How to Develop Color Film

Save money and have fun at the same time by developing your own color film.


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    Read the warnings and MSDS for the chemicals first! These are very dangerous chemicals!
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    Mix the chemicals according to the directions that come with the Arista C-41 Powder Color Negative Developer Kit, and store the chemicals in the gallon jugs. If you are using different chemicals, follow the directions that come with the chemicals.
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    To develop color film, your chemicals need to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 37.8 degrees Celsius). It's important that the chemicals are not 1 degree higher or 1 degree lower than 100 degrees. To bring the chemicals in the gallon jugs to this temperature, you will have to sit the jugs in a sink filled with water. Try to bring the water in the sink temperature to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit (-43 degrees Celsius). Although you want the chemicals to be 100 degrees, the water in the sink is going to cool down very fast.
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    Pop open the film canister, remove the film, load the film onto the film reel, and place the reel inside the developing tank. This must be in complete darkness. No light whatsoever. No red safety lights either. Take the scissors, bottle opener, film canister, film reel, and developing tank into a dust free room that you can make light-tight. For the moment, you can have the room lights turned on.
    • If a dark-room is not available, you can manufacture a metal, wooden or 100% opaque plastic box by making a simple box with a hinged lid approx 2 feet (0.6 m) x 1.5 feet (0.5 m) x 1.5 feet (0.5 m), or 60 x 45 x 45cm. Line the box with an opaque, dust-proof material, such as vinyl or lino. Cut a hole in each side and fit a double lined opaque sleeve and elastic cuff so that you can place your hands through the cuff into the box and open your canister inside. This box is useful for home or lower budget applications. It's best to place a test strip inside the box (under red-light conditions) before use and develop it to ensure that the box is indeed completely free of any light through gaps or cracks. You can then place the film, tools, development reel and canister inside, then seal the box, place your hand through the cuff and proceed.
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    Place the tools out in front of you, possibly on a desk. You're going to be loading the film onto the reel in complete darkness, so make sure you don't trip over something and die.
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    Turn off the lights. (Fig. 1) Use the bottle opener to open the canister. While only touching the film negative from the edges, pull the film out of the canister. The film will be taped to the center film spool. 6. Cut the film off of the spool. (Fig. 2) Make sure you cut it off right at the base of the spool or you'll be cutting through your pictures. Also, cut the tip off the film (the odd shaped piece that sticks out of the canister when you first buy the film) so that it's flat. You only need to cut about 1 inch off the tip.
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    Spool the film onto the film reel. While not touching the surface of the negative, slide the negative into the opening of of the reel. (Fig. 3) Slide about 4 inches of film into the reel. Start walking the film onto the reel by twisting one side of the reel back and forth. To be clear on this, keep your left hand steady, and with your right hand twist the right side of the reel forward, then bring it back. Keep doing this until all the film is loaded onto the reel. 8. Place the reel inside the developing tank, and screw the lid onto the tank. The tank is now light-tight and you can turn on the lights. Even though the developing tank has a hole in the top for pouring in the chemicals, it is in fact light-tight.
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    Bring the developing tank to the sink where you have the chemical jugs floating in water. Check the developer chemical with the thermometer. If it's at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then you are ready to go. If it's higher than 100 degrees, then keep checking every 10 minutes until its ready. If it's below 100 degrees, add some hot water to the sink the gallon jugs are floating in.
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    With stopwatch in hand, pour the working developer into the hole in the top of the developing tank. Do this very quickly and start the stopwatch as soon as you've poured all the developer into the tank. Smack the developing tank on a counter a few times to dislodge any bubbles that might be clinging on to the film. Agitate the tank for 30 seconds. Do this by swirling the tank around. You are going to leave the film in the developer for 3 1/2 minutes. Agitate the film for 3 seconds every 30 seconds. Agitation is very important. Do not neglect to agitate the developing tank. The developing chemicals become exhausted very shortly after coming in contact with the film. The agitation ensures that fresh chemicals are touching the film. But, this exhaustion of the chemicals is an important part of the process. Over agitating can give negative results. Or positive results, it depends on the "look" you are going for. Too much agitation increases the contrast in the image.
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    When the stopwatch has reached 3 minutes and 20 seconds, start pouring the developer back into the developer jug. You can use this chemical again but it can get weak if you reuse it too much. When you use it, place a 'tick' mark on the gallon jug. Each time you use the developer from the gallon jug, add 15 seconds to the development time. Do not take the lid off the developing tank.
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    Again with stopwatch in hand, quickly pour the blix solution into the top of the developing tank until the tank is full. Start the stopwatch when you've filled the tank up. Once again, smack the tank against a counter a couple times to dislodge any bubbles. We are going to leave the film in the blix solution for 6 1/2 minutes.
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    When the stopwatch has reached 6 minutes and 20 seconds, start pouring the blix back into the blix gallon jug. You can reuse this chemical. You can now take the lid off of the developing tank.
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    Bring running water to 100 degrees. Put the developing tank under the running water and let the water wash the film for 3 1/2 minutes.
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    With stopwatch in hand, dump out the water and pour in the stabilizer. Leave the stabilizer in the tank for 1 1/2 minutes. Just before the 1 1/2 minutes is up, pour the stabilizer back into the stabilizer gallon jug. This chemical is reusable.
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    It's time to wash all the chemicals off of the film. You are going to leave the film under the running water for 10 minutes. The water should fill up the developing tank and overflow. Let it overflow. Every couple of minutes dump out the water and let the tank fill back up with fresh running water. You want to keep fresh 100 degree water pouring into the developing tank. This final washing part of the process is very important. 10 minutes is the minimum time to wash the film, but re washing the film with 100 degree water. Using hotter or colder water can affect the final picture.
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    After the 10 minutes is up, lift the film reel out of the tank and lightly shake off any remaining water. Turn the reel clockwise (could be counter-clockwise, depends on how you're holding the reel, so try them both) until the top half of the reel comes apart from the lower half of the reel. Now use one of the film clips and clip it onto the end of the film negative. Some clips have small "hooks" on them. You can run the hooks through the square holes running down the sides of the film, and thus avoid puncturing the film negative. By lifting up the clip, pull the film up out of the reel. If everything went well, you should see your pictures on the negative. Clip the other film clip onto the bottom of the negative. This will act as a weight. Hang the negative up to dry in a room temperature, dust free room. Leave the negative to dry for at least 2 hours.
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    That's it! You're all done. You can now take the negatives to a store and have prints made, make your own prints, or scan the negatives and order prints online.


