There is something special about developing your own film. Few things compare to the thrilling moment of seeing your negatives for the first time and touching your images. It’s almost magical.
Plus, it is an easy and fun process that can save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you like to shoot film regularly.
That is why, in this article, I’ll show you how you can start developing film from the comfort of your home using basic equipment you can buy online— and no, you don’t need to build a dark room for that.
But first, let’s clear up a few differences between developing color film and black and white film:
Developing Black and White Film vs. Color Film
You can perfectly develop black and white and color film at home. However, the development process for color is a bit more complex, particularly if you have no experience in black and white processing.
Without getting too technical, the C-14 process used to develop color film requires different film chemicals and much more precision and control over the temperature of the chemicals. It might be overwhelming if you are initiating into film photography.
So, if this is your first time developing films, start with black and white film— preferably 35mm, as it is easier to manage than medium format film. It is a much simpler process to take your first steps and lay a solid base to process color in the future.
That said, let’s dive into the fun stuff:
How to Develop Your Own Film at Home in 8 Steps
I know that film development might seem pretty intimidating if you are new to the analog world, but don’t worry! Every developer manufacturer includes clear instructions and recipes to develop film without so much effort. Take the time to read the labels carefully to know the development time and mixtures you should use according to the chemicals and rolls you buy.
We will be developing 35mm black and white film— specifically Kodak Tri-X 400. However, this process works just as well for medium format film.
If you need a visual aid or don’t feel like reading, I made a video where I go through the whole developing process that you can see here:
What you need:
- Developing chemicals: you will need a film developer, stop bath, and fixer to make the magic happen. I use all the chemicals from Ilford because they offer great value for money, but you could also check the Kodak chemicals to compare prices. You also need a wetting agent to ensure your film dries evenly without leaving any water spots. I use antistatic for that.
- Developing tank: this is a light-tight container to process the film safely. It usually comes with plastic reels for inserting the film, but some models include metal reels. I recommend the Paterson tank, which is easy to use and comes with everything you need.
- Film changing bag: this is a lightproof bag for handling film in the dark when you don’t have a completely dark room available. It has two sleeves to put your arms inside and a zipper to insert all the tools you need to load your film into the developing tank without exposing it to light.
- Measuring jugs/beakers: these are for measuring and mixing the chemicals. You need three jugs of 0.5-1L in volume.
- Storage bottles: these are for storing leftover chemicals for future reuse.
- Thermometer: for measuring the temperature of the chemicals. You don’t need anything fancy for this; a basic thermometer will fit the bill.
- Film clips: to hang your film to dry.
- Timer: for keeping track of the developing times. You can use cooking timers, clocks, or simply your phone.
- Bottle opener and scissors: for opening your film canister and cutting the ends of your film. If you have a pocket knife, that will do.
All these tools are available at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, and even some local photo stores, depending on the city you live in.
Your shopping list will go like this:
- Developer (Ilford Ilfosol 3 liquid developer) — $14
- Stop bath (Ilford Ilfostop reusable stop bath) – $12
- Fixer – (Ilford rapid fixer) — $15
- Antistatic (you can also use dishwashing detergent) — $16
- Developing tank (Paterson tank) – $30-35
- Film changing bag – $30
- 3 measuring jugs (0.5-1L in volume) – $5-10 each
- Storage bottles – $4-5 each depending on the volume
- Thermometer – $7-20 depending on the model
- Film clips – $10-15
- Pocket knife (use a bottle opener and a pair of scissors if you don’t have one)
- Timer (use your phone)
Alternatively, you can buy a film processing kit to get all the items with a single purchase. There are different options in the market, but we can recommend the Paterson Film Processing Starter Kit, which comes with all the basic tools for $95.95.
Besides the equipment listed above, you need a running water source with a faucet high enough to put your tank underneath (such as a sink or bath) and a dust-free place to let your film strips dry.
Now, let’s get to business:
Depending on the film-developing chemicals you choose, you must use a specific dilution ratio to prepare the mixture to process film. To ensure you have the correct chemistry for your film roll, check the manufacturer’s instructions before you begin the developing process.
Also, make sure you work in a controlled space with enough ventilation. Film development chemicals have a strong smell that may cause dizziness or headache in some people. Additionally, you can use rubber gloves when mixing chemicals to keep your skin safe.
For this article, we will develop Kodak Tri-X 400 35mm film. The recipe I am using is as follows:
- Kodak Tri-X 400 shot at 400
- Ilfosol 3 at a dilution of 1 + 9 (that means 1 part of film developer and 9 parts water)
- Developed for 7.5 minutes at 20ºC/68°F
- Agitations every minute for 10 seconds.
