Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Developing film and making prints with coffee

This week's How-To Tuesday is about developing film using instant coffee, vitamin C and washing soda. 

Photos by Photojojo

"Caffenol" developing, as it's called by those in the know, produces lovely, soft-contrast, black-and-white negatives when used to process either B&W or color film. You get the same results for color slide film, too. 

Why is that?

Photographic film is coated with a layer of silver-containing crystals. When you take a photo, light from the scene chemically marks these crystals to be converted into silver metal during the process of film development.  Crystals that were hit with more light when the photo was taken convert more readily into the silver metal. Unexposed crystals are later removed, leaving only the opaque metal. This means that the brightest part of the scene that was photographed will be the darkest part on the film, resulting in a negative image. 

For color film, this process happens in multiple layers, each of which respond to a different color of light (red, green or blue). Additional chemicals that produce the desired colors are attached to each of these layers. For negatives, the pigments are linked to the areas that were exposed to light (light areas become dark). For slide film, also called positives or transparencies, they are attached to the unexposed areas (dark areas remain dark). 

For any kind of film, coffee chemistry will convert the silver but the color-producing compounds are entirely omitted. Therefore, you'll always get a B&W negative.

Found Photography made this very thorough caffenol tutorial video that covers the entire process, even how to properly load the film into the developing tank reel:

Photojojo tried out the process and posted this fabulous tutorial

But the DIY coolness doesn't stop there. Tom Overton writes that coffee can be used to develop prints, too. Check out his photos and descriptions of the process here.

So, what kind of images do you get from caffenol processing? Here are a couple of examples. 

"Caro in Caffenol" by nueh on Flickr.
Photo by Travis Gray on Flickr.

Lots more caffenol photos can be found in the Caffenol and Homemade Soup groups on Flickr.

Have you tried processing film or prints in caffenol or other homemade solutions? If so, how did it work out?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. oohh i wanna try !!! but you can only use BW film?? or you only get BW results?

    hey check out my E6 developing FAIL on my blog! lol

    (sorry typo in comment left above there..oops)

  3. Hi jiorji -- You can use either B&W or color film, but you'll only get B&W results with this process.

  4. i read Tom Overton's print processing article. I tried using the recipe he put up there. It worked. everything depends on the amount of coffee you put in.

    My print came out brown,sepia and warm tone.pretty much all these together. it kinda drowns out the highlight though

  5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ambientimages/4441034555/

    this guy uses caffenol and some other home-made concoctions. try out a few of his pages.

    oh, yeah. and thanks for the info.

  6. Yes! I love this method. You're basically making home-made developer here - there isn't much variation in the method to using 'real' industry-grade developer.

    Obviously, caffenol developer doesn't produce as good results as the 'professional' method, but I still think it's cool nonetheless :)

  7. that is brilliant. I wish i had the tool to do this


    blog: www.chaobella.com
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  8. Money pledged for over 600 cameras in 11 days. The TravelWide 4X5 camera. A KickStarter Project.

    No financial affiliation on my part, but likely the least expensive entre into shooting large format for your Caffenol Projects. I am a backer, but have no financial interest other than getting the camera's I pledged to purchase.

    See here:



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