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.

  • Samcornwell

    Wow, Michael! What a post. This is going to be a staple for photographers taking the step back everywhere. Any chance you can get it designed in poster format?

    Seriously – best post ever.

  • Alan Dove

    Please take a look at the Tetenal kit’s page on the B&H Photo web site, click “Reviews,” and select the “Most Liked Positive Review,” which I wrote. No, I’m not bragging, but it summarizes some important tips for using this home C-41 kit. A few of the most important ones are:

    1. Don’t rinse your film after the stabilizer. The stabilizer’s purpose is to keep the film from rotting, and if you rinse it off your negatives will be short-lived. Add wetting agent directly to the stabilizer instead (I use about 0.5mL Photoflo), and hang film to dry straight out of that.

    2. Do not heat the stabilizer – it’s supposed to be at room temperature. It’ll dry a little more slowly that way, but that will allow the wetting agent to sheet better, so you’ll get fewer smears.

    3. Keep the chemicals in dark bottles.

    4. You can heat everything (developer, blix, and pre-soak water) up in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. The only critical temperature is the developer, so just heat all of the bottles a bit hotter than necessary, and when the developer comes down within a half-degree of where you want it, start your pre-soak and proceed with development. This way, you don’t need a water bath at all. The blix will cool a bit by the time you get through it, but its temperature is not critical, and as I said the stabilizer should be at room temperature.

    5. Use distilled water to mix your chemicals, especially if you have hard water or any trace of sulfur.

    I assume you’re shooting expired film or using odd color filters from the look of your negatives. If fresh film is giving you those kinds of shifts, you should throw out your chemicals and mix a new batch.

  • anon

    aren’t C41 chemicals extremely hazardous?

  • mrdwilks

    nice! i totally support this. i have got into home processing of c41 and b/w. its really much easier than most people think. i’ve done 120 and 135 format. its all the same. Its great to be able to cross process and push/pull how u like. change the times and the temps and the agitation to introduce color shifts in developing. Please dispose of your fixer properly and always wear gloves and a smock!

  • ceebee

    and now you become the next Eggleston?

  • mrdwilks

    well. don’t drink them. don’t get them on your skin. don’t leave them around. don’t do this in your kitchen like so many people do, unless you are compulsive about cleanliness. You really don’t need more than common sense and patience/planning to do this safely. You can safely do this for your entire life if you follow good practice.

  • pothman

    For about $25 bucks you can get a nice large changing bag and forget the trash bag blanket idea

  • Daire Quinlan

    You should never rinse after the stabiliser, it contains anti-fungal
    chemicals. B&W film contains silver which is a potent antifungal
    agent. Colour film has it all bleached out, leaving only yummy yummy

    I use Fuji hunt press chemicals, I can get
    them here in Ireland for about €40 a box. I make them up 500ml at a
    time, and at tetenal protectan to the rest of the concentrates. The
    500ml I use for a few films or over a few weeks and then dump it.
    Typically I can get about 10 months worth of film out of the one box
    before it all starts going a bit haywire. Average price to dev a roll is
    about €1, hard to argue with that :-D

    Times &
    temps are only really important to maintain for the dev bath. The
    bleach and fix are process to completion so you can just leave them at
    it, and temp. isn’t vital as long as it’s reasonably warm.

    But yeah, fun and easy. All the C-41 stuff on my flickr stream over the last 4 or 5 years has been home developed.

  • Mr. Pogi

    Are the pictures supposed to look “lomo”-ish? If that is intentional then it’s fine, but if not, then you probably did something very wrong in the development.

  • Dave

    Sorry, but these results are very poor. Light leaks, chemical stains, color shifts/casts, unbelievable amount of filth on the negs. Is there some kind of joke I am not getting? Is it April 1st?

  • tron

    youre not supposed to rinse after the stabilizer, by doing so you’re undoing the “stabilization” effect.

    also is there a reason for the color shifts in all the photos? are your temperatures in check?

  • Max Zulauf

    I wrote the original version of this tutorial for the pictures were shot with a lc-a (that leaks a lot), lubitel 166u (well same), and a rollei 35se (which has a faulty light meter and leaks), as well as old film and xpro. that’s that ;)

  • Pepito

    I would ask my money back if a lba makes my photos look like this. Film is not low-fi with random colors. In many aspects is more accurate than digital. This kind of lomo-stuff give film a bad name for those that didn’t grow with it.

