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Only recently did I find out that you can develop negative film with instant coffee, vitamin C, and washing soda. This homebrew developer has become known as “caffenol” and there are plenty of photographers out there who have used this method in the darkroom. I read up on a few different recipes and tried my hand at developing my own snapshots with caffenol. As you can see from the video, it took a couple tries, but I did eventually get it right. As a matter of fact, I was impressed with the results:

If you’re interested in trying this out yourself and are looking for more resources, the recipe that I used is based on a how-to at Photojojo and I found a lot of great advice from the discussion forums in the Caffenol group on Flickr. There’s also a great blog dedicated to the art of processing negatives with caffenol. If you do try it out, post your favorite caffenol photos in the MAKE Flickr pool!

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Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson is a San Francisco-based creative technologist and Contributing Editor at MAKE. He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1581743792 Matt Smith

    The type of film will effect the time taken to develop as well. Good how-to on the basics of getting the film onto the spool and developing it too. when putting the film on to the spool, you can cut the film so that it is in a point which helps get it to go on more easily.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ayesha-Haq/100001852232077 Ayesha Haq

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  • Abizar Lakdawalla

    In the field, we used to develop film directly inside its original the
    cartridge. In the old days, you had to rewind the film into the
    cartridge by hand, so would rewind till I heard the sound that it had
    come off the other spool, would stop, wrap the inch or so film around
    the cartridge and hold it with a rubber band. Would then place the whole
    cartridge inside a small cup that was filled with developer. A wooden
    pencil was placed inside the hole in the cartridge, and this was used to
    wind and unwind the film inside the cartridge to get even exposure of
    the film to the chemicals. The cartridge with its pencil was then placed
    in another small cup with the wash, etc. etc.

  • Abizar Lakdawalla

    In the field, we used to develop film directly inside its original the
    cartridge. In the old days, you had to rewind the film into the
    cartridge by hand, so would rewind till I heard the sound that it had
    come off the other spool, would stop, wrap the inch or so film around
    the cartridge and hold it with a rubber band. Would then place the whole
    cartridge inside a small cup that was filled with developer. A wooden
    pencil was placed inside the hole in the cartridge, and this was used to
    wind and unwind the film inside the cartridge to get even exposure of
    the film to the chemicals. The cartridge with its pencil was then placed
    in another small cup with the wash, etc. etc.

    • http://mattrichardson.com/ Matt Richardson

      No kidding! I have to try that. Then I have to find a homebrew recipe for fixer, and we’ll be ready for survivalist photography.

    • mark cornelius

      Never heard of doing it that way! One would think that rolled film would touch and the chemicals wouldn’t be evenly dispersed.

  • mark cornelius

    l

    • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.rayns Rachel Rayns

      They sure do! (Make Rodinal)

    • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.rayns Rachel Rayns

      They sure do! (Make Rodinal)

  • mark cornelius

    l

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.visnic Charlie Visnic

    Thank you for this tutorial!  Definitely going to give this a try.

  • http://twitter.com/PictureBandit Picture Bandit

    Ah for once I already did something before it really got the “hype” on make ;) I think I read one of the first articles about that and then decided right away that I had to try this less-chemical-intensive way of developing film at home. 

    For my first success visit: http://caffenol-bandit.deviantart.com/ 

    My second roll of film was blank… so be prepared for some disapointment. But it is fun and it does work. 

  • http://twitter.com/PictureBandit Picture Bandit

    Ah for once I already did something before it really got the “hype” on make ;) I think I read one of the first articles about that and then decided right away that I had to try this less-chemical-intensive way of developing film at home. 

    For my first success visit: http://caffenol-bandit.deviantart.com/ 

    My second roll of film was blank… so be prepared for some disapointment. But it is fun and it does work. 

  • Anonymous

    When judging the density of the neg. check the lettering in the film rebate. It is sometimes a better guide than the images, which may in themselves be over or under exposed.

  • Anonymous

    When judging the density of the neg. check the lettering in the film rebate. It is sometimes a better guide than the images, which may in themselves be over or under exposed.

  • Jeanne MacNeil

    I’ve experimented with a variety of different films in Caffenol-C.  I started with the recipe from Photojojo, but depending on the temperature and speed/brand of film the developing time needs to be adjusted.  Great tutorial!

  • http://profiles.google.com/imroykun Ian Tester

    A big part of becoming good at film development is consistency of the process – make sure your measurements are always what they should be (or you intend) and it will be much easier to narrow down what you need to change e.g shorter or longer development, less or more agitation, or even bad exposure. Without consistency you’ll always be guessing.

  • http://profiles.google.com/imroykun Ian Tester

    A big part of becoming good at film development is consistency of the process – make sure your measurements are always what they should be (or you intend) and it will be much easier to narrow down what you need to change e.g shorter or longer development, less or more agitation, or even bad exposure. Without consistency you’ll always be guessing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterworld Peter Lee

    After using this method, I must ensure that no one will drink the coffee…:-P

  • http://twitter.com/FarenR Faren Rajkumar (@FarenR)

    Is there a substitute for fixer?

  • Joe

    Just FYI, the Ilford Rapid Fix you are using is a 1+4 mix, not a 1+3 as you said in the video. In other words, to make 1L, you need 200mL fix (1) and 800mL water (4). Not that it really matters though, all you’re doing is wasting a little fixer.