Darkroom Tutorials Drying Fibre Based Paper Using a Flatbed Dryer

Flat bed FB dryers, such as the Maco Ecomat TP5060 are the best way to dry FB papers. The Maco dryer works well with no curly edges produced. It is very expensive though, last time I looked it was getting on for £900 but you really do get what you are paying for, it is the Rolls Royce of FB flat bed dryers. The dryer is sold by Mahn in Germany. Click here for their website.


I also had a Buscher 24 x 20 inch FB dryer (bought new) but didn’t use it much so I sold it and bought a second Maco dryer instead. It was the same principle as the Maco but cheaper construction. It didn’t hold the print down as tightly as the Maco model so prints usually had wavy / curly edges.

Both dryers are thermostatically controlled, have a metal drying platen and stretched cloth to hold paper flat while drying. The Buscher is double sided (as in 2 drying plates – 1 on top and another underneath, both with identical construction) so you can do 2 lots of prints at the same time. The Buscher gives curly edges most of the time. The Maco always gives flat prints. These flat-bed dryers work best if low heat (around 40C to 50C) and longer times are used (40 to 60 minutes per print).

I always use Ilford Multigrade FB Glossy paper and dry it with the image side facing the drying cloth. This gives a print with similar finish to an air-dried FB glossy print. I never use glazing plates as they are so dependent on perfect contact of plate and print that any slight imperfection in contact causes patches of unglazed surface on the dry print making the print unsaleable.

Other ways include placing prints face down on mesh drying screens (face down so that gravity flattens the natural curl of the paper – the Les McLean way). Hanging prints on a washing line in pairs back to back (the Ilford way). Squeegeeing prints onto a sheet of perspex so that they dry flat; the perspex needs to be free of scratches or the dry print will be difficult to remove (also used at Ilford).

Here is the drying advice from the Maco website with some edits to the English:

Dry mount press to 51 x 65 cm

Dimensions (LxWxH): 80 x 70 x 15,5 cm
Size print: 65 x 51 cm
Weight: 15 kg

Practical working with the MACO Ecomat
Turn the power on. Set the desired temperature on the temperature button. The thermostat guarantees a constant temperature while working continuously. The Ecomat dryer heats up quickly, so the heating-up process is completed in just a few minutes. The cover is unlocked by pulling the “grasp-handle” upwards, then fully open the cover. Now you can place your pictures on the drying surface. Safety advice: To avoid burns hold the “grasp-handle” with both hands. Never put a hand on the hot machine! Lower the cover, firmly press down with both hands and turn the “grasp-handle” to lock the cover. The cloth becomes evenly stretched over the drying plate. Due to the special cover construction a continuous contact pressure is ensured even over a long time.

Notes for matte drying
Application: put the freshly washed photo paper on the back of the drying plate. Squeegee off as much surplus water as possible with a rubber roller, with gentle pressure on the photo paper. Put the foil into the pre-heated Ecomat. The temperature thermostats should be adjusted to 75°C. The drying time has to be determined by trial and error because this depends on the type of photo paper used. Avoid excessive periods at working temperatures for individual prints.

Notes for high gloss drying
Application: The washed photo paper must be treated in a special wetting agent, we recommend LP-MASTERPROOF. The image side of the photo paper is pressed against the high-grade polished steel plate using gentle pressure. Make sure that a film of water exists between the photo emulsion and the high-grade steel plate. Pre-heat the Ecomat and then raise the temperature up to 75°C.  A temperature of at least 60°C is needed. The drying time depends on the type of the photo paper and is determined by trial and error.

Notes for fine print drying
The MACO Ecomat was established also for the most fastidious Fine Art Print Professionals. A popular method is the combination of cold and warm drying processes. In this case the FB photo will be air dried at normal temperatures with or without blotting paper, or on drying mesh overnight. The following day put the FB print into the MACO Ecomat and set the temperature to no higher than 30°C. Leave the print there for several hours. FB prints will come out flat with typical air-dried surface aesthetics. This natural gloss fulfils the highest requirements.

Some note for washing
The largest errors with reference to “crinkly edges”, “orange-peel” effects and lack of flatness are based on excessive washing. Washing times of over 20 min. often cause a change of paper base. A baryta based photo paper washed for a long time will never be smooth. Therefore the adherence to rigorous short washing is indispensable for the achievement of the best drying. It is unimportant whether one dries hot or cold.

Note: In German-language technical literature referring to osmosis and capillary effects during FB paper washing there is almost no information.