How to Develop Film Using Coffee and Vitamin C! Srsly!

March 23rd, 2009
feature-caffenolExtra photos for bloggers: 1, 2

Survival scenario #117:
You’re trapped in a grocery store. Zombies are closing in from all sides. You have a crucial photo that could end the carnage, if only you had some way to develop the film.

What do you do?

You grab some instant coffee and vitamin C, you develop the film, and you vanquish the zombies.

What, you don’t think we’re serious?
First of all, zombies are an inevitable part of life.
And secondly, you really can develop film using vitamin C and coffee. For reals.

Read on, and we’ll show you everything you need to know. Quick, before the zombies regroup!

How to Develop Film with Coffee and Vitamin C
via Found Photography

Seriously, Coffee?!

Okay, first things first: using coffee to develop film is not something Ansel Adams would do. But it works, it gives your film a distinctive look, and it has a certain MacGuyver-ish flair. Think of it like using a plastic camera- it’s more about having fun than getting technically flawless results.

With most film types, the results will be more contrasty and grainy than regular developer. If you do this with color film (negatives or transparencies), you’ll end up with black-and-white negatives.

Here’s the thing, though: different films will have different results. Some will develop perfectly in 12 minutes, others will take up to 20 minutes. Shoot a test roll of your favorite film, develop it for 12 minutes and see how it turns out. If it’s too thin, it needs more time. If the negatives come out opaque, it needs less time.

What You’ll Need: Chemistry

ingred-chem-sm

  • Instant coffee (not decaf)
  • Vitamin C powder
  • Washing soda (see Step 1)
  • 2 gallons of room-temperature distilled water (or tap water if you’re not fussy)
  • Fixer
  • A tiny wee drop of dishwashing liquid

What You’ll Need: Equipment

ingred-hardware-sm

  • A daylight developing tank & reel
  • A roll of exposed film
  • A bottle opener
  • Scissors
  • Measuring beakers (including one large enough to hold 16 fluid ounces)
  • Measuring spoons
  • 2 glasses
  • A spoon
  • A timer
  • 2 clothespins
  • Clothesline or coat hanger

Step 1: Acquire Materials

Washing soda can be tricky to find unless you live in a rural or highly eco-conscious area. We found ours at Rainbow Grocery, but you can order it online, or call around to drugstores, health food stores, or pool supply stores (it’s also known as sodium carbonate or soda ash). Baking soda won’t work as a substitute.

If you don’t have a daylight developing tank, look for a used one at photo supply shops or borrow one from a friend. If you buy one, get one with adjustable plastic reels. Steel reels are more trouble than they’re worth.

Step 2: Make the Developer

mix-developer-smYour tank should have instructions about how much liquid it takes to fill the tank. As a general rule, 12 ounces should be enough for a roll of 35mm.

Formula for 12 oz. of developer:

  • 12 oz. water
  • 5 teaspoons instant coffee crystals
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons washing soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vitamin C powder

Mix the vitamin C and coffee in a glass with 6 oz. of water. Stir until all the crystals and gritty bits are completely dissolved. Mix the washing soda in a separate glass with 6 oz. of water and stir until dissolved.

Mix the two solutions together in a container large enough to hold all of the liquid.

So, we heard that this developer smells really bad, but we didn’t believe it until we mixed the 2 liquids together. Holy frijoles! How can things that smell like coffee, nothing, and nothing combine to smell like grim death?

Step 3: Mix the Chemistry

Mix enough fixer solution to fill the tank, following the package instructions. Set aside until you’re ready to develop the film.

In a separate container, dissolve a small drop of dishwashing liquid in enough water to fill the developing tank. Set aside.

Step 4: Set Up the Darkroom

darkroom-smThe film must be loaded onto the reels in total darkness. Ask somebody to let you use their darkroom, or find the darkest room in your abode and cover any windows with double layers of black garbage bags. Don’t forget the cracks under and around the door. If light still gets in, wait until dark to do this. Or use a changing bag.

Set up an area to load your film, like a desk or counter. Lay out the reels, film cans, bottle opener, scissors, and various developing tank parts in a way that will make them easy to find in the dark.

Step 5: Practice

If you haven’t loaded film before here’s how. Practice a few times with a blank roll of film. Try it with the lights on a few times, then with your eyes closed until you feel ready to do it for real.

Step 6: Lights Out!

reel-smTHIS MUST BE DONE IN TOTAL DARKNESS.

Pry the lid off the film can with the bottle opener. Cut off the film leader to square the end of the film.

Feed the film into the reel, turning first your right hand, then your left hand clockwise, using your thumbs to guide the film onto the reel.

Continue this motion until all the film is loaded and you reach the end of the spool. Cut the film off the spool and give the reel an extra turn or two to load the very end of the film.

Slide the reel onto the spindle (i.e. the part that looks a pipe), and put it into the tank. Screw in the part that looks like a funnel, and put on the rubber lid.

Step 7: Set Up the Chemistry

sink-smYou can turn the lights on now.

You’ll need a sink for this part, preferably one that’s easy to clean. A ventilation fan or open window would also be nice, but you’d be OK without it. The chemicals are more stinky than harmful.

Get all of your chemistry ready next to the sink, put the tank in the sink and set the timer for 12 minutes.

Step 8: Developing!

pour-smTake the rubber lid off the tank and pour in the developer. Put the lid back on.

Hit start on the timer and agitate slowly and constantly for the first minute. (Do whaaaat? One agitation equals turning the tank upside down and then right side up again once.)

After the first minute, agitate the tank 3 times once a minute.

Step 9: Stop and Fix

agitate-smWhen the timer goes off, pour out the developer and fill the tank with water. Agitate 6 times, then pour out the water. Repeat this step 2 more times.

Pour out the water or stop bath and fill the tank with fixer. Set the timer for five minutes and agitate 3 times each minute.

Step 10: Final Wash

tank-smPour out the fixer and fill the tank with water. Agitate 3 times and pour out the water. Refill with fresh water, agitate 6 times and pour out. Refill, agitate 12 times and pour out.

Refill the tank with the soapy water you mixed in Step 3, agitate slowly 24 times then pour out.

Open the tank and remove the reel.

Step 11: Hang the Film

hang-smTwist open the reel and remove the film.

Use a clothespin to hang the roll of film from a clothesline. If you don’t have a clothesline, hang a coat hanger up in the shower and hang the film from that.

Bring two fingers together on either side of the film and drag them down the roll to squeegee off any excess water. Clip a clothespin on the bottom edge of the roll to keep the film from curling as it dries.

Step 12: Enjoy Your Photos!

caffenol-smWhen the film is dry, scan it into your computer or get in the darkroom and git to printin’!

If you don’t have a scanner, you can send your film to a company like DigMyPics or ImageLab, or google “film scanning” plus the name of your town to find local businesses that will scan your film for you.

To see how your film may come out, have a look at these:

Photo credit: lewischaplin

What To Do With the Leftovers

  • Dissolve the rest of the instant coffee in a bucket full of hot water and soak your jeans in it overnight to get that worn-in tint that Urban Outfitters charges extra $$$ for.
  • Washing soda makes a great eco-friendly laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaner.
  • Vitamin C removes hair dye without damaging your hair. Mix a teaspoon of vitamin C powder with a tablespoon of shampoo, massage into slightly damp hair and leave in for 45 minutes before rinsing it out. It will tone down any dye job, but won’t completely remove stubborn colors like red or black.
  • Posted in Tutorials