Note that these are the items I use— you can buy whatever you want! I'll update the list as new items come to mind or are purchased.
FIRST AND FOREMOST
The holy grail of my dimroom, the thing that is next to coffee on a list of important things, the item I would take with me to a deserted island so I could properly organize rocks and coconuts as I slip into insanity:
If you are a member of the label maker family, hello. You know how this goes. If you've never set a hand on a label maker, let me welcome you to a land of clearly marked bins. Once you label one thing, you label everything. Your world is organized, cherubs toting harpsichords fly down from the heavens, your student loans are magically paid off.*
*Note that while a label maker is a physical apparition of the unicorn, it will not do all of those things.
Pyrex beakers (set of 5). This particular set contains a 50ml, a 100ml, a 250 ml, a 600 ml, and a 1,000 ml. There are cheaper sets available, but when it comes to glassware I'd rather go with what's more sturdy.
Yankee trays: 11x14 and 8x10 (set of 3). These are some of the cheapest trays I've found (you only pay $6 a tray for the 11x14 set!). The bottoms are very slightly ribbed, but they don't dip down (so you don't lose precious chemistry, which is especially important in regards to gold toner, etc). I absolutely love Cescolite trays, but they're a bit out of my budget ($20 for an 11x14 tray, $14 for an 8x10 tray).
Swedish dishcloths. Hear me out on this one. Swedish dishcloths are biodegradable, incredibly absorbent (around 15x their weight), and they're happy! I've had people mistake my dishcloths for prints. They're perfect for drying brushes, cleaning beakers and trays, cleaning up spills, etc. They replace sponges and paper towels. I currently have an 11x14 drying mat and two standard 7⅞" x 6⅝" cloths (specifically this yellow daisy one and this tribute to Hokusai). You can also find this set of Skoy cloths on Amazon for $7 for a set of 4 (seriously, it's a steal).
OXO angled measuring cup. For when the measurements on beakers aren't specific enough.
Measure-n-Pour glass. This beauty measures millimeters, liquid ounces, teaspoons, and tablespoons, all for $2!
Milk jugs. If you're also working in a lab that doesn't have running water, save those gallon containers. They're perfect for storing water, diluted fix, etc.
Cat litter jugs. Once again, no running water = no drainage system. Cat litter jugs make a perfect dump tank, especially for materials that have to be taken to hazard waste.
A thermometer. This is what I'm currently using, but because I am an American™ I'm not the best at translating celsius. Choose your degrees accordingly.
Plexiglass. This is what I bought, you can also find sheets of plexiglass at hardware stores.
Measuring spoons. My mom generously gave me the plastic OXO set that we've had since the mid 2000s because she knows how much I love them.
A kitchen scale. It doesn't need to be a fancy, science grade scale. I use a Taylor scale and it does the job just fine.
THE "Big" ITEMS
A UV light box. I was recently gifted a Photographer's Formulary UV light box (which is !!!). The valley I live in is notorious for its gloomy winters, which renders printing without a light box tricky. For the summer of 2017 I solely did sun exposures. You can do it, but do keep your region's seasonal weather in mind. With a UV light box you'll have consistent times. Times for sun exposures will vary from season to season. You can find light boxes at Photographer's Formulary, Freestyle, eBay (potentially), or you can build your own.
A scanner. You need to save your work somehow, right? I'm currently using an Epson V600 and it's been great. I've also used an Epson V750 (the newer model is the Epson V850) and an Epson Expression 11000XL. My scanner cost me all of $100, while the V850 runs for $1,000 and the 11000XL runs for $3,425 (note that the two latter scanners are not mine, but the scanners at MSU). The V600 has the ability to scan film, as does the V850 and the 11000XL. The main difference is that the V600 has a strip transparency scanner for film (you can scan two 35mm strips, four slides, or one strip of 120mm film, no 4"x5" film). Both the V850 and the 11000XL have full transparency scanners.
