Fine Art Photography
4x5, 120, and 35mm Film

C-41 with Kodak Flexicolor at Home

Introduction

Developing color film at home is not as hard as some people make it out to be. If you have a safe place to do this and are used to working with photo chemistry, being able to do C-41 (and E-6) are well within your reach. This article will talk about how to do C-41 using Kodak’s Flexicolor kit!

When I first got started doing C-41 at home, I used the Film Photography Project C-41 kit .  After getting comfortable with this kit, I started reading about C-41 online and found out that Blix (very common in the kits) isn’t really the best stuff to use in the C-41 process. Blix was really designed for RA-4 and when you use it in C-41, it causes your images to lose shadow detail and highlights. As I shoot film with the intention of getting the most out of it, this bothered me.

I began immediately to work on figuring out how to get a separate bleach and fixer so as to eliminate Blix from my process. I found that I could use Kodak Flexicolor bleach and fixer with the developer from the Film Photography Project kit. This proved to not be terribly sustainable as I found myself paying $20.99 for C-41 Developer that according to the instructions is only good for up to 8 rolls of 135mm at 36 exposures. Further, not using the blix meant that I was stockpiling blix chemistry packets.

In my reading on separate bleach and fixer, I had come across methodologies to use entirely Kodak Flexicolor chemistry, but the thing that held me back was you had to mix 5L of the developer at a time. That’s a lot of chemistry to mix and keep. The FPP kit claims that you can’t trust the kit chemistry after 7 days and so I got hung up on the idea that storing 5L of C-41 developer for any length of time would not be wise. Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot and now understand that Flexicolor developer is never stored at a working strength and that allows you to store it for longer.

After much research on-line, guidance from the people at the Film Photography Project on developing C-41, and my own trial and error, I am bringing you my guide to C-41 with Flexicolor at home.

DISCLAIMER: I cannot be held responsible for anything that you do as a result of following any information in or linked from this post. This post is about conducting a chemical process which could cause harm to you and others if not conducted appropriately. Please read all safety and MSDS specification sheets for any chemicals that you purchase for this and other chemical processes that you may decide to undertake.

Why bother with Kodak Flexicolor instead of the kit?

  • Kodak Flexicolor chemicals are considered to be the best you can get. The developer is less contrasty than the kit developers, giving you more detail to work with.
  • Separate Bleach/Fix process does result in more shadow detail, more highlight detail, and sharper negatives compared to using a Blix.
  • Kodak says you can keep developer replenisher for 6 weeks. People on the internet have claimed keeping it longer than a year with no degradation in quality. If you are really concerned about quality on older chemistry, you can buy control strips, develop them in your chemistry and use a densitometer on the control strip to determine how good your chemistry is. That said, C-41 developer doesn’t just go like XTol. It deteriorates over time, so you’re not going to lose your pictures. The results may simply be less than optimal. I’ll update over time as I have my own experience to add going forward with this process.
  • Your cost of development (after the initial outlay) goes down.

Why use the kit instead of Flexicolor?

  • The kit is much more convenient. Just three baths and one wash and you’re done.
  • The kit developer is more contrasty if you like that sort of thing.
  • You’ll be supporting the fine folks at the Film Photography Project!

Things to Purchase

As you will not be using a kit, you have to purchase a number of different things.  Let’s go shopping:

If you already develop black and white film, you’ll have a decent bit of this stuff already. That said, it is a lot of stuff, so you’ll need some place to store it all. Also, you can get by with less than what’s above, but my instructions will use every bit of the above.

Chemistry Preparations

Prior to developing film with this process, you will need to mix some chemistry.

For the C-41 developer, you are to mix it right before you need it and use it only one time. That said, you have to mix developer replenisher, developer starter, and distilled water. Developer starter is a separate chemical that you can purchase from the link above. This chemical has no problems with oxidation and does not really expire. It has an expiration date on the bottle, but can be used well past that date. I started this thread on photrio.com if you want to read more on this subject: https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/kodak-flexicolor-delevoper-starter-lorr-expiry.167770/#post-2182490

The developer replenisher comes in 3 bottles – Part A, Part B, and Part C. To mix developer replenisher, you will need to put 4L of distilled water in the 5L graduate and then add all of Part A to the graduate. You then mix this with a chemical stirrer for a few minutes.

