Friday, September 21, 2007

Developing Film in Coffee

Yes the title is correct, I'm going to show you how to develop an ordinary B&W film with instant coffee granules.
Here is what you need:
1 Jar of instant coffee
1 packet of washing soda crystals
Developing tank, liquid measure and thermometer.

Firstly, when you shoot the film lower the ISO by one stop, in this case I'll be using APX 100 (Jessops pan) rated at 50 ISO.
Load the film in the developing tank in the normal manner.

Next prepare the coffee developer.

5 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee (one per 2fl oz/60ml)
2 level teaspoons of Washing Soda crystals (NOT baking soda).
300ml (10 fl oz) water at roughly 25 deg C

A heaped teaspoon looks just like this

Firstly dissolve the soda crystals in the water, their purpose is to 'unlock' the developer ingredient present in the coffee granules.
Next put in your coffee, stirring well to ensure that the coffee has been dissolved fully.
You will notice that there are a few bubbles in the mixture and bubbles aren't good for development, so leave to stand for a few minutes but no longer than 10 as the mix must be used within 30 Min's.

Pour in the mixture and agitate slowly for the first minute, then tap the tank a couple of times to disloge any air bubbles.
The process time is 30 mins so its handy to have a watch, pen and paper to note the passing time.
Agitation used was one inversion every 30 seconds.

After 30 Minutes, rinse with plain water and fix in the normal manner.
Here are the negatives:

Slightly milky looking and brownish (due to staining action of developer) and also quite low contrast but certainly printable.
If you need further convincing here are some of the images.

Nice tonal detail, good grain and sharpness and although I don't think it will replace Rodinal as my main 'brew' I think you can see for yourselves that coffee is a more than capable developer.
A stimulating thought?

All Pictures and Text © Mark Antony Smith


Anonymous said...

This is great!
Is there anything around the house that you can use as a fixer?

Photo–Smith said...

Well, I thought about that and there is a lot of discussion on the internet about the use of onions, sodium sulphate and sea water.
I decided to just use Ilfofix

Charlie Wood said...

Is the chemical in the coffee that acts as a developer found in any other beverages?
Does the type of coffee have any effect, say use strong ground coffee for more developer?
Interesting results


Photo–Smith said...

I'm not sure Charlie if its caffeine then tea will also do it though probably an hour would do it as it has 2/3 the amount.
As I understand the washing soda acts as a reactive agent so you'll need that in a caffeine based dev.

Looking at the negs i was surprised how well it handled the highlights and lessened contrast I'm going to try Pan F at 32ISO 30 mins next.

Anonymous said...

I used your picture when i linked to this site at Is that OK? Best regards!

Photo–Smith said...

Yes Jens anything I write or pictures is re-publishable as long as I get a credit.

I do this for anyone interested, there is no profit.
Have fun

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Cool stuff you got. Nice take, where did you get this?
By the way, let me show you some of my works

Many thanks

Photo–Smith said...

Hi Jay
Thanks, I got the idea when a friend of mine said he had dermatitis from contact with Metol in his developer, so had to give up processing.
I looked on the internet to see 'alternative' developers and of course came up with X-tol, DDX etc.
But something else caught my eye a couple of sites (APUG) and one .edu site published formulae, I followed up but few people seemed to have tried it then blogged (I found shards of photography blog did)
I thought it would be fun, not just to try but actually post a guide so others could follow, showing the results.
Liked your site too Jay,

Ben Brunswick said...

I definately need to try this when I develop my next film. But it needs to be a film that I don't really need - and oh wonder its pretty rare that films that you shot are NOT important. Well maybe the next x-mas pics;-)

cu, ben.

you might wanna check this, its developed in switzerland (not in coffee)

Photo–Smith said...

This is a fun exercise, not one to be tried on a wedding or lifetime shot.
The way I approached it was to use an expendable film- shoot a few tests and have a go.
Film is cheap- experience priceless.
Thanks for commenting. checked you site, very nice.

Ben Brunswick said...

but your idea is great and that is what counts - where would we be without people like you, having ideas that are on the edge on insanity;-)

Photo–Smith said...