A printer. If you're working with digital negatives, you'll need some kind of pinter. Paper negatives are always an option, and you don't necessarily need a high-end printer for that. I've used an Epson 3880, an R2400, a 2200, and the newer P800. I haven't bought a printer yet, but I'll be buying the P800 eventually. For now, the older HP printer I have access to is printing off workable paper negatives.
2017 update: I bought a refurbished P800. It loving lives on what used to be my coffee table).
A light box. If you're doing any prints with multiple layers, you'll need a light box to register your negative. I'm currently using a Bretford Acculight 6000 that I received for free. You can find used light boxes for pretty cheap (Bretford, Porta-Trace), or you could build your own.
2018 update: I came across this light board, and it works perfectly for alt. It has adjustable brightness, it’s compact, and it’s only $23!
*Note that Connoisseur brushes can be found at cheaper price points than what is listed on the Connoisseur website.
Connoisseur hake brushes. I use hake brushes for gum printing, salted paper, and cyanotype. Note that your salt brush should only be your salt brush to avoid cross-contamination.
Connoisseur white taklon brushes. I use a 1" square brush and a 2” square brush (the MSU bookstore has a significantly better deal on brushes) for cyanotype and a ¼" brush and a ⅛" scrubby brush for gum brushwork.
Calligraphy brushes. Calligraphy brushes are perfect for experimental darkroom work.
Foam Brushes. You can use foam brushes for coating PVA, sensitizing for salt, and sensitizing for cyanotype. You’ll know that they aren’t contaminated, but you can’t reuse them.
Kobayashi. (shoutout to Christina Anderson for coming across these amazing brushes!) If you’re really looking for a staple brush for your darkroom, go with these. They have stitched ferrules like the Connoisseur hake brushes, and they have synthetic hairs like the taklon brushes (really, you get the best of both). They are an investment, but they don’t soak up as much chemistry and they’ll last. The money I’ve spent on cheap brushes could have bought me a couple of Kobayashi brushes by now— hindsight is 20/20, but I’m farsighted.
Bulk chemistry. I almost always buy my bulk chemistry from Photographer's Formulary. Freestyle and Bostick & Sullivan also sell bulk chem. If you want chemistry lists for specific processes, head to my About the Processes page.
Pigments for gum printing. I primarily use M. Graham pigments— they have an extensive color variety and I've never had an issue with them. The order of the swatches above correlate to the list below (swatches are courtesy of the M. Graham website). The M. Graham pigments I'm currently using are:
Anthraquinone Blue. Anthra Blue is a "blue jean" blue.
Ultramarine Blue. Ultramarine is a true, classic blue. It's a very royal blue sort of shade.
Phthalo Blue. Phthalo Blue is more of a sky blue. It's the lightest blue M. Graham pigment I use.
Prussian Blue. Prussian Blue is a soft, yellow-toned shade of blue.
Hansa Yellow. Hansa is to yellow as Ultramarine is to blue. (*I'm not currently using Hansa, but I've used it in the past and I love it).
Nickel Azo Yellow. Not to be confused with Azo Yellow, Nickel Azo Yellow is a gold shade. Azo Yellow is a baby duck, whereas Nickel Azo is a rubber duck.
Terra Rosa. Terra Rosa is a historic pigment. It's not as deep as P. Maroon, but it's more bricky.
Perylene Maroon. Perylene Maroon is blood red. It's a deep, fairly neutral red.
Quinacridone Rose. Q. Rose is your standard magenta. Not too red, not too blue.
Azo Orange. Azo Orange is orange. Think of a glass of concentrated Tang, and you have Azo Orange.
Chinese White. Chinese White is slightly off white.
Pigments (cont'd). I've also used Grumbacher pigments. These are definitely not as nice as the M. Graham pigments, but I've yet to notice any major issues. If you’re interested in gum but don’t want to have a huge monetary commitment, cheap pigments are a great way to get started. The same goes if you’re interested in seeing the validity/usability of a pigment before you splurge on a nicer brand. The Grumbacher pigments I've used are:
Indian Red. Indian Red is more brick and earthy than Perylene Maroon.
