How to Develop Color Film at Home
Updated: Sep 10, 2018
Getting into film photography is way more challenging today than it was even a few years ago. There are lesser film stocks available, lesser stores selling them, and even lesser photo labs processing them.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up on using film altogether. Instagram and VSCO may be good at adding film grain to your phone images with a few taps on a screen, but there’s still nothing like the real deal.
These days, you can easily get cheap photo processing materials online, and develop your own film at home. Good news is, you don’t even need fancy equipment to do it. You can get by with just the developing chemicals, developing tank, and a few kitchen items.
So if you have film lying around the house that you’ve been eager to develop, read on because we’ll show you the easiest way to process it in your kitchen or bathroom.
(Don’t worry, it’s way easier than making a cup of cappuccino.)
Collecting the necessary materials.
First, you're going to need the chemicals. You can buy a kit on Amazon or B&H for about $30, which is really cheap, considering you can use it about eight times before it goes bad.
The standard C-41 kit comes with a developer, Blix (a.k.a. Bleach fix) A and B which you have to combine, a stabilizer, and that's it! Just make sure the film you’re using is labelled C-41 as well or you might end up ruining your photos.
Next, you’ll need four amber bottles in which you can pour the chemicals. Label each one DEVELOPER, BLIX, STABILIZER, and HOT WATER to avoid any confusion while developing.
The reason why you need to use dark bottles is to prevent light from making the chemicals go bad. However, you can store them in regular bottles (yes, even soda bottles) as long as you keep them inside a dark storage room.
You’ll also need a graduated pitcher that can hold up to a gallon of liquid, a funnel to safely pour chemicals in...
...as well as a pair of gloves, tongs, and an industrial thermometer.
Finally, you’re going to need an exposed film and a developing tank.
Apart from the regular developing materials, however, you’re also going to need a few extra accessories such as a scanner for digitizing and viewing your photos…
...and your smartphone to download a multi-timer app to help you stay on top of the developing times.
As mentioned before, apart from the chemicals and the developing tank, most of these tools can be found in your very own kitchen. In fact, you don't don't even need a fancy darkroom since you can do most of the processing with the lights turned on!
Loading the film into the developing tank
The most challenging part of processing your film isn’t mixing the chemicals, but loading the film into the tank in complete darkness. So make sure to practice the next few steps before actually doing it.
Ideally, loading the film into the spool should be done in a darkroom or by using a film changing bag. But it can also be accomplished in a dark room inside your house such as a bathroom or a closet. To make sure stray light doesn't ruin your film, you can do it at night with all the lights turned off. For added security, cover your door and any other gaps with towels.
Now that your room’s ready, place your film, scissors, and developing tank on a flat surface. Next, unscrew the tank’s lid and take out the spool and the tube inside. Remember where you put all of them because the next steps have to be done in ABSOLUTE DARKNESS.
Now switch off the lights.
Take your spool and feel for the two arrows on each side. Once you locate them, start feeding the film into the spool until you hear the film sprocket holes click into place.
Twist the spool back and forth and keep going until you reach the end of the film. Then, grab your scissors and cut off the film strip from the canister.
When you’re done, push the tube through the hole in the middle of the spool and put it inside the developing tank.
Once the spool is in, screw the lid back on and you’re done.
You can now switch on the lights and celebrate!
Mixing the chemicals
If you love cooking, then mixing chemicals isn’t any different. As long as you stick to the recipe, use the right temperature, and “keep it in the oven” for the prescribed duration, you’ll end up with the results you want.
Before mixing the chemicals, you first need to pour 1000mL of hot water (110 F/ 43.5 C) into the graduated pitcher. Remember to use a thermometer to make sure you have the right temperature. Otherwise, your negatives won’t develop properly.
Once you reach the recommended temperature, add the developer and mix it thoroughly.
After mixing, pour the solution into the amber bottle labeled DEVELOPER carefully using a funnel.
Now repeat the exact process with Blix A (also 1000mL at 110 F/43.5 C). Once all the powder from Blix A is in the pitcher, pour Blix B and start mixing.
NOTE: When the chemicals interact with each other, the resulting solution heats up and starts fizzing (aka endothermic process) so be careful.
When you’re finished, pour it in the bottle labeled BLIX.
The final step is pouring the stabilizer into the pitcher filled with 1000mL of clean tap water (normal temperature). Once you’re done mixing the solution, transfer it into the bottle labeled STABILIZER.
Although not required, feel free to add hot water (110 F/ 43.5 C) into the bottle labeled HOT WATER because you’ll need it when “pre-soaking” the film later.
To maintain the temperature of the bottles, you can put them in a tub filled with hot water.
Developing the film
This part of the process the arguably the most magical and the easiest. You’d also be happy to know that you can do it with the lights turned on.
Each step is time-sensitive, so use the multi-timer you downloaded on your smartphone. Set a timer for each step listed below and set them to their corresponding times:
Pre-Soak: 1 minute
Developer: 3.5 minutes
Blix: 6.5 minutes
Wash: 3 minutes
Stabilizer: ½ to 1 minute
Now that your timers are set, you can check the temperatures of the chemicals left in the tub. If they’re around 102 F, you’re good to go!
The first step is called the Pre-Soak. All you have to do is take the lid off your developing tank, pour some hot water you saved in the amber bottle, and let it sit for one minute.
When the time’s up, pour the water out and pour in the developer.
Once the tank is filled with the chemical, you can start the timer and agitate the tank for the first ten seconds. Then, flip the tank every 30 seconds until the time’s up.
Once the timer goes off, pour the developer out of the tank back into the amber bottle. You can use it (along with the blix and the stabilizer) to develop seven more rolls of film before it expires.
Next, do the same exact process with the blix. Since agitating the tank causes the chemical to go through an endothermic reaction, open the lid every once in a while to let it vent. Otherwise, the bubbles will cause the liquid to spill.
When you’re done with the blix, pour it out of the tank and back into its bottle. Then, wash the film with running water (95 F - 105 F) for three minutes.
Afterward, dump all the water out of the tank and pour in the stabilizer to remove all the chemical residue on the film. Agitate it for the first 15 seconds and just let it sit until the time is up.
The last step is to remove the lid, take out the spool, and carefully unfurl the film. If you see images, congratulations! You’ve just successfully developed your first film! All you have to do now is cut the film into smaller strips and let it dry.
Scanning the film
Now that you have pictures on your negative, it’s time to digitize them with a scanner. You can use a dedicated scanner like the one featured in the image below, but a regular flatbed scanner will work just fine once you outfit it with a negative holder.
Apart from traditional scanners, you can download negative scanner apps on your phone as well. Just take a photo of a frame in your negative, and the app will turn the negatives into regular color photos for you. They’re not as good as the real scanners, of course, but they’ll do the trick if you want to see the results right away.
So what do you think about the process? It’s pretty easy right? It may involve a lot more work than using a digital camera. But you gotta admit, seeing your own photos appear on the negative is still pretty magical... Especially if it involves beautiful mistakes like the one you see below: