How to enlarge a black and white negative

Updated February 21, 2017

If you are a new film photography hobbyist, there is nothing more gratifying than making your first print in a darkroom. However, the process required can be daunting and is best broken down into several phases. Enlarging a black and white 35 mm film negative is one of the most vital steps in preparing to make a print. If the enlargement process is not done correctly, the resulting print will come out poorly. With access to a photographic darkroom or enlargement machinery, enlarging a negative can be accomplished with relative ease.

Insert your negative into the enlarger machine's carrier slot. Make sure the negative's emulsion side is facing up when inserted.

Open your easel and place the sheet of paper inside of it. "Speed easels" are hinged and can snap shut over the paper, and are easiest to use if you are a beginner.

Switch the enlarger's lamp on. Adjust the head of the enlarger so that the projection of the negative fits into the easel's frame. Some easels have different sized frames, so choose and adjust based on the size of the print you intend to make.

Focus the enlarger's projection by adjusting its knob. Using the negative's point of focus as a reference, get it as sharp as you can.

Pick up your focus tool and put it on top of the paper. This tool allows you to refine the projection based on the size of the grain in the negative. Take your time during this step to ensure a clear, accurate final result. Don't touch the knob once you have focused the projection.

Switch the enlarger's lamp off and remove the sheet of paper from the easel. You are now ready to insert a sheet of print paper and continue with the rest of the process.


Follow the link in the Resource section for detailed instructions regarding the rest of the printmaking process.


Handle the negative by its edges to avoid smudging the frame. Hand oils and dirt on a negative can ruin a print.

Things You'll Need

  • 35mm film negative
  • Enlarger machine
  • Easel
  • White paper
  • Enlarger focus tool
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About the Author

Brandon Getty began writing professionally in 2008, with columns appearing in "Thrasher" magazine. He received a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lives in Stockton, Calif.