Indian Yellow. Indian Yellow is closer to Hansa Yellow.
Sap Green. Sap Green is an earthy yellow-green. It's not in my regular set of pigments, but it's a nice shade when your print is in need of a bit of green.
Turquoise. The Grumbacher Turquoise is a traditional Caribbean Sea shade of turquoise.
Pigments (cont'd). For powder pigments I use Natural Pigments. Each pigment has a description of it's source and it's history. The Natural Pigments pigments (ha) I've used are:
Indian Red. The thing to note with natural powder pigments is that they are nowhere near as intense as manufactured tube pigments. Indian Red an Blue Ridge Hematite are two of the more pigmented shades I have. The powdered form of Indian Red is still brick and rather earthy, but it's quite a bit lighter.
Blue Ridge Hematite. Hematite is a cooler red.
Limonite. Limonite is a sort of grey yellow.
Ultramarine Blue Ash. While tube pigment Ultramarine is incredibly intense, pure Ultramarine is not. It's more of the traditional fresco blue.
Lamp Black. This is by far the most pigmented powder I have. It's a cooler black, but it will give you the contrast that powder pigments often lack.
Pigments (cont'd). Daniel Smith also has a variety of watercolor pigments. They're a similar quality to M. Graham, but there seems to be significantly more color availability. The Daniel Smith pigments I'm currently using are:
Iridescent Aztec Gold. This is a very true metallic gold shade. It's a metallic iridescent shimmer— thankfully it doesn't look glittery. (experimenting as of 8/2017)
Duochrome Desert Bronze. Desert Bronze shifts between copper and a sort of dark sea foam green (it almost mimics a copper patina). It has the same metallic iridescence that Aztec Gold has, but it shifts colors depending on lighting and paper color. (experimenting as of 8/2017)
Iridescent Scarab Red.
Iridescent Electric Blue.
Paper. You can use whatever watercolor paper you like (or whatever paper can handle water/wet chemistry for that matter). Here are the papers I use:
Hahnemühle Platinum Rag (cyanotype, gum, platinum, salt)
Arches Platine (cyanotype, gum, platinum, salt)
Hahnemühle Sumi-e (cyanotype)
Hu'un (experimenting with as of 7/2017; cyanotype)
Bhutan paper (experimenting with as of 9/2017)
So far I've only tried this paper with salt. One thing to note is that it has about the same absorbency as a dishcloth— it will eat up a lot of chemistry. That being said, the prints I've worked on have been splotchy and uneven (similar to salt on Hu'un, but significantly more splotchy). I'll try cyanotype next, but this is probably one of those papers that simply isn't suited for baths.
Hahnemühle Sumi-e (Cyanotype; will test with salt)
Transparency film. If you're doing alt-y things, chances are you're printing digital negatives. I only use Pictorico OHP transparency film (Ultra Premium for salt printing and Premium for everything else). You could also use standard office printer paper to make paper negatives.
2019 UPDATE: Fixxons carries transparency film that works just as well as Pictorico, except it’s 100 sheets for $29 instead of 20 sheets for $18 (which is !!! yes). They carry sheets (up to 17’x22’) and rolls (up to 42'“x100’). However, Fixxons will not work with salt negatives— Pictorico Ultra Premium is still the best option for salt.
Various plastic bottles. I have bottles from Photographer's Formulary, Nalgene (specifically this one), and I also use squeeze bottles (similar to these). The squeeze bottles are perfect for gum pigments— you can measure out the amount of mixed pigment down to a drop.
Plastic drawers. I have this drawer set for storing paper (a drawer for plain paper, a drawer for salt paper, a drawer for gum paper), and I have this drawer set for brushes, labware, and chemistry (it also doubles as a dark drawer for more light sensitive processes).
A spray bottle. Be sure to buy one that can spray a fine mist.
items of importance
pH test strips. While they're not entirely necessary, pH strips are helpful if you're working with specific levels of alkalinity or acidity.
A blow dryer. If you, like me, don't do anything to your hair, you can take that dryer out from under your sink and put it in your dimroom.