Developer Replenisher Supplies

4L of Water and Parts A, B, and C Ready To Go

Once this is done, you add Part B to the graduate and mix with the chemical stirrer for a few minutes. Then, you add Part C to the graduate and mix with the chemical stirrer for a few minutes. Once this is done, you fill up the 5L graduate with enough distilled water to actually hit the 5L mark. Mix with the chemical stirrer again and now you have a very full and heavy 5L graduate with developer replenisher. I carefully use two hands (one on the pour spout itself and the other on the handle) and pour the first 1L into a 1L graduate, measuring it out exactly. Then, I put the funnel in one of the 1L glass bottles and pour the 1L graduate into the glass bottle and cap it off. Then repeat that process for the remaining 4 glass bottles. You have now made developer replenisher and while Kodak says this lasts 6 weeks, I have personally used it 4 months later. Given that 5L of developer replenisher is enough for 6 1L tanks of C-41, this stuff doesn’t usually sit unused for long.

With the 5L of C-41 bleach that is recommended in this guide, you simply measure out 1L of C-41 bleach into the 1L graduate and then pour these contents into the 1L glass bottle. You do not have to worry about oxidation of the other 4L as bleach needs to be oxidized from time to time. C-41 bleach lasts a long time and I can personally get 1-1.5 years of C-41 processing off of a tank of bleach. When it stops needing to be burped and gets really to be more brown than green, you’ve exhausted your bleach and should dispose of it properly and mix new.

With regards to C-41 fixer, you use this in a 1+1 dilution, so you would mix 500mL of fixer with 500mL of distilled water and then pour this into the 1L glass bottle. Note that I have not used the linked fixer, so do not know how that one arrives or how much you really have. If somebody has purchased this fixer and would like to help me write this section, it would be most appreciated. I am using fixer from the now discontinued F2 kit.

Regarding final rinse, this is mixed by adding 991mL of distilled water to the 1L graduate and then using the 1mL dropper to add 9mL of final rinse to the 1L graduate. Once this has been done, pour these contents into a 1L bottle. Final rinse goes a long ways. Take a note of its starting color and when it starts getting murky and darker, it’s time to dispose of it and mix new final rinse.

Getting Set Up

Ready to Mix Developer

The first thing that I do when developing with this method is to mix working developer. The formula for mixing 1L working developer is 763mL Developer Replenisher + 30mL Developer Starter + 207mL Distilled Water. I put the 763mL of developer replenisher in my 1L graduate and the 30 mL of Developer Starter in my 150mL graduate. I then pour the developer starter into the 1L graduate and use distilled water to get the liquid line up to 1L. I then pour this into a 950mL glass bottle (they really hold 1L). Take the remaining 237mL of Developer Replenisher and put it in a 250mL glass bottle. If all of your 250mL glass bottles are filled up, discard the remaining developer replenisher. As you collect leftover developer replenisher, you will reclaim enough for 6L of working developer off of the 5L solution.

Since you need to keep the temperature of your Flexicolor developer to 100F with a +/-0.25F range, you really need a water bath. There are many ways to accomplish this, but I have chosen to use a bucket and a sous vide. Links to both of these are above. With the items that I have, my sous vide has a maximum heating capacity of 15L, or 3.96G, so I need to ensure that my bucket doesn’t contain more than 15L of water in it. That said, you also have to ensure the water line crosses the minimum fill line on the sous vide with nothing in the bath. If this causes you to go slightly over 15L, that’s fine.

Once I’ve filled the bucket with water, I attach the sous vide to the side of the bucket and turn it on to 100.4. This falls out of the range for your developer, but you will have temperature variations as you take the tank out of the water and put it back into the water, so you want your water bath to be slightly warmer than your desired developer temperature.

After turning on the sous vide, I put the glass bottles containing my working developer, bleach, and fixer (at 1+1 dilution) into the bucket and also put my tank loaded with film into the bucket. Currently I’m using a heavy pot to weigh my tank down (it floats otherwise) — this part is necessary and rather difficult. You must have the temperature of the tank at the temperature of the water or you will lose a significant amount of temperature on pouring the developer in and you really do only have a +/-0.25F range on this chemistry.

