A round roll in a square box – Cutting RA4 color paper sheets from roll

When I started out color printing on RA4 paper, I bought a couple of boxes of paper from a retailer that offered a cut-sheet option. But sadly, they didn’t offer the papers I really wanted to try, and I also found that buying rolls of paper is far more economical. The only thing is – I had to figure out a way to cut sheets from a roll of paper. In the dark. Turns out it’s not that difficult at all!

The correct way to do this, of course, is to get a roll paper dispenser dedicated for this purpose. But I don’t have one, I’ve never looked very hard for one either, and for all I know they’re pretty rare on the market anyway. There’s a simpler method, fortunately, that requires no fancy equipment. Get creative!

So a couple of years ago, when I received my first rolls of RA4 paper, I took a couple of pieces of scrap wood and some bits and bobs, and made this Super DeLuxe Professional Cutting Stand:

Certified high-tech IoT-age original cutting system. Patented, of course.

Sure, go ahead and mock my woodworking skills – you’ve all the reasons to do so. But let me point out that this setup actually works quite well. Let me run you through it as if you’re a roll of FUJIFILM Crystal Archive Supreme HD Digital about to be turned into gorgeous prints. From the right to the left, because I’m right-handed and the setup works well for me that way. It can easily be mirrored, of course.

On the right-hand side is the double-inverted-T shaped roll holder. A couple of bits of scrap wood and an aluminum spindle I had leftover from a kitchen renovation many years ago. The roll sits on the spindle and can move pretty freely on it. A proper axel with bearings would be nicer, still, but I didn’t have any bearings in my junk box. The issue here is that a heavy roll weighs down on the flimsy spindle, which rotates on a screw and an iron pin, basically, and the friction this creates, makes the roll spin less freely than it might. Again, a couple of bearings would be a meaningful upgrade, although in its present form, the thing works well enough that I never bothered looking into it any further.

Spindle closeup

To mount a roll, the spindle has to be inserted into the center core of a paper roll. I solved this by fitting a retractable pin on the front side. I happened to have a pin of a suitable length and diameter and it also conveniently had holes drilled through it, so I could wrap some copper wire through and around it by means of a stop so it doesn’t get pushed back in too far. To mount the roll, I pull back the pin, insert the hollow axel/tube into the core of the roll, and then reinsert the pin into the axel. All this turns out to be surprisingly easy and reliable to do in the dark.

The actual cutter and the stop

The working end of the cutter contraption is an old Dahle rotary cutter I got from a friend. a few years ago. It’s not super sharp, but it gets the job done! The paper is pulled from the roll underneath the plastic bracket that holds it down while cutting, and then pulled all the way through until it hits the stop.

The stop is just a simple piece of wood taped to the worktop at the desired length. These days I prefer 20.3cm rolls (8″) and generally cut 30.5cm (12″) lengths. This works very nicely with the 2:3 image ratio of a 35mm negative. Other formats I print on the same paper size and then trim after processing – or sometimes even before it, leaving me with a stack of test strips.

Note that the roller cutter and the roll holder jig are clamped to the table with plain old glue clamps. These hold everything firmly in place, which is crucial, since it’s all too easy to shift things out of alignment in the dark.

Well, that’s all. It’s really that simple. I’ve used this setup to cut several rolls already, which is many hundreds of sheets. I generally cut around 50 sheets at a time, which is about the most that will fit in a dark bag because of the curl. This is the main advantage of cutting sheets from rolls: it takes a while before the paper relaxes back into flat sheets. Especially the sheets from the center of a roll tend to have a pretty pronounced curve to them, which makes large stacks of them somewhat difficult to handle. It’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things – and single sheets lay down just fine in perfect flatness on the enlarger easel. That’s what matters.

So cutting RA4 paper from rolls really doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple, jury-rigged setup does just fine and allows me to enjoy the wider paper selection and lower costs of using rolls instead of commercially boxed cut-sheets!

PS: Note that FUJIFILM actually don’t cut sheets themselves anymore, anyway. They used to, in the past. Today, it’s seemingly all done by retailers or perhaps jobbers who make a little cash to the side by performing this task. I’ve seen people mention that Harman Technology might be in the business of cutting paper for Fuji, but I have not (yet) confirmed this and I don’t know if it’s something that still happens, today.

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