Miniature Photography

A few years ago I hunted for a photo enlarger for my dollhouse’s darkroom with no luck. I could find miniature cameras and typewriters and computers, but not a single traditional photography enlarger like I learned to use in college. But that’s what Steed’s darkroom has to have.

My card stock enlarger.

So I made one out of cardstock and a metal bar from a hanging file folder. I was not entirely pleased with the result, but I moved on. I made cardboard chemical trays for processing photos, and printed logos from photography chemical and paper packaging to paste onto unlabeled miniature bottles, cans, and boxes. I carved tiny clothes pins from toothpicks and printed tiny black and white photos to hang on a drying line in the darkroom. I bought a red gel to insert into the light fixture.

After finishing the fire escape, it occurred to me to search Thingiverse, a database of downloadable 3d printable models. Of course there are loads of dollhouse miniature scale models. Actually, any model can be printed dollhouse miniature scale, although fine detail will be lost. But I did not find a 3d modeled photo enlarger.

It took a few tries–row of failed enlarger heads in back–to get a good head, mount, and base. The vertical post is a failure, replaced with a bamboo skewer.

So I made one. As with the fire escape, it took a few tries. I model it, print it, and evaluate the results to modify the model. For a short few minutes I considered making the head hollow with the lens hole open and inserting a tiny light inside to shine down on the base. I could put a tiny lens and a negative to project down onto the paper… But either I would have to put the light in while it was printing, or make the enlarger head in two pieces. And either I’d have wiring running down the post, or have to fit in a battery. And if it had a battery, I’d have to reach into the tiny darkroom to turn it on and off. Also, where would I source a 2 millimeter lens and negative image? I stopped there, proceeding with my unlighted enlarger.

When the combined post and mount for the head failed to print, I salvaged the mounting part, cut off the miss-printed vertical post, and got a bamboo skewer from the kitchen. Conveniently, my modeled post was supposed to be 2.8 millimeters, just like the skewer.

The expansion portion of the head–what in real scale would be accordion folded fabric to accommodate adjustments to the lens position–was a plastic clogged mess. I made the folds larger so the printer could print one-fold per layer. I also reduced the layer height to get finer details.

Even my best print needed some touch-up, which I did with fine files and X-acto knife. The bamboo had to be painted, so I put a coat of black enamel on all the parts, and chrome on the two knobs.

It’s not perfect, but it’s orders of magnitude better than the original, and for the moment that’s good enough for me.

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