I have found that my sous vide device is significantly accurate temperature wise above 105F, but below that, it does not agree with my Paterson Color Thermometer, which I trust wholly. As such, I had to use the calibration on my sous vide to ensure that the temperature it reads matches the temperature of my thermometer. Once I got the sous vide calibrated to my Paterson thermometer, everything works fine and I certainly wouldn’t use this sous vide for anything else, so it just stays set these days.

After you have the thermometer and the sous vide calibrated and the chemistry and your tank in the bath, it’s time to wait for everything to come to temperature. I use my Paterson Color Thermometer to determine when the developer is at 100F.

This is a good time to make sure your chemistry disposal jug is readily available for dumping the developer.

Warming Everything Up to Begin Development

Development

Once your developer is at 100F, you are ready to begin developing. Carefully remove the heavy pot, take the lid off your tank, and pour the developer into the tank, capping the tank. Start your 3 minute and 15 second timer (I’m using the Massive Dev Chart timer.) Agitate by inversion for 30 seconds and place the tank back in the bucket. This is a good time to put your funnel in your chemistry disposal jug. After this, every 15 seconds you need to agitate for 2 seconds (which for me is one agitation cycle). When you timer has 10 seconds left on it, go ahead and start pouring the chemistry in the tank into the disposal jug. This should finish right as the timer is going off.

Bleach

Whew. Now the film is developed and the rest of these steps can be carried out in a temperature range of 75-105F. What a far cry from the 0.25F tolerance of the developer!

Now pour the bleach into your tank, set a timer for 6 minutes and 30 seconds and do an initial agitation by inversion for 30 seconds. If your bleach is good and active, you WILL need to burp your bleach. This simply means when you have finished the agitation, simply release the air in the tank and re-seal the lid. You’ll probably have to burp the bleach with every agitation. If your bleach does not need burping, then you need to aerate the bleach. Now is also a good time to clean the funnel and put it in the empty bleach container. Once you have finished this initial agitation, you will need to agitate for 5 seconds every 30 seconds. This is a different agitation pattern than for developer, so pay careful attention to that. Use the last 10 seconds of this step to drain the bleach back into the bleach bottle.

Wash

Set a 1 minute and 30 second timer and if you have soft enough water, use running tap water direct to your tank. The flow of water should be fast enough as to fill the tank every 4 seconds. If this does not describe your scenario, please see the document on running Kodak Flexicolor in a small tank linked below for an alternate wash method. At the end of this wash, drain your tank.

Fixer

Pour the fixer into your tank and set a timer for 6 minutes and 30 seconds and do an initial agitation by inversion for 30 seconds. Clean the funnel and place it in the empty fixer bottle. The agitation scheme is the same as for the bleach — agitate for 5 seconds every 30 seconds. Use the last 10 seconds of this step to drain the fixer back into the fixer bottle.

Wash #2

Set a 3 minute and 15 second timer and follow the exact same process as you used for wash #1. At the end of this wash, drain your tank.

Final Rinse

Pour the final rinse into your tank and set a timer for 1 minute and 30 seconds and do an initial agitation by inversion for 30 seconds. Clean the funnel and place it in the final rinse bottle. Wait for the timer to run out and pour the final rinse back into the final rinse bottle. I usually wet my squeegee in the final rinse while pouring this back into the bottle.

Drying and Cleanup

You did it! You’ve developed C-41 in Kodak Flexicolor! Go hang those negatives to dry. I use a squeegee to help with drying 35mm and 120 film. I get good results with my squeegee. That said, I get scratches when drying 4×5 film with a squeegee. Your mileage may vary. My usual drying time for the film is 3 hours, though depending on the season and humidity levels, I’ve needed as much as 4 hours.

Time to clean your equipment in soap and water and wait for the film to dry so that you can scan it.

Further Reading

It took me a lot of research on-line and talking to people about C-41 to finally arrive at this process. I’m sharing all of the resources that I found useful here:

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