  • Separate Bleach and Fix steps can do better. Bleach baths do better in converting all developed silver to soluble silver halide which the Fixer can remove. Blix baths tend to leave a bit of the developed silver. Retained silver in the dye images will result in muted colours in the print.
  • Blix stands for Bleach/Fix. Blix replaces the need to have a bleaching chemical process and a fixing chemical process by mixing both of the chemicals together. Many professional photographers will use separate bleach and fix, but for the purposes of developing your first roll of color film, blix will do fine.
  • Some people use bottled water instead of tap water. Tap water contains minerals that can affect the final picture.
  • Leave the film to dry for at least 2 hours, but 4 hours is better. If you remove the film too soon, the film will curl up really badly when you take the clips off. The longer you leave the film to dry, the straighter the negatives will be.
  • Temperature and timing controls are very critical with the developing step only. Make sure that these are followed. However, the blix, or separate bleach and fix, rinse, and wash steps can be more forgiving. Temperatures can deviate by as much as 3-5 degrees C and timing can be off (towards the long end) by as much as 5 minutes without causing any ill-effects.
  • Practice loading film onto the film reel with the lights on, using a junk roll of film.
  • You can soak the film in an Anti-streaking agent for 1 minute after the washing process. This helps the film dry without water spots.


  • Wear rubber gloves when dealing with photo chemicals. Also keep the chemicals out of reach of children and pets.
  • Do not use these chemicals without adequate ventilation.
  • Do not store these chemicals at high temperatures. Only keep them at 100 degrees Fahrenheit when using.
  • These chemicals, especially the film fix and stabilizer, are extremely dangerous to work with.
  • Don't do this unless you REALLY want to. The chemicals are dangerous, timing must be precise, there is no pushing or pulling the film like black and white, so there isn't an advantage there.
  • Wear a mask when dealing with photo chemicals.

Things You'll Need

  • A developing tank with an auto loading film reel.
  • A mercury thermometer.
  • 2 film clips.
  • A bottle opener.
  • A pair of scissors.
  • A 600 ml graduated cylinder.
  • 3 1 gallon jugs.
  • A stopwatch, or a digital watch with a timer on it.
  • Chemicals.
  • Film! Any color negative film will work.

Article Info

Categories: Film Cameras and Film Photography