If you want to push or pull process your film (increase or decrease the sensitivity of the film), you can use the following recipes:
- For pushing film:
- Kodak Tri-X 400 shot at 800 = 10.5 minutes at 20ºC/68°F
- Kodak Tri-X 400 shot at 1600 = 14 minutes at 20ºC/68°F
- For pulling film:
- Kodak Tri-X 400 shot at 200 = 5.5 minutes at 20ºC/68°F
Note that when you push the film, you will end up with more film grain and contrast than if you were using native ASA.
Once you have all your materials in hand, fill the jugs with water at 20°C (68°F) and take out the reel of the developing tank. Then, go grab your film changing bag.
Now, we are ready to get started:
Step-by-Step Guide to Developing Film at Home
1. Load the film into the developing tank in complete darkness
For this part, I recommend you take a look at the video I left above to get a visual reference of what you should do.
Put the film canister, developing tank, film reel, and pocket knife (or bottle opener and scissors) inside your changing bag. Zip it up and then place your arms inside the bag. Use the bottle opener to open the film canister and the scissors to cut the film leader.
Next, place the film onto the runway until you hear/feel a click. Twist the sides of the reel back and forth until you have fed the entire film strip into the spiral. When you reach the other end of the film, cut the internal spool off and continue to wind until you have all the film inside the reel.
Place the reel back into the tank —on the central stem— and close the lid. Make sure it clicks into place to secure a light-tight seal. Once it is ready, you can open the bag and take out the tank to start with the film chemistry.
This is the trickiest part of the process because you have to do it blindly inside your changing bag. So, to avoid any damages to your undeveloped film, it is best that you practice first with a roll of unexposed film in the light. That way, you will get a little more familiar with the process before actually doing it. It is better to sacrifice an unimportant roll of film than risk losing your shots!
2. Mix the chemicals
Use the thermometer to ensure the water temperature is at 20ºC (68° F) in all three jugs. I have found 500ml to be plenty enough water for one roll of film.
Some people recommend using distilled water instead of tap water to avoid mineral residues on your photos. However, that will depend on the water quality where you live. In most cases, tap water is just perfect.
Check the labels on your chemicals to find the proper ratio for each working solution. Use the measuring jugs to dilute the developer, fixer, and stop bath separately with the correct portion of water according to the instructions supplied.
3. Pre-wash the film (optional)
Fill the development tank with water at the same temperature as the mixtures you prepared earlier and let it sit for 1 or 2 minutes before draining the tank.
This step is entirely optional, but it might help to rinse off any layers of chemicals on the film’s surface. On top of that, it brings the development tank to the right temperature for the following steps.
4. Develop your film
Configure your phone screen to never go to sleep so you can use it as a timer. The following steps will be pure chemistry and fun!
Start the timer as you pour the developing solution into the film tank. As soon as you do this, begin the agitation process. This entails 10 seconds of slowly inverting the tank and bringing it back up in a continuous, subtle motion. Finish it by tapping it to remove any air bubbles that could have formed on the inside.
Let the tank sit for 1 minute, and then repeat the 10 seconds of inversions and tapping. Do this process every minute until you finish the development time listed on the instructions— in this case, 7.5 minutes. Make sure you pour out the developer at that exact time mark.
If you use Ilford developer, you can dispose of it down the drain with no problem. This developer is safer than others, so you can throw it through the sink as long as you flush it out with plenty of water.
5. Pour the stop-bath
Immediately pour in the stop bath solution and perform continuous agitations for 15 seconds. This step will neutralize the effects of the developer to avoid overexposure. After that time, pour the stop bath back into the jug and store it in a bottle for future reuse.
6. Add the fixer
Start the timer again and pour the mixed fixer solution into the developing tank. Agitate for 10 seconds and tap to remove bubbles. Repeat this process at the beginning of each minute until you reach 3 minutes.
At the 3-minute mark, pour the fixer back into the jug and store it in another bottle so you can reuse it later.
7. Final wash
Put the tank under the tap and let the water run for about 5 minutes. Every so often, empty the tank and fill it again to ensure you always get fresh, clean water inside to remove any chemicals left behind.
To prevent any water spots from forming on the film’s surface, mix 5-10 drops of antistatic in about 500ml of water and pour it into the tank. Invert for a few seconds —about 10-20 seconds— to evenly coat the film and empty the tank again. You can also use dish soap as a wetting agent for this last step.
8. Remove the film and hang it up to dry
Open the tank and remove the film. Now you can look at your images and smile proudly at the results. We did it! This is the moment that makes it all worthwhile.
