How to Process Your C-41 Film at Home

After almost two years of shooting film nonstop and more than $1,000 worth of expenses on processing and prints, I needed to reconsider my budget and find a way of being able to shoot more and pay less. I thus began to process my C-41 rolls at home. It’s extremely easy to do and I‘ll show you today how to do it, step by step.

First off, this is what you‘ll need (after you incur these small first expenses, processing at home is almost for free):

  • A film-developer tank (a lot of people trust Jobo Tanks, I got an AP because they are cheaper)
  • Scissors
  • A trash bag (or another nice-sized bag that doesn’t have any dust in it)
  • The film you want to process
  • Measuring tools
  • A funnel
  • Tetanal C-41 Rapid Kit (they come in liquid and powder form for 1 or 5 litres of working solution. I guess the liquid one is easier to work with but I don’t know since I only used the liquid one)
  • Chemistry bottles (I have plastic ones but I‘d rather go for 500ml glass bottles because they are heavier)
  • A thermometer
  • An aquarium heater
  • A timer (I used my cellphone, every cellphone has a timer)
  • A water bucket in which you can fit the three bottles and the development tank

Ok, first of all, you need to know that C-41 is a normed process. This means that all films, whichever ASA they are, take the same amount of time to process. This helps if you want to process two films at one go and they have different speeds.

There are different ways to process C-41. The standard is at 100°F, but this is too hot for me and pretty fast, there is the 113°F express process and the 86°F slower process. I will show you the 86°F way, because you can easily control this temperature: it is nice to handle and it is not too fast.

Second, the chemicals will weaken pretty fast. This means the more film you processed already in this solution, the more time it will take. But don‘t worry, each Tetanal pack has a manual in it with a nice chart and processing times.

Third, try to avoid useless air-contact with your chemicals. They will oxidate and go bad faster if you leave bottles open and so on. You can slow this process down if you get yourself a Tetenal Protectant Spray, which puts a film of gas (heavier than air, lighter than water) on top of your chemicals without affecting their ability to process.

Now, lets begin.

Mix your chemicals. I use 500ml working solution, which means I can keep the 1 liter kit for twice as long. Mix them according to the manual in the package and pour each part (CD for Color Developer, BX for Bleach/Fix and Stab for Stabilisator) into one bottle. Close it and label it accordingly. Put them into the water bucket. Also, put the thermometer and the aquarium heater into it and fill the bucket with warm water. It’s crucial that you keep control over the water’s temperature, because there is basically no tolerance in temperature for the process.

You’ll have to wait a little while until everything in the bucket is 86°F. After doing this a few times, you will likely know how warm it has to be and you will be able to guesstimate the exact temperature. You can speed up this process by adding hot water or adding cold water, but I like to just naturally heat up the water using the heater.

Load your film into the development tank. You take the scissors, the film and the tank, put them into the trash bag, and then put the trash bag under your bed’s blanket. I only use the trash bag because I can trust that there is no dust in it. You do not need it, but better be safe than sorry. As you probably know, no light should get to the film. I won‘t explain the rest since there are tons of tutorials on this out there. After you’ve loaded up the film, put the tank into the water bath as well.

We skip the part where you wait to get the right temperature. This can vary between minutes and an hour, depending on various factors. You will have your manual at your side, so you will always be able to check how long each part of the process will take.

First off, pour the CD into your tank. The time starts when you start pouring it. Close the tank and put the funnel in the bottle. Put the tank back into the water bath and just move it around there gently. You can rotate it a bit as well. Do this the entire time. This will first help you use all the chemicals, not only the parts next to your film. It will also help the water in the tank flow around and stay same temperature — your heater is of no use if you only heat up the still water around the heater while the rest cools off. About 10 seconds before time runs out, pour the CD back into its bottle, put the tank down, close the bottle, and put it back if you want to do a second roll later (or put it into storage).

Pour in the BX and do the exact same thing as before. When you put the BX back into its bottle, you‘ll need warm, running water. Rinse the film for about 6 minutes. I normally proceed this way: fill the tank, inverse it 10 times, pour out the water and repeat. I normally do this 12 times, since it takes about 30 seconds each time. After this, it’s Stab time! No! No daggers, no knives. Sorry for that lame pun! Put the tank on a steady surface and pour in the Stab. Just leave it like this for about a minute. Stab foams so much, I never move it because I think there would just be more foam. After this minute, put the Stab back and go rinse the film again.

Now you can open your tank and take a look. I now normally add some drops of wetting agent, but this is up to you. The booklet in the Tetanal kit says nothing about a final rinse and some people just hang the film to dry with the Stab foam still on it. I like it better with wetting agent.

Open up the reel, take the start of your film (in the center), use a clamp (like the kind used for laundry), and hang it to dry. I normally hang two more clamps/clothespins at the bottom end to straighten the film.

Now you can wash out all your processing stuff and really, really dry it. You do not want any calcium residue (due to hard water) in your tank, this could falsify the results for next time. If you want, you can blow-dry your negatives or just let them sit there for about two hours. After that, cut them, put them into sleeves, and press them for a few hours (for best results). At this point, you can also just go ahead and scan them if you need to.

I know, this method is not the cleanest and not the most professional, but it turned out to suit my needs the best. What I found after a while was that you will need lotion for your hands — the water dehydrates your skin so much! I started to wear rubber gloves, which helps retain.

I hope this was a help to some of you, or that at least it helped you decide whether you want to take the next step or not. All in all, it is a great way to save money and to learn something about your film. And of course, it is a great excuse to spend a lot more time with photography.

Here are some examples of my home-processed films:

P.S. One last little addition: I ended up doing about 12 rolls of film per 500ml solution. This almost doubles what is written in the booklet. So you do about 25 rolls with 1 liter of solution instead of 16.

About the author: Max Zulauf is a 22-year-old photographer based in Zurich, Switzerland. Visit his blog here. This post was original published here.