Ben sometimes in an insane world obsessed with Mega this, Giga that- you've just got to try stuff, have fun and not worry.
In the UK we have a saying try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing.

farm.rabbit said...

I had it posted on my blogg too...

In my link you will see that HC Bresson already did this kind of processing in the post war period. I guess because developer must have been hard to come by!

Congratulations. You are gifted.

Photo–Smith said...

I'm not sure I'm gifted, just that i enjoy having fun, film or digital, fun is what its all about.
BTW I like your collection of Russian rangefinders.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog.

brez said...

Does this work with ordinary color film as well? I mean of course it will turn black and white, but does it develop?

Photo–Smith said...

I doubt it would work that well for colour film, it wouldn't turn it B&W either.
Colour film has an orange mask so that isn't going to make it B&W.
I think this method works well with ordinary B&W films (which are cheap) especially the slower films 25-100 ISO but remember to overexpose for at least a stop.

brez said...

Okey, that makes sense. What is the importance of the fixer? What do you get if you skip the fixer step? Do you pour out the developer from the tank and just replace it whith the fixer? And how long do keep the film in the fixer? (Thanks for a great article by the way)

Photo–Smith said...

You fix the film as normal. That is after you pour out the coffee/soda solution, you then rinse the film with water. Then fix for the required time (normally 5 mins or so) in a normal fixer, Ilford, Kodak etc.
Without fixing the image will fog as soon as you open the dev tank.

john ilam said...

Do you know if there is a safe, and inexpensive developer for developing super 8 and standard 8mm
movie filmstocks; colours and black&white? anyone experimented along these lines?

Photo–Smith said...

Not really my field, but a quick google turned up this:
Plus-x is a popular B&W 8mm film so I guess you can use similar developers.

A Arun said...

THIS is the article that convinced me to go buy B&W chemistry and developing equipment.

Thank you so much. I have shot B&W intermittently for 8 years, but have never done any darkroom work myself.

Amazing blog, read up all of it the day I stumbled by- and will keep checking for more.

To repeat- great stuff, and thank you!

Greetings from India

Photo–Smith said...

Thank you
developing your own is fun, and gives you control over the effect you'd like to obtain.
With so many films and developer combinations years of fun can be had.

My advice though to a beginner would be:
Be consistent with developer and agitation.
Try to pick one or two film and developer combinations and master them.

Meter for the area in the neg that you want detail to start appear then close down to stops.
Have fun!!!

Unknown said...

my son is doing this as a science fair project and we need to know, once the film is shot and removed from the camera, do we remove it from it's hard case to develop? If we don't have access to a developing container, is their something else we can use? Is it ok to touch the negatives while processing?

Photo–Smith said...

Hi Jeff
Yes you need to take the film out of the cassette, which must be done in the dark (cupboard under the stairs at night with a coat along the bottom of the door) zero light must reach the film while loading the tank.
Developer tanks can be found for £2-£5 there are loads second-hand. You really need them, I'd advise against processing in the dark in trays as the process will take 30+ mins and needs good agitation.
You can see what you need to develop a film here
Good luck

Anonymous said...

this is great and i really wanna try it. i assume dev times should be increased massively if the films standard rating is 400 but was shot at 800?

Photo–Smith said...

Max I doubt you could use the coffee developer to 'push' films.
In fact if you are using 400 I'd rate it at 200 EI as the developer has a low contrast speed reducing effect which is great in really high contrast lighting.

I think you could mess about with the mix of coffee/soda slightly and possibly the times +/- 5 mins but I'm not sure pushing would work.

But hey give it a go, but I'd try the standard mix/time/lower speed rate first, get a feel for how it works before deviating.

The mix I used for this post is slightly different from the standard one, but it worked best for me...

brandon said...

Excellent to come across your post (via BoingBoing)! I have not shot film in years but just came across a film tank and instant coffee developer sounds like so much fun! I cannot for the life of me remember what the differences are between film and paper developers, but do you think it conceivable that one could develop paper in the same manner, albeit in trays? The develop time would be slow indeed, and the solution would prob oxidize quickly, but it might be interesting as an alternative process.

Thank you for the inspiration!

Photo–Smith said...

