The Internet’s Simplest Guide to Developing B&W Film at Home

Okay, so you want to develop film at home, but you don’t want to read a 2,500+ word guide about how to do it? Fair enough. This is the shortest, simplest, guide on the Internet with a number of suggestions to help you save money. It’s based on equipment and chemicals that can be found at every camera store that sells film. 

I’ve developed over 200 rolls of film at home in the last year alone using a minimal setup. Here is the basic equipment that I would purchase if I were starting over again when developing black and white film at home. Color film can be developed much the same way but does require a few extra components that ensure the temperature is regulated.

My film developing kit.

Home Film Developing Equipment Checklist

Development Chemicals ~$50

Development chemical Product nameWhere to find the best price
DeveloperRodinal (Blazinol in Canada)At local store
Indicator Stop BathIlfostopAt local store
Rapid FixerIlford Rapid FixerAt local store
Single-use starter packIlford Simplicity KitAmazon
Best Film Developer solutions for starting out

Home Film Developing Equipment Checklist: one time trial

If you just want to try out film photography once to see if it’s for you, it’s possible to temporarily cut down on some of these costs by using the Ilford Simplicity Starter Pack chemicals. These are pre-measured, single-use chemicals designed for maximum convenience.

Using the simplicity kit, you can save money by cutting out some of the necessary equipment for developing films, such as the graduated cylinder, funnels, and storage bottles. But you’ll still need a method of measuring 500ml of water, the negative sleeves to store the film, and the Paterson developing tank. In the end, the simplicity kit is not cheap. The listed chemicals above can develop between 25 and 100 rolls of 35mm film for only $30 more. 

In my personal opinion, it’s worth spending the extra money upfront if you believe developing film is for you. And if you aren’t certain, Amazon has a generous, 30-day return policy on almost everything. 

Required supplies ~$75

ItemRequired if using Ilford Simplicity?Where to find the best price
Paterson Developing Tank with 2 reelsYesAmazon
500ml Beaker for mixing and pouring development chemicalsYesAmazon
Graduated Cylinder for measuringNoAmazon
Set of funnelsNoAmazon, or Dollar Store
Storage bottlesNoAmazon, or 1L growlers from a local brewery
Negative sleevesYesAmazon, local film store
Scissors, sharpieYesDollar store
Required items when for developing film at home. If you purchase everything on this list, it will cost around $75

Extras that will make developing film easier: ~$350

The next list is the peripherals. All of these are important if you’re going to develop film more often. But they’re also the most expensive items on the list, and certainly don’t have to be bought the first time you develop film. That said, I would certainly recommend gloves and a lab coat to avoid getting any spills on your hands and clothing. Developing chemicals can damage your skin, and stain your clothes. If you have particularly sensitive skin like I do, then these two items are a must.

For scanning the film, if it’s your first time, you can simply use your cellphone to take an image and invert it in Gimp, Photoshop, or other free mobile apps. Or if you have a DSLR camera, it’s possible to scan using that and a macro lens, or regular lens with extension tubes. Either way, the light table will be a godsend for scanning with a camera instead of a dedicated flatbed. If you don’t have a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, then the Epson V600 is the easiest and cheapest way to get started scanning film.

ItemBrand/typeWhere to find the best price
Light tableRalenoAmazon
Film changing bageToneAmazon
Lab coatMake sure they fit!Workwear store/university bookstore
GlovesAny nitrile glovesHardware store
Entry-level film scannerEpson V550/V600Amazon
Mixing chemicals using distilled water for long-term storage

Step 1. Mix and store chemicals 

On all of the chemicals, there will be a set of ratios that look like 1+#. The number is the amount of water per 1 part of the developing chemical. Since the Paterson Development Tank holds 500mL (enough for 2x 35mm reels, or 1x medium format film), divide 500 by 1+# to find the amount of chemical to measure. 

Let’s take the fixer for example. Whether you use Ilford or Kodak rapid fixers, both will require the 1+4 dilution for films. Divide 500mL by 5 to get 100mL of solution. Using the graduated cylinder, measure 50mL twice and pour the liquid into the beaker. 

Then, fill the beaker to 500mL with cold water (hot water contains more contaminants). Since the fixer is the last step, clean one of the glass bottles and pour in the solution. Be sure to rinse the beaker 3 times before measuring other chemicals to avoid contamination. 

Next, follow the same step for the stop bath, rinse the beaker thoroughly, and then mix the developer. Leave the developer in the beaker until the film is loaded and ready to go. 

Learn more about film chemical storage in this article

Where do I find film development times and dilutions? 

The greatest resource for development times and combinations is the Massive Dev Chart. This is the most complete, free resource available for film and developer combinations. And it’s somehow still updated every single year. 

