Instructions for Setting Up A Darkroom in Your Home

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The purpose of this page is document how I tried to set up a darkroom, to serve as a reference to other people who wish to do the same thing. When I was looking online for information, there were a lot of scattered resources and little advice that could give me the answers I was looking for. I hope to make few mistakes in this attempt and hopefully someone else can benefit from what I learn.

The Motivation

I love photography and I think there's as much creative process in printing a print than there is in taking one. Well, maybe not as much, but almost. Besides, it feels satisfying to be responsible for the print all the way from the shutter to the paper. I want control over how the final image looks. I had been attending a great public darkroom in San Francisco at the Harvey Milk Recreation Center and had a blast, but there were a few drawbacks. The space was big and a lot of people would use it, so you had to pursue your create endeavours in a public space, which can be a little stressfull and annoying. I longed for privacy while printing my prints. Also, it was inconvinient to only print during their open hours and gather up all your stuff to go their building. It required much more motivation.

When I moved to Barrie, Ontario, I quickly learned that there were no public darkrooms. The old guy at the camera shop suggested I start my own and when I started looking into it, I realized it would be easier than I had initially expected if I made the right decisions. I don't have a very big apartment, probably about 750 square feet, but my bathroom doesn't have a window, and would be just big enough to print photos in. I read more online and was inspired by a post on Google Groups (which has all the old newsgroups and is a huge resource for finding information on almost anything) that claimed he had started an elaborate darkroom for less than 350$ Canadian.

Right now I don't have the motivation for developing negatives, so this site will just focus on getting something up and running to develop prints for now. I hope to spend less than 300$ Canadian on this project.
Where to shop

I've been shopping around a lot for equipment lately, looking at prices. Ideally, I'm trying to get a functional darkroom that I can use to make good black and white prints for as cheap as possible. There seem to be a few different sources for darkroom supplies
  • Good Camera shops: These camera shops, like B&H Photo in NYC and Henry's in Toronto have a lot of new and used equipment and if you're looking for something very specific, you can usually find it here. The problem is their prices are a little high.

  • Smaller Camera shops: There's a camera shop here in Barrie that has a collection of used darkroom equipment, problem is they are expecting to rip you off. They want 90$ Canadian for an old beat up Gralab 168 timer, which is a little extreme. The last time I was in the local shop, the guy told me right out that he couldn't compete with eBay. I promptly left the store. Maybe they will be good for the smaller things.

  • Inviduals selling their entire darkroom. This is tempting, is it not? Here we could have the whole thing, requires little effort, hand over some cash or a check and poof! there's your darkroom. There are 2 problems I see with this. 1. People usually ask too much, or try to make a buck. 2. People don't usually know what they have or are selling, maybe they've never even use it. I saw a drooling darkroom for 750$ canadian, but really, there was too much shit I'd never use, so why would I want it?

  • Individuals selling pieces of their darkroom. Here's where I think the goldmine lies, and the most usefull tool is eBay. Some avid darkroom enthusiasts have upgraded parts of their darkroom, or perhaps someone is selling of their darkroom in piecemeal fashion. The good thing is usually there are pictures of what you're buying, you usually never pay more than what you're willing, and you have model numbers that you can do research with online to see if anyone has any experience with that particular product. The drawback is it requires research and patience: sometimes you're going to be outbid. But if you have the patience and will power, this so far is appearing to be the best choice.


The most important piece of your darkroom is the enlarger and the lens. Usually you buy both together, the quality of the englarger and lens is going to largely dictate the quality of your prints. I'm not entirely sure what to look for in an enlarger, Omega and Bessler are the bigger names that I know. I almost won a bid for a Durst F60 enlarger for 250$ Canadian, but I was outbid. I quickly found another enlarger, a Honeywell Nikor System 6x7 BW. Now, I did some research online and found that a few people had reliably been using these englargers. The Nikor is not to be confused with Nikon's Nikkor line of lenses, Nikor apparently was a company that built steel drums in the U.S. I found out this company went on to be part of Tiffen, which I found reassuring. The enlarger looked almost new in the photos and didn't look like it had been used often. From what I could gather, the only drawback I could find from people on Google Groups is that they couldn't find many negative carriers for this particular enlarger. From what I knew about my previous experiences with the Omega D enlarger, you can in theory jerry rig any negative carrier up, so I was set to go. I got the enlarger with shipping for 104$ Canadian. Now I've got the most expensive part out of the way for 1/3 of my hoped budget!

Price: 104$ (including shipping)
Total cost: 104$ CDN


It became quickly apparent to me that the standard darkroom timer is the Gralab timer. A timer is essential because it controls the power to the enlarger for precise exposures. There are a few models of the Gralab timer, the 400 is a nifty more expensive digital one, but I found a good Gralab 300 used on eBay for 65$ Canadian. Since it was in the US, I had to pay 21$ for shipping, but it sure beats buying the same thing at Henry's for 150$.

Price: 86$ (including shipping)
Total cost: 190$ CDN - we're getting up there.


I'd really like an easel that would do 11x14 prints, but they are really expensive. Instead I picked up a nice 8x10 easel since most of the prints I will be doing are of that size. For 11x14 prints, I can simple tape down the sheet to the base. This one came from the US so the shipping cost about 50% of the easel. The easel is adjustable, so I can also frame smaller prints.

Price: 36$ (including shipping)
Total cost: 226$ CDN

Misc. Photo Stuff

There are a few things that are required, such as trays, safelight, etc that you'll need for the printing process. I had to get these at Henry's.
  • 7.5 Watt Safelight bulb for any household socket (cheap substitute for a safe light) - 8$
  • 3 Tongs (1 for developer, 1 for fix, 1 for stop) - 7$
  • 2 2L mixing jugs (for mixing fix and developer from concentrate) - 36$
  • Detainer (jug for storing old fix) - 9$
  • 3 developing trays 11x14 (get 3 different colors to clearly mark each step) - 24$
  • Binder clips (to hang prints from shower rings from the shower rod to dry) - 5$

Price: 88$
Total cost: 314$ CDN

Misc. Household Stuff

To make printing go smoothly, there was a bunch of small things that I needed to get from Walmart, The dollar store, office depot, etc. Such as:
  • Can of compressed air (to clean negs) - 14$
  • Shower hose - for bath process - 12$
  • Shower rings - 1$
  • Squeegee - to dry prints - 1$
  • Masking tape - 2$
  • Binder clips (to hang prints from shower rings to dry - 5$
  • Piece of 14x14" glass (from frame shop - for contact sheets) - 3$
  • 2 plastic spoons (for mixing developer and fix concentrate, never mix these up, label them and make sure they are plastic) - 3$

Price: 35$
Total cost: 350$ CDN

Stuff that I'll need to replace

To start a darkroom you'll need the chemicals and paper, but I won't add this to the darkroom's overall cost because I'll need to replace this stuff when it runs out.
  • Agfa Multicontrast Developer 5L - 23$
  • Stop (Just going to use Water) - Free!
  • Agfa Mulicontrast Fixer 5L - 21$
  • 11x14 paper - 10pcs ilford .44M Cooltone MGC - 15$
  • 8x10 paper - Multigrade IV - already had this - free
  • 4x6 postcard paper - Ilfored MGIV .44K (100 pcs) - 29$

So we're done.

For exactly 350$ CDN I put together my own darkroom. I'll post some pictures of the setup and how it is assembled in my bathroom to give an idea of how to arrange everything together.Big thanks goes out to my dad who built me a shelf to put my trays on in my bathroom. Thanks dad!

How it looks set up.