Ilford Multigrade RC Portfolio paper review

by Christopher Osborne.

Ilford announced a new premium quality RC photographic paper on the 19th January. We have just tried it out…

Ilford announced the upgrade to their Multigrade RC Portfolio paper on January 19th. They provided SilvergrainClassics with a sample for review. I am going to refer to it as Portfolio paper for brevity.

Before we start, it is worth reviewing what this product paper is. Portfolio paper is Ilford’s premium RC paper. It is on a double weight base which is more like thin card than the paper base used on other RC products. And it now features the same 5th generation emulsion that is used on Ilford’s Multigrade Deluxe paper. The documentation that comes in the box shows that the properties for this paper as similar but not identical to that for Multigrade Deluxe paper.

This paper is intended for making exhibition and portfolio work on RC paper. This paper almost feels like Fibre Classic paper as it comes out of the packet. That said there is noticeably less curl, so it is easier to handle on the baseboard.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Heiland Splitgrade Controller it is a third party device which is used to calculate both exposure and grade for splitgrade printing. It can also control the grade setting on some enlargers. This is not a budget device, but it can help make consistently high quality prints in a short time.

Heiland released a profile for the Multigrade Deluxe paper in the V3.8 firmware release, and this was calibrated for use with Ilford Multigrade developer (1:9 20oC).

The first decision to make was what to print. I decided to print some of the earliest negatives that I still have. These were shot in the UK in the 1980’s on an Olympus OM-2.

I began by making several test strips, and these showed that the calibration was out. Now, this isn’t surprising because my darkroom in Dubai has an ambient temperature of 23oC, and I develop in Ilford Bromophen. I have recalibrated the base unit and of course this effects the calibration for this paper too. And this paper isn’t identical to MG Deluxe. (I will make my own calibration in the future).

A number of reviews suggest that this paper behaves in a similar way to Ilford Fibre Classic paper. The Heiland Splitgrade Controller allows you to change paper types and it will recalculate the exposure and grade for the new paper based on the previous highlight and shadow measurements. This provides an indication of the differences between exposure and grade and this certainly indicates that one can not simply swap between papers. This is born out by the Ilford specification documentation.

I started with the image of the boy feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square. This was shot on the original HP5 in 1984. The first print was a little blocked out in the shadows and the sky was white. On my second attempt, I reduced the grade 5 exposure by 0.7 units and burnt the sky in with a grade 00 exposure. This paper behaves noticeably more like Fibre Classic than Multigrade IV as one makes grade changes. It also looks very much like Fibre Classic when wet but when it dries, it has a distinct Ilford RC paper tonal range. The big difference is that the blacks look like they have been taking steroids!

The next image I printed was the chestnut seller. I last printed this in the early 1990’s and had the opportunity to see the print when I visited my Father last year. I deliberately pushed the jacket into the blacks, and this really shows where this new generation of emulsions comes into its own.

The final image of the marching band was made at an annual fete in Stilton near Peterborough, England. I was shot about 1987. The negative holds very little detail on the black uniforms, and so I used the Heiland Comfort unit which is an accessory to the Splitgrade Controller to help visualise the exposure. I was able to make sure that I had the image exposed for texture in the white socks and at the same time find lowest grade which would both show texture in the uniforms while having absolute black.

So would I use Ilford’s RC Portfolio in the future? I have to admit that I am a Fibre Classic fan and even more of an Art 300 fan. But for work that needs to be turned around quickly there are times where one can’t beat the convenience of an RC paper…


You can also read about the Heiland Splitgrade Controller in this article

All images © Christopher Osborne 2021

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