  • Mr. Pogi

    I see. Even if I am not a fan of the “lomo” look, go with your vision, what’s important is you are happy. :) Cheers!

  • Travis P. Juntara

    YES. Thank you! I purchased a tetanal/jobo 1L kit a year ago and never got around to developing on it due to lack of instructions, and the fact that I lost my changing bag. With this article out, I might actually get around to developing by myself.

  • Max Zulauf

    I have to agree with you. If you have serious intentions of doing “great” photography with film, then the low-fi stuff is nothing for you. if you just want to have a little fun with film, there’s nothing wrong with it.
    most people tweak their digital pictures until they don’t look accurate anymore as well.. it’s a thing of “this period”

  • Max Zulauf

    color shifts are due leaky cameras and expired/weird film ;) Temperatures are in check, and controlled every two minutes.

  • Max Zulauf

    Do it! even if you wont stick to it, it will increase your understanding in film.

  • Max Zulauf

    thanks! you have some good points here!

    you’re right on the film, also leaky cameras.

  • Dave

    Look, I’m not really trying to bash you but I have spent plenty of time in the darkroom (years). I have built my own darkrooms that could process any of the true black and white films, E-6 and Cibachrome. I am not bragging here, just trying to let you know that I have been there. Most of the issues you are dealing with are easy to avoid. Why shoot a camera full of light leaks?(Although I suspect the light leaks are from using a trash bag as opposed to an inexpensive changing bag). Dust on the negs could be lessened by using Photoflow and a squeegee or chamois. God knows what you are doing with the processing to get those uncorrectable colors. If your film is cooked, trash it. Is color print film no longer available? Keep it in the fridge and process it according to the instructions (temps/times). Shooting crappy film and processing with crappy technique will result in…..crap. I’m sorry, not trying to destroy you but if you are posting a tutorial on the internet, there are better ways to come across as legitimate. Good luck.

  • Khoi

    Is there a best way to scan your negatives without having to buy the expensive film scanners ? Thanks

  • ohanrahanrahan

    Hi Daire, where do you get your Fuji chemicals? I cant seem to find them anywhere in Ireland.

  • Lukas Prochazka

    I hear about box of shoes and flash. Make a 2 wholes into the box one back for flash and one front for film … I have to try it again and tape a white paper into box because last time it was pink….try it its for free…experiment

  • Sella174

    Back when I was still developing B&W films, I used to put glass marbles in the bottles to minimize the amount of air in them – and just added more marbles as the chemicals were used up.

  • Rlayten

    Interesting Article. I’ve been thinking about doing C41 after doing my own B&W for the last 2 years.

    The last of the needed stuff came in today. This weekend I’m going to try and see what happens. While Lomo isn’t my thing, I do respect that you are doing it yourself and are encouraging others to as well. Keep it up!

  • Thomas

    Hi, dust is easy to avoid just turn on your shower for some minutes with hot water, this makes all your flying dust fall down. I do this before is add film to the tank. Next make sure to heat up your develop tank. Next make sure that you start to fill inn the bleach exactly at the time, so i start pouring out the developer 15 sec before timer runs out. And finally no need for rinse after stab… here is my result from a dusty bathroom and yes… i had a dog in there too. Still very little dust and chemical spots. I see you have a lot of chemical / water spots on your pictures. I think you are better of without your final rinse.

  • andrew

    looks good! thanks for the tips!

  • woah

    well, someone’s a bit of a tightassed cock.

  • Wayne

    Thank you very much. Between this post and Alan Dove’s tips, I processed my own medium format color film this weekend. It was a very gratifying process in my rediscovery of photography as a passion.

  • Wayne

    Thanks Alan

  • CQ

    No, Dave is a real photographer who takes photography seriously. The original intent of photography was, and is, to make an accurate record of the real world. Lomo is a screwed up process for people who don’t know how to make good quality photos, and are willing to settle for weird unreal images. Sometimes the real world can appear weird when seen from unusual angles or light, but it is primarily to save an accurate record of what once was for future generations. Take a look at pictures made before 1900; they would be useless if the photographers settled for sloppy technique; they had enough problems with low-tech equipment of the day, and the pictures have suffered from poor storage.

  • CharlieFromMass

    With all my local drug stores discontinuing one-hour processing, this is something I’m going to be looking for- or seeing if I can buy a Noritsu machine myself. Great article.