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K.Spacey - K-PAX
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Working dust free

If you, like me, do not own a "clean-room" type darkroom containing mechanized air filtration, working dust free can at times seem like a night mare. Especially if you start learning to print, it may simply seem impossible. There are however some simple ways in which you can reduce dust contamination to an absolute minimum. Currently, I manage to print about 90% of all my prints completely dust free, even my large 4x5 inch negs, and the remainder has only very minor artifacts easily corrected using a bit of retouching ink. On the hole however, I feel retouching is a last resort and dust contamination should be avoided during each stage of the printing process.

So what can you do to avoid dust contamination?

- Use compressed air canisters. This is one of the most valuable tips. The first time I started using these canisters, that can be bought at any good photo shop, I was amazed how effective these were. They remove dust very effectively from negatives and equipment. You can buy these from different brands under divers names like "Air Duster" or "Air Power" or whatever.... My personal favorite are the "KenAir" Air Duster canisters, as they have an excellent ventilation system, giving a strong airflow with a light touch of the button. Before I print any image, I use the compressed air to remove dust from my negatives and the holding glasses of my enlarger's mask.

By the way, if anyone can actually tell me what's really in these canisters, please do send me an e-mail! I've been wondering what gas it is (also considering possible health issues - or not). It's definitely NOT compressed air (well, I guess my hands would be freezing of if it really was a mixture of 80% liquid nitrogen and 20% liquid oxygen I was holding in a thin walled canister ;-0). I suspect it's something like butane gas (the same gas as used for camping purposes), considering the "highly flammable" warning sign.

- Make your vacuum cleaner your best friend... ;-) This may seem like a trivial notion, but working dust free really starts with a clean working environment. Each and every time I start using my darkroom, I take my vacuum cleaner in and dust of my working surfaces. It just takes a few minutes but is worth it. Don't forget to dust of the easel that holds your photopaper! Any dust on there may end up as a visible artifact on your print too when you put down a new piece of paper for printing.

- Cover up all important equipment, especially your enlarger and digital photo printer, with plastic bags. Both my Durst Laborator 1200 enlarger head, and the 670 BW's head, are under plastic bags that I refit after each printing session. This avoids excessive dust settling on the optical parts of the enlarger, reducing dust load and related issues. My Epson R2400 is covered up as well... and scanners should be too.

- Be very careful with your negatives. I used to be pretty careless with my negatives at times. Especially since 35 mm film has a wide transportation strip, you do not damage it to easily. However, large format negs that lack the perforation, have a much smaller area to hold the image. The first time I discovered I was actually scanning my own fingerprints, was definitely the turning point for me... Since then, I only touch my large format negs using cotton gloves and insert them back into sleeves immediately after printing.

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