How to Develop Film Using Coffee and Vitamin C

Yes, this actually works. I came across this today and wanted to share it right away. I haven’t done this myself yet, but I plan on it this weekend and hopefully you guys will also follow suit. I’d love to have some submissions of attempts!

Now your results won’t be perfect like they would be with regular developer, I mean you are using coffee. Your film may come out more contrast and with more film grain than usual. All films will respond differently, so it’s best to try it out on a random roll, probably a film type you use the most and see how it goes. If the negs come out opaque, you’ll need to develop it for less time. Between 12-20 minutes is the estimated guess. If you use color, they’ll end up as black and white.

Ok, so what do you need exactly? Well for the chemistry part you will need:

  • instant coffee, not decaf
  • vitamin c powder
  • washing soda
  • 2 gallons of water (room temperature)
  • fixer
  • small drop of dish washing liquid

For the equipment part you need:

  • daylight developing tank and a reel
  • exposed film
  • bottle opener
  • scissors
  • measuring beakers (16ounces)
  • measuring spoons
  • 2 glasses
  • spoon
  • timer
  • 2 clothespins
  • coat hanger

All this stuff can easily be found and it helps if you’ve taken a film class. If not, be aware that when you open the film canister you have to be IN THE DARK while putting it on the reel. If not, it will be exposed. Use the bottle opener to get the film out of the canister and put it on the reel. I’d do it in a dark, windowless bathroom or bedroom. Be careful not to touch all over your negatives. This video here can help you figure out how to load film onto a wheel, it takes practice! When you’re finished, put your reel of undeveloped film into the tank, while still in the dark. Light won’t be able to get into a closed tank.

How do you make the developer?

  • 12 oz of water (usually enough for one roll of 35mm)
  • 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. Mix enough fixer solution to fill the tank.

Develop!

Put tank in the sink. Set the timer for 12minutes. Take 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. *Agitating means just turning it upside down and rightside up. After the first minute, agitate the tank 3 times once a minute.

Stop!

When 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.

Final Washing

Pour 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. Take the fresh negs and hang them up on a clothes hanger or other hanging object and use the clothes pins on either end to keep the strip from curling. Volia!

I found a few examples on Flickr’s pages.

by Flickr user Ilya.Bur / Canon PJupiter-8Tri-X @box speedDeveloped in Caffenol-C-L 35min@20C semi-stand

by Flickr user Ilya.Bur / Canon P
Jupiter-8
Tri-X @box speed
Developed in Caffenol-C-L 35min@20C semi-stand

Then I found some on Tom Overton’s website:

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

photo courtesy of Tom Overton

Overton says on his website that:

“… I began developing my own film, I started finding references to using Folger’s coffee as a film developer. For some reason, this aroused my sense of adventure. The idea of applying common household materials to the photographic process really appealed to me. I was nervous, though; what if I destroyed my precious negatives? I wondered if the process could be applied equally to darkroom printing. Could I process my negatives normally and use the coffee developer on my paper? Unfortunately, most of what I read on the subject was not very encouraging. Not the type to be so easily put off, I mixed up a batch of standard Caffenol film developer and gave it a shot. Though the formula as I first encountered it called for brand name products, such as Folger’s Coffee and Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, any appropriate generic products will work just as well.”

“As alternative processes go, Caffenol printing is about as easy as it gets. You simply substitute the above coffee mix for your standard paper developer. My first attempt, a shot of the Chicago Water Tower, under the shadow of the Hancock building, was a far greater success than I had any right to hope. Having had no real preconception of what, if anything, Caffenol prints would look like, I couldn’t have been happier. Not only was there an image on the paper, but it was suffused with surreal blotches, streaks and swirls. John Cage would have been proud.”

I’m excited to try this out myself. Have any of you tried it? I’d love to feature some alternative processes attempts on here, so please submit some!

*Thanks to photojojo.com for their always interesting posts.

10 thoughts on “How to Develop Film Using Coffee and Vitamin C

  1. I haven’t tried this myself yet… I don’t drink coffee so I’ve wanted to try other alternative developers like mint leaves. A few notes based on research I’ve done:

    Vitamin C and coffee are both developing agents, you can use either/or and there’s a list of other alternative developers like mint leaves, vanilla (too expensive to be practical), thyme, etc.

    The washing soda is used to get the correct pH needed for development. Coffee, and most of the phenol agents are extremely acidic so you need to balance that effect out. Most people doing this recommend using litmus paper to test your chemistry to get it the right pH. Different brands of coffee may have different pH levels, so it’s important to test this. I can’t remember the exact level recommended. You can use other agents to balance the pH such as baking soda… it will take approximately twice as much baking soda as washing soda. Be warned though that washing soda is just *barely* under the “toxic” thresh-hold for chemicals and should be treated as dangerous… always use proper safety when handling it, don’t breathe it or get it in your eyes.

    For stop you can use white vinegar. The acid in the vinegar unbalances the pH and this is what stops development. Water washes do the same but may not be as effective as a real stop… depending on the pH of your water supply.

    The coffee will stain the emulsion, so I don’t think the images will be higher contrast… they should in fact be much lower contrast. People often bump up the contrast in Photoshop to get a workable image out them.

    On waste, remember that undeveloped silver salts are one of the primary toxins in photographic chemistry and you should treat alternative chemistry with the same safeguards as you would normal chemistry.

    Trivia note: the phenolic developer effect was experimented with by a doctor who had patients suffering from phenylketonuria. He photographed them and then developed the images using their high-phenol urine samples.

  2. True, ventilation is just as key, in reality all you are doing is making a dirty less pure film developer. I see a lot of threads on the net that suggest it’s “magic” that it works. In the end, it’s basic chemistry, it works because you are making film developer..plain and simple. Don’t drink it!! lol.

  3. You can fix your photos in Sodium Thiosulphate (Na2S2O3) which is also used to eliminate chlorine from tap water for aquariums. Although this isn’t the “rapid” (Ammonium thiosulphate) fixer we all know and love, it’s quite adequate. Just remember to fix your film or prints for at least 15 minutes and wash VERY thoroughly. The stuff is easily obtainable and very inexpensive. Actually, the old powder Kodak sold and just called “Fixer” was just sodium thiosulphate. When it had been used a few times, your film could take up to 15 minutes just to”clear”, but it did it’s job…eventually. I read somewhere that Robert Capa, when he shot his famous pics of the Normandy landing had to use urine for “stop bath”. There all sorts of mythology surrounding that and water would work almost as well, bu it always fun to explore alternative methods. Digital photography is doomed when all those lithium ion batteries die.

    • Apparently, pee works wonders on multiple things in life. O_O

      And yes I agree, always good to know other options and even better to experiment with them. Hmmm I wonder what the world would do if all of those batteries suddenly stopped working. How terrible.

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