If there is any excess water on the negatives, you can use a specialized film squeegee to absorb the water or just run it through your fingers. Use the film clips to hang the film to dry in a dust-free location for at least an hour or until it’s not tacky to the touch. Don’t forget to clip a small weighted object to the bottom of each film strip to prevent curling.
Once your film is dry, you can cut it into strips and storage them in negative sleeves to organize them and keep them in good condition. Be sure you store them somewhere flat and clean. Then, you can do whatever you want with your negatives— they are like the raw files you get with digital cameras, but better.
If you have your own darkroom at home, you can enlarge your negatives using an enlarger and photographic paper to make prints. Or, you can digitalize them with a dedicated 35mm scanner and share them on social media. The Epson Perfection V600 flatbed scanner is a solid choice for home scanning; it is fast, easy to use, and affordable.
And, of course, if you don’t have any of this equipment, you can take your negatives to a lab for scanning and printing with a professional finish.
Self-Developed Film Photography Examples
Here are some of the results from my first self-developed roll film. I shot the images with my Olympus OM-1 and scanned the negatives using the Epson scanner recommended in our best film scanners article.
Digital photography is fast, practical, and relatively easy. I mean, a digital camera allows you to get instant results and repeat any wrong shot at the moment. But film cameras change the way you think about the image. It becomes a more intimate and meditated process, from the moment of composition until you finish developing.
Contrary to what many might say in this digital age, film is not dead— and I would even go so far as to say it is rising again. Even photographers from a younger generation are becoming more interested in returning to the roots of photography.
Developing film at home is easy, but it takes time and practice to master it, like in any other art form. So, don’t worry if it seems like a very distant and complex task at first, because I assure you that you will get better and better the more you do it. And it is super fun!
Besides, nothing compares to the benefit of having total control over your negatives and being the first one to look at your photos. That is the most rewarding part of developing film yourself.
Enjoyed this post? We have a lot of other Film Photography articles here at Cultured Kiwi. Whether you need a 35mm film camera or are looking for the best 35mm film, we have you covered. Now, pick your favorite B&W film and get developing!
- Check the temperature of the water and fill all jugs with 20ºC
- While the temperature is being read go to your film changing bag
- Open both zips on the change bag and place inside, the film, your pocket knife, the spiral and tank.
- Place arms inside the change bag and remove the film from the canister.
- Place the film onto the runway until you hear/feel a click.
- Ratchet the film into the spiral.
- Place the spiral (on the central stem) back into the tank and close the lid.
- Remove tank from the change bag and prepare to develop.
Step by Step Guide
- Ensure water temperature is at 20ºC in all three of the jugs
- For one roll of film I have found 500ml to be plenty of water fill all jugs to this level.
- Check the labels on all developers to find the correct ratio for each mixture.
- Mix chemicals by removing water from the 500ml jug and replace with correct amount of chemical.
- Ensure phone screen is configured never to go to sleep so you can use it as a timer.
- Start timer as you pour the developer into the Paterson tank.
- Slowly invert and revert the tank for 10 seconds and finish by tapping it to remove any bubbles.
- Let the tank sit for 1 minute before repeating 10 seconds of inversions and tapping.
- Repeat this process throughout the 7.5 minute development time.
- Before 7.5 minutes prepare to drain the tank (you need to finish pouring the chemicals out at the 7.5 minute mark).
- Pour out the developer at 7.5 min. You won’t need this anymore so dispose of it safely (Ilford developer is safer than other developers so can be disposed of down the drain as long as it is flushed with plenty of water)
- Immediately pour in the stop bath and perform continuous agitations for 15 seconds.
- Pour the stop bath back into the jug (you can reuse this).
- Start the timer a second time and pour in the fixer.
- Agitate the tank for 10 seconds and tap it to remove bubbles.
- Repeat this process at the beginning of each minute until you reach 3 minutes.
- At the 3 minute mark pour the fixer back into the jug (you can reuse this)
- Begin washing the film by filling the tank 5-6 times with fresh (cool) water.
- Mix 5-10 drops of antistatic in the empty jug with around 500ml of water and pour into the tank for the final wash.
- Invert for 10-20 seconds to evenly coat the film.
- Remove the film from the tank and smile proudly as you see the images.
- Use the film clips to hang the film (weighted clip at bottom) and leave it to dry in a dust free location for around an hour.
- Once dry (not tacky to the touch) cut the film into strips of 6 and store them somewhere flat to prevent curling.
- Celebrate good times, c’mon!