Brandon You're welcome.
Yes you can develop paper in coffee too there is a user on APUG called Toffle who does just that.
Most analogue developers are just organic componds like me and you! things like household cleansers (Borax) and Vitamin C can develop film- Conventional photographic processes are here to stay once discovered they can't be un-discovered

Unknown said...

I just tried my very first roll as well. It turn out pretty good. I think i will try more with different mix of coffee and Soda.
I use the cut out bit to test the mix before actual develop. Just double the time of the time film turn black. It has to be black because it's exposed to light already.

steelo said...

Quick question... would white vinegar work as a fixer for negatives?

Photo–Smith said...

No Vinegar is acetic acid and basically the same as stop bath. Conventional fixer is an organic chemistry hypo based, many natural things contain hyposulphates like onions. Sir John Hershel tried all manner fixers in the 1850's and had moderate success with sea water. But eventually he found Sodium thiosuphate to be the answer, something we use to this day.

Anonymous said...

It possible that the Washing Soda will affect (or deform) the plastic (spiral, tank)?

Photo–Smith said...

No it won't deform the tank, it is actually used to unblock drains and kitchen sinks in an environmentally friendly way.
It's actually pretty safe compared to a lot of kitchen products, and despite its smell will do no real harm in aqueous solution

Rob Castro said...

this is cool... i'm going to try this... since i'm planning to develop a 120 roll and i'm using a bigger tank, i probably need about 8-1/3 teaspoon coffee, 3 teaspoon ws, and 500ml water... is that about right?

Photo–Smith said...

should work, I messed about with the recipe before I found a way that worked for me.
If you double my recipe measures to make 600mls you will be fine.
Good luck and have fun...

jokerrabit said...

Hi Jay, is it? first I want to say thank you and second I want to tell you that I'm adding a link to this on my blog as soon as it is back up. Question, aren't you supposed to add Vitamin C crystals (ascorbic acid) to this mixture? like it says here
I will probably try both mixtures after seening your results I think I may not need the Vitamin C crystals (ascorbic acid). well let me know what you think if you get the chance. laters

Foamy said...

i have been using this method for about 2 years and works great. i read a coment about if it works on colour film, i have tried it and, no, it dosnt, you can see the images on the film but no light passes through the film as all so scanning in a no no aswell as enlarging in the traditional method. there was also talk of fixing agents, i have used warm salt water which does fix after about 30-40 mins but its not the best. its awsum for what i need it for, experimental pinhole and lomography bits. just give it a go and see what happens! i usualy develop for about 30 mins with about 4-5 inversions in that time.

happy developing!


Elisha Frey said...

I put this link on my Facebook and Twitter. This is really amazing. Thank you for sharing!

Zosia Swidlicka said...

You have combined two of my favourite things right there; photography and coffee. I never thought they would work so well together! In your opinion will it work on expired film too? Thanks for sharing.

Photo–Smith said...

Should work Ok on any traditional B&W film although the contrast will be lower, which might be a problem with out of date film depending on age.

Its good for scanning with low contrast though!

Michele Hart said...

What a great blog. Thanks for taking the time to post a nice, easy to follow "recipe". Love the pics, can't wait to try it. I have to go buy "real" fixer before I can use your developer.'ve had a break through in household product developers.

Film Photography Podcast said...

Fantastic Post!
Michael Raso / Film Photography Podcast

Photo–Smith said...

Thank You Michael.
I enjoy your podcast, have you tried the Agfapan 25 I sent you?
Mark Antony

Unknown said...

can you develop the actual picture in coffee? instead of the film?

Photo–Smith said...

Yes Hannah you can. I haven't tried it but I know several who make very nice images using it as print developer.

Per said...


I know that somebody asked this before, but I found some contradicting statements on teh internets (notably here:

So, will color film work?
Also, do onions actually fix the film? :)

I know b&w film and actual fixer would be the way to go, but I'm trying to go as lo-budget as possible.


Photo–Smith said...

Yes colour film will work, I've not tried it but have seen some results from those who have. Expect larger grain and results not as good as conventional B&W.
Over the years there have been many experiments with fixer, but the cheapest way to get it is to buy from a swimming pool supplier where hypo is used to lower chlorine levels.

Per said...

I tried color film last night and it actually worked.

