Well, I was afraid of this: I'm afraid I'm just going to bore the pants off people for a while as I maunder on about darkroom stuff. What can I say? It's where I am.
Anyway, paint: there is a deathless myth which holds that darkrooms need to be painted black. Not so. Darkrooms should be white. At least, black-and-white darkrooms should be. Why? First, for the same reason that white is the most common color for any interior room: it makes a room seem brighter and larger and makes it a more pleasant place to be. Black walls cut down on the reflection of stray light—for instance, light leaks from the enlarger. But here's what you should do if your enlarger has light leaks: fix it.
The darkrooms that really need to be painted black are group darkrooms, such as school darkrooms...which is where most people get their ideas about what darkroom are supposed to look like (which explains the myth). And why should group darkrooms be painted black? Because more than one person works in them at a time, and, when more than one person is working, light contamination is unavoidable. In gang darkrooms there are always those unsociable individuals who open their enlargers to insert the carrier with the enlarger turned on, or (worse) use the light from the opened enlarger to see to do some other task, but even if everybody's being responsible there can still be someone focusing or exposing when someone else is walking past with exposed paper. With all sorts of unruly white light bouncing around the room, that's when you need black paint slathered over everything, even though it makes the place look like a medieval dungeon or the inside of a House of Horrors. But just because gang darkrooms are black doesn't mean all darkrooms should be.
The other reason white is the right color is that it greatly increases the efficiency of your safelights. Safelight is brighter and easier to see by when it can reflect off white walls and ceilings. Plus, greater safelight efficiency means you might need fewer of them.
My walls are sort of a dingy yellowish off-white. Based on all the stuff attached to the walls over the paint, I'm going to guess they were last painted in 1957 when the house was built. In the interest of KISS and speedy construction I'm not going to repaint. But if I did, they'd be white.
If your floor is concrete, as mine is, paint it.
Why? Again, simple. Concrete is porous. Darkrooms with unpainted concrete floors tend to get doused over time with lots of little spills and splashes and maybe (if you're unlucky) a very occasional large one. A little bit of every spill soaks into the floor, and after a while the darkroom starts to smell. Painting the floor, wiping up spills, and mopping every now and then just makes the space a little more pleasant over the long haul.
UPDATE: Paul Butzi points out that reflected light from the paper, during exposure can reflect off nearby white surfaces and degrade highlights, which I accept. So any areas directly adjacent to the enlarger should be...all right, painted black. Paul suggests using light-absorbing black fabric for your tests. He also suggests printing in a black shirt! That's one I've never heard before, but okay. Maybe that's why some of the best custom printers are New Yorkers.
UPDATE No. 2: Bought myself three black shirts at the K-Mart, on sale for $5.98 each. Plan to keep them in the basement.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.