FilmDilutionDeveloping time in Rodinal at box speed
Kentmere 4001+25 / 1+50 7.5 minutes / 20 minutes
Ilford HP51+25 / 1+506 minutes / 11 minutes
Ilford Delta 4001+25 / 1+509 minutes / 20 minutes
Kodak Tri-X1+25 / 1+507 minutes / 13 minutes
JCH StreetPan1+25 / 1+5010.5 minutes / 22 minutes
Developing times in Rodinal for the most popular films when developed at box speed.

What is the difference between developer dilutions?

The different dilutions can create vastly different looks in film negatives. Using Rodinal, a 1+25 dilution will develop the film faster, and with more contrast than a 1+50 dilution. If you’re looking to create negatives with the bare minimum of contrast, use larger dilutions like 1+100 . 

With developers like HC-110, D-76, and Xtol, smaller dilutions will result in negatives with finer grain due to solvents that eat away at the silver particles on the film. Using larger dilutions with less agitation typically produces sharper negatives with more shadow detail

Step 2: Load your film into the tank

A gif showing how to load 35mm film onto a Paterson reel.
Loading film in daylight is easy compared to learning in pure darkness. That’s why it’s always a good idea to burn a cheap roll of film to practice with.

Loading your film is a delicate task, and I’m only going to be able to go over the process here briefly. If you’d like a more in-depth article, I’ve written a longer guide with a number of tips here.

The film has to be loaded in complete darkness. But any bathroom without a window will do just fine. Before loading the reel, make sure to sit in the room for 30 seconds and adjust to the light. You won’t immediately be able to see stray light coming in, and there’s nothing worse than finding out your film may be ruined by a small sliver of leaking light after you’ve removed it from the canister or backing paper. 

If you do find some stray light, it’s easy to plug it up with a towel along the bottom of the door. If the light is coming through the sides, I’ve had good luck standing with my back against the crack to seal the incoming light. 

Loading the reels is simple. 120 film can be unwrapped with your hands alone, but 35mm will require a pair of scissors to cut off the film leader and to separate the film from the canister at the end of the roll. Make sure to round off any sharp edges along the leader to stop the film from snagging on the reel. 

Then, in the dark, find the sharper point on the reel. Grab the tip of the film between your index finger and your thumb, and pull the film into the reel starting at the sharper corner. Then, once the film is inserted far enough, the reel will grab it and allow you to pull it onto the reel by twisting one side and pulling it back like a ratchet. 

Next, put the reel into the developing tank, ensuring the center column is inserted through the reel. 

Film developing chemistry
An assortment of film developing chemicals. Rodinal (blazinol in Canada) is the classic, high-acutance film developer.

Step 3: Develop →  Stop → Fix

For 120 film, pre-rinse the film for 1 minute in room-temperature water. 35mm films can skip this step.

Set an additional 5 seconds more than the developing time on your timer, start, and pour the developing into the dev tank quickly. Once it’s in, use the spin stick that comes with the Paterson tank and spin the reels for the first minute. Make sure to change the direction of the spin frequently to break up the flow of water. When the water flows consistently in the same places, it can leave areas of unnaturally higher and lower density across the negatives. 

This first minute of developer agitation is critical, as any unevenness in development from when the developer solution is first added will be amplified throughout the process.  

Then, after the first minute, it’s time to start inversions. What this means is to gently turn the tank upside down while spinning it at the same time. The gif on the right provides a simple demonstration of how to complete an inversion. 

A gif showing how to rotate the development tank when agitating film
How to complete an inversion cycle.

Complete a set of three to four inversions every 30 seconds if the total developing time is less than 5 minutes, or once every minute if the developing time is 5 minutes or more. After the inversions are complete, gently tap the dev tank on a hard surface to dislodge any bubbles that may have settled on the film.  

For more information on agitation, and some extra tips on how different agitation methods can change the outcomes of your negatives, take a look at this article. That agitation article contains the most in-depth information about agitation cycles anywhere on the Internet, and also shows a few cases of how things can go wrong. 

Stopping the film

Once the timer runs out, it’s time to pour out the developer and pour in the stop bath. The stop bath is a strong acetic acid solution that decreases the pH of the solution to a point where the developer is unable to continue working.  

The stop bath only needs to be used for 30-seconds to a minute. Complete one set of inversions, and then pour the stop bath back into a bottle for reuse, rinse the film twice, and it’s time to move on to the fixing step.

Some photographers prefer to skip the stop bath altogether to save time, water, and money. Here’s a look at a few methods that can allow you to skip this step if that’s the way you’d prefer to go.

Fixing film

Fixing film is the last step that needs to be completed in the darkness. This is where the excess silver that hasn’t been exposed to light is removed from the film, rendering it completely inert. 

Most fixer solutions require 3-5 minutes to completely remove the extra silver from the film. During that time, complete regular inversions every minute followed by a quick tap. 

Once the time is done, be sure to save the used fixer solution in a bottle to be taken to a film developing store where it can be recycled for free. Fixer is an environmental toxin, and shouldn’t be dumped down the drain if possible. 

