FB vs RC paper

There’s a near religious debate in b&w photography over paper. See there are two kinds, the first and original paper with the emulsion directly on it, fiber or Fb (fiber base). The second is paper that’s essentially been laminated, or resin coated, RC, and the emulsion sits on the resin.

Why is there debate? Because we theoretically know how to make fiber base images last a very long time. Wash all the acidic fix out during processing and sepia or selenium tone the image, store it out of direct sunlight in an acid free environment a you should get 300-600 years out of it.

RC was plagued at its outset, I believe in the 60’s, with a cracking resin layer. The image is only as good as the plastic it’s sitting on. If the plastic degrades so does the image riding on it. It’s my opinion that these initial problems with the resin base have cast a shadow on the medium to this day.

Half a century later the debate still rages whether or not you can call an RC print a “permanent image.” Despite huge advancements in plastics and the fact that more than 99% of all prints made in a year are on RC paper you still can’t call RC prints “archival.” My biased point of view is that we really don’t know what is archival. The emulsions that were used to develop archival processing have been changed, paper bases have been changed, even selenium toning is up for debate. Plus if you don’t processes Fb paper to archival standards, its longevity may become shorter than that of RC’s.

While I’ve made prints on both I prefer RC paper. Some years ago at a photostock I was talking with Bill Schwab about my struggles with FB paper. His response surprised me. He asked me “What do you like printing on more?” RC hands down. It’s much faster, 12min or so to process a print compared to over an hour for FB. RC lays flat so you can use a borderless easel. RC also dries flat and doesn’t need a dry mount press to coerce it into (mostly) two dimensions. The work flow for RC is just much speedier and when volume and variety become priorities for say an art show, RC can mean the difference between having 30 pricey prints for sale or 100 more affordable ones. Finally fb papers eat chemicals. They soak them up, and then contaminate others when the chems leech out into the next tray. To be honest, most clients, excepting some fine art collectors, really don’t care.

2 thoughts on “FB vs RC paper

  1. I was thrilled to find out I’m not the only one who prefers RC paper to FB. I think we’re all led to believe we should prefer FB, but I can’t say I like anything at all about it….from the processing to the finished image.

    Happy shooting!


  2. Having just got back into darkroom work following a darkroom being built at home after over 20 years lay off, I can honestly say that RC paper is way better than it was all those years ago. I can work faster and the quality is just fantastic. I am both excited and proud to have a darkroom again, but I can honestly say I will not be using FB paper.

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