructions, a revolving darkroom door allows you to enter and leave the darkroom without having to cover your paper or pack up all light – sensitive materials.

In terms of permanent installations, for photographers looking to really step up his or her darkroom game, a dedicated sink with special water and temperature controls really adds to the ability to hone one’s craft. Sinks are available in pre – built lengths or can be custom sized to fit nearly any working space, and can be ordered in metal or fibreglass constructions.

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In addition, whether you’re working in a sink, on a countertop, or on a staggered shelving unit, darkroom trays are essential for printing. Usually constructed from plastic, but also available in stainless steel, trays are the containers in which you keep your chemicals for developing and processing your prints after they have been exposed under your enlarger.

Always look for designs that feature a pouring lip for easy dumping of spent chemistry; grooved bottoms versus flat – bottomed trays, which make it easier to retrieve prints with tongs when moving prints from tray to tray; and select a tray size that is at least one standard size larger, or a couple of inches on each side, than the size prints you expect to be working with (i.e., look for 12 x 16” trays if you will be printing on 11 x 14” paper).

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Have it in mind that the equipment and estimates analyzed above are the bare minimum. You will probably want lots of accessories as you develop your skills and their prices might differ according to sources. Nonetheless, roll up your sleeves, get messy, make mistakes, and enjoy the process.