The steps after fixing can be completed in daylight. Although I typically complete the washing stage with the film still in the closed developing tank. That way, I can wash both the film and the tank without using extra water. 

If you’d like more information on fixing film, storage, and the different types of fixer that may be better for your skin or your processing, take a look at this article

Step 4: Washing film using The Ilford Method

After fixing, the film has to be washed properly. Otherwise, the film will degrade at a much faster rate than normal as the fixer continues to eat away at the silver. 

Ilford’s technical data sheets contain a treasure trove of information about developing film. But one of the best lessons that I learned was how to wash film using the least amount of water possible.

The technique goes as follows: 

  1. Fill the tank and complete 5 inversions
  2. Refill the tank and complete 10 inversions
  3. Refill the tank once more and complete 20 inversions

After the final rinse, the film should be completely free of the fixer solution. Other guides online recommend washing film for 20 minutes in straight running water, which uses so much more water than is necessary. 

This light tracing table doubles as an excellent film scanning surface.

Step 5: Dry, cut, and store the film

After rinsing, it’s time to finally see the images on the film! Af this stage, I pull the film out of the water, and run the film between my fingers to pull off the excess water. Then, using binder clips or clothespins, I hang the film off of a jute rope to dry. 

Drying typically takes 2-3 hours, and it’s best to have some weight hanging off the bottom of the film so that it doesn’t curl as much during the process. 

To keep the film from curling completely, hang it to dry in bathroom after running hot water from the shower for 5 minutes. The humidity helps bring down any dust in the room, and also keeps the film from curling excessively. 

After it’s dry, it’s time to cut, sleeve, and scan the film. 

Measure the film against your negative holders. To find the right place to cut. If you’re shooting 36-roll films, you’ll need sleeves that can hold that many negatives. Typically, I use these ones from Print File, which also allow you to cut the film into sections of 6 shots each, which is the maximum that can be scanned at once on an Epson V550/V600 film scanner

If your negatives are dense, they’ll be easy to cut at the appropriate places. But if they’ve been underexposed, it may be difficult to find the right frame lines. If that’s the case, place the negatives on an LED sketch pad, or a white screen on your phone to better see the lines. 

Further reading

This article contains all the information you need to get started. But when you’re ready to dive deep into film photography, here are the articles and books that I believe contain the most useful information. 

Bill Troop and Steve Anchell’s The Film Developing Cookbook — the most thorough and scientific book on film photography. It’s up to date, containing info on every film stock and developer available as of 2019. They reference years worth of research and experience from the top scientists and engineers working with film photography. This book provides the basis for much of the information on this blog. 

How to store film properly — a detailed guide on how to store film at home. Film degrades over time, but it’ll go bad much faster if it’s stored improperly. This guide goes over everything from where and how long to store it, to handling film after exposure.

A guide to pushing and pulling film — want to rate your film at a different ISO than is printed on the box? That’s called pushing or pulling, and each has a different effect. Check out this article for information on how to do it without getting weird results.

10 Common Developing Errors and How to Solve Them — This article contains the most common issues that you’ll run into with film photography. It’s a good source of information that will help you diagnose issues, or learn how to overcome them before they happen.

How to get consistent results on film — Everything new film photographers need to know about the medium. If you’re coming from digital photography, this is the guide that you need to read if you want to get better results. 

17 Photoshop-free methods for creating sharper images — this is the guide to getting the most out of film photography. It contains information on every step of the process to create sharper images every time. 

7 Ways to make film development more eco-friendly — this guide goes over a number of methods that you can use today to reduce your ecological footprint when developing film. From the types of developers you use, to the techniques that can reduce water usage. 

How to choose the right B&W film stock — a detailed guide that goes over the differences between almost every B&W film stock available in North America. A perfect starting guide to help anyone looking for film for specific, archival, or general use.

How to make negatives last for generations — another deep dive into the science of film storage. This article focuses specifically on developed negatives, and how to store them in a way that’ll keep them from developing ‘vinegar syndrome,’ as well as a look into which film stocks last the longest.

By Daren

Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer.

 

2 thoughts on “The Internet’s Simplest Guide to Developing B&W Film at Home”

  1. After many years of on and off darkroom i finally tried constant agitation of negatives with a Sima Roller.
    With Xtol I find no increase in grain or film density which defies what I have always understood to be true.
    Early days, we will see what happens!
    As for negative longevity, I have some 100 year old glass plate negs that still print wonderfully.

    TB

    Reply
    • The changes in density and contrast will usually be more noticable if you’re developing tabular grain film, like Delta or TMax. But if you’re shooting HP5 and Tri-X, those changes from constant agitation will probably be fairly minimal.

      And that’s awesome about those glass plates! I’d love to see the images if you’d happen to have a link to them. Films usually break down because of the acetate base, or the color dyes fading, so plates should have no problem keeping fresh so long as they’re stored well.

      Reply

Leave a Comment