I couldn't find washing soda, so I just bought ordinary baking soda and baked it until all the water and CO2 went away (extremely easy and totally non-toxic).

I also used a sort of homebrew onion juice as fixer, but I don't know how well it worked, as I haven't scanned the film yet. But as of t+14 hours, there was image on the film (I'm quite the beginner, so I'm not sure how film looks if not properly fixed).

The bad parts of the whole process were the kitchen, which was a total mess from trying to get concentrated onion juice and the developing tank, which still reeks of onions.

Best of luck and thanks for the guide!

Happy Camper said...

Hello, I'm curious if it would be possible to use the same coffee/washing soda mixture to print the pictures as well.

I like the way you think, even if other people have done this in the past, there's still few people left in the world who care enough to mess around with this kind of thing. For one reason, I suspect. Digital.... 100100111100010101110101011111000

Anyway, I bought an enlarger and red light and developing tank and all that good jazz, but I was just trying to figure out if it was nessescary to buy all the chemicals.


Photo–Smith said...

Yes you can develop B&W prints in Coffee too, obviously it will stain the paper, but its possible....

Paul said...

How can you say "You got the Idea" when a friend said he had to stop using normal chemicals. Coffee has been used for years as a developer, theres even a Flickr Group that has been running for ages using the same way of developing.

Steven A. McMillan said...

I'm new to this whole DIY develpoing thing but is it possiable to do this with Super 8 B/W too?

Photo–Smith said...

Paul I didn't mean I personally had the idea to develop in film in coffee, as if i invented it. I developed my first roll in a similar mix in the late 1970's probably a little while before the flickr group got started. I learned the technique from a guy who developed film in the RAF in the second world war who told me the alkaline buffer was the important ingredient and that you can develop film in many different substances (as long as the p.h is 9 or above) .

Steven A. McMillan said...

Can you do this with Super 8 too? Rather what are the differences about developing photographs versus movies.

Photo–Smith said...

yes Steven there are developing tanks for movie film, which with Tri-x or other mono movie stock should be OK in any B&W developer including coffee :-)

Vaibhav said...

A good summary and very cogent answers to the questions posted. A couple of questions:

1. What effect does caffeine have in the developer? i.e. Does increasing the parts of coffee make the exposures from the film have better contrast?

2. On similar note, what is the effect of washing soda on the chemistry?

One thing I want to do is to eliminate chemicals altogether and I only shoot B&W on films. Using this concoction and try to develop better contrasting pictures would be very cool.


MichaelChatfield said...

Great idea. Can you use fresh (i.e. non-instant) coffee? I work at a cafe, and there are always old (unused) coffee beans around to make up a stove-top worth. If so, how much do you reckon? (a double shot short black, or more)?

MichaelChatfield said...

do you have any idea about how much fresh espresso this would equate to? (I work at a cafe, and have access to ample free coffee beans, and have a stove-top maker and plunger at home)

Photo–Smith said...

I don't think ground coffee works as well, you could experiment, but I'd drink the ground stuff and use the cheapest instant I could get my hands on–for some reason it works better than decent coffee!

Jonathon259 said...

hi there,

there are many recipies on the internet that mention the use of vitamin c. i see you have not used any. will this affect the result?

Unknown said...

Awesome ! I'm Indonesian.. and I'm newbie in Alternative Photography. I just pinholer and for chemical I bought it..

But, I want to learn about this tutorial..
this tutorial just for develop ? so, how about for fixing ?

chrisgavin said...

Love this post. I'm a sometimes super8 user, and the prices of using this format are getting silly. I'm starting to find out more about home developing and now I find this! I'd probably want to buy some expired BW negative film, but sourcing the spiral and tank for this format is trickier... I'm looking for something cheaper (and less old and probably broken) than those Lomo processors on ebay for £100+

Anonymous said...

So I followed every step to a T and my film came out whiped clean and with a purple hue. What went wrong?


Anonymous said...

I followed all the directions to a T and my film came out blank and with a purple hue. What went wrong?


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Photo–Smith said...

Nothing went wrong, the purple tint is put there by the manufacturer and is harmless. With some films the dye is a sign more washing is needed and in the case of some TMax films more fixation.
I'm sure though Amanda your film is just fine...
Don't worry be happy.