Traditional silver-gelatin prints from digital images

You can now make real, traditional, silver-gelatin prints from your digital prints in your own home darkroom, or just a dark room if that's what you have.

I've put together an enlarger that makes traditional, real, silver-gelatin prints, 3-tray wet-darkroom prints, from digital images, results indistinguishable from film/darkroom prints. As with a traditional film/enlarger, any brand paper can be used, RC or fiber-based; prints can be any shape or size, borders any shape or size. I'd like to share the how-to of it with anyone interested, the hope being that the traditional home darkroom will become common again, real, RC or fiber prints common again. The enlarger can be put together by anyone half-way handy for as little as $100.

The best of both worlds: shoot digital, with all of its convenience and versatility, but print silver, with its incomparable look and lifespan--and at about one-dollar per 8x10, less expensively than the cheapest fade-prone machine print. And make your own prints precisely the way you want them, as in a traditional film/enlarger darkroom.

I'll post details in a bit, but post specific questions here if you'd like and I'll answer.

Tim Baker
Here's a rough sketch of how it works: Shoot digital, perfect the image in Photoshop, convert to negative, reverse the image, display that image on a 5k monitor--I use the 5k Retina-screen Imac. Photograph that monitor image using photo paper instead of a negative, paper of whatever print size or shape you want. Develop the print in a traditional 3-tray wet darkroom, as if from a film/enlarger.
The roughly $2,000 cost of the 5k monitor is almost 90% of the cost of the system. A new or used 300mm process lens most of the rest. The "camera" body and accouterments cost little, if self made. An econo version can use a 4k monitor, owned by many already, obtainable used for $500 and up. See more below.
The first, proof-of-concept test version I made cost about $10 is materials, used a lens from a #3 pair of eyeglasses, with an 8-bladed iris made with black tape. A regular computer screen was used for the negaitve image, having about 1080 verticle pixels. Resolution of the first 4x5 test prints was about 270 dpi, and looked so good they inspired further work.
I've made five different versions of the "camera" used to expose the print. Some surprisingly simple, cheap, and easy to make. The version I presently use projects the image to a horizontal 11x14 four-blade easel. Very handy for making prints of different sizes. I'll supply pix and drawings of each type, and step-by-step how-to for anyone interested. You can be making real prints in just a few days from now.
But how good is the print? It's superior to a 35mm film/enlarger print in one way, equal in another: It's superior because its tone curve can be fine tuned in Photoshop as film's never could, the look of the print perfected. It's equal in real-life sharpness because even though a negative has greater potential resolution an enlarger-made print's resolution falls far short of that. The 5k screen is not being enlarged, it's being reduced, via with essentially lossless resolution via a process lens and 8x10 "camera". The image on an 8x10 print with a half-inch border, for example, has been reduced from the screen's 13" 2880 vertical resolution to 411dpi on the print. In short, the 8x10s I'm now getting with this system are superior to those gotten via film/enlarger during my long film-shooting pro career, 11x14s as good, and 16x20 in some cases.
But apart from such details, the main plusses here are being able to make real prints again, prints that look and feel like real prints, made with your own hands, with any type paper you wish, to any size and shape you wish, fine-tuning the look as you wish, having perfect prints in your hands minutes after shooting, prints that can outlast present sad fade-destined alternatives by generations.
A 4k screen can be used for an econo version of this setup. An 8x10 with a 1/2" border = 308dpi. A rare film-era print netted out that sharp. My favorite print type is the matted look, effected by wide white borders. 1 1/2 inc borders on an 8x10 = 432 dpi. That's sharp enough to cut your fingers.
More later.
Here's a link to photos of first, mid, and later incarnations of the enlarger/camera.

First versions start at the bottom, but are a bit out of order. The early ones are primitive and crude, but it's good to see just how simple one can be and still yield top-grade prints.

Toward the top are the next and final versions, one quite large, a mirror projecting the image down to an 11x14 easel. Time-machine stuff for ex-film/darkroom people.

Near top is a batch of prints make with that rig and the 5k Imac screen; and at top is a 800dpi scan of a portion of one of them, a hint at just how sharp the prints are.

I'm struggling up the Flickr learning curve, so will post individual captions when able.

Hope to do a short real-time you-tube video of prepping an image, making the enlargement, and developing the print, with way primitive gear, to show how easy it would be for someone to begin making real prints from their digital photos.

Yell if you have questions, here or by private message.