Clothesline. The fancy retractible kind or the string kind work equally well.
Clothespins. There isn't much to say about clothespins, but I do prefer wooden clothespins to plastic ones.
Hangers. Be sure to buy hangers that clothespins would fit on. Wire hangers will always work. I currently have plastic hangers that are thin enough for the clothespins to fit on.
A shower tension rod. If you don't want to use a clothesline/don't have the space for one, you can use a tension rod and hangers to dry prints. I used a spare tension rod when I was sizing paper in my apartment and it worked perfectly. I now have a tension rod in my shower for winter printing, and it saves a ton of space when combined with the hanger/clothespin system.
A mortar & pestle. If you're using powder pigments or other materials that need to be ground in (think toning materials for cyanotype, plant matter for anthotypes), a mortar and pestle would be quite handy. I got mine at tjmaxx for $7, it looks fairly similar to this one from World Market. So far I haven't had any major issues with pigments staining the white marble.
Sandpaper. I sharpen my watercolor pencils with sandpaper. I've also taken gum and PVA layers off with sandpaper as a last-ditch effort to save a print.
General office supplies. Pens, pencils, paper, rulers, scissors— you think this would be obvious, but as I was trying to make this list I realized that I don't have non-art paper in my dimroom.
An apron. I bought my canvas apron at Michaels in 2016 and it's still mostly in one piece.
Gloves. When I started out in alt I used gloves religiously. They aren't necessary, but I think they're good to wear when you're starting out. I only wear gloves when I mix silver nitrate or ammonium dichromate.
Watercolor pencils. I personally prefer to use watercolor pencils for hand-coloring. Faber-Castell has some wonderful sets.
A notebook. I always have a notebook with me in the lab. I have a notebook for each project (research, ideas, processing, etc.), and I also have general process notebooks.
MultiTimer. MultiTimer is a life saver if you working with multiple prints or processes. The free version of the app allows you to have 12 different timer slots that you can customize by timer type, color, icon, alarm, etc (the full version costs $4.99). It's currently only available for Apple, but there are similar apps across brands. All of your timers are stored, so you don't have to constantly create new ones.
ITEMS of LESS IMPORTANCE
A coffee maker. I'm sure at this point in the list you think that some chemical has thrown me a bit off my rocker, but who doesn't want coffee at an arm's reach away at all times (unless you don't like coffee, I suppose)? I had a spare coffee maker from when I moved, so it now has a happy home in my dimroom.
A fan. If you're working in an outdoor dimroom, specifically an insulated shed with a tin roof, buy yourself a nice fan. My dimroom has been upwards of 104°F (40°C), so for me a fan is indeed important (so are reusable ice packs).
A salt lamp. I have a salt lamp because it's a happy little rock that lets off just enough light if you need a darker space. The individual lab I worked in at MSU only had red light or fluorescents, so I bought a salt lamp to meet in the middle. Do I think that salt lamps emit negative ions and cure every ailment under the sun? No. It is a salt lamp, not a label maker.
A diffuser. If you're using fix in a hot dimroom or if your working solution of ultramarine blue smells strangely like soggy cheerios, a diffuser could be the answer to your aromatic problems. Diffusers will also add a touch of humidity, which is always welcome when working with alt processes. I usually make a mix of eucalyptus, lemongrass, and peppermint— it's bright, fresh, and it'll wake you up, which is perfect if you're a member of the Coffee Does't Work Anymore club.
Adorama. Digital paper, gear, ink, student/educator discounts.
B & H. Paper, labware, Picotrico, gear, used items, student/educator discounts.
Bostick & Sullivan. Contact printing frames, bulk chemistry, process kits, paper, labware.
Freestyle Photo. Paper, film, darkroom chemistry.
Hiromi Paper. World papers, Western papers, book cloth, bookmaking materials/tools.
Photographer's Formulary. Contact printing frames, bulk chemistry, process kits, labware, workshops.
TALAS. World papers, Western papers, bookmaking materials/tools, archival storage solutions.