Colour Film Development Process


In your camera, light exposes the film, creating a latent image. In order to view this image, the film must be developed, fixed and washed. If you are photographing with film, you may find that having it processed at a lab saves time and gives desirable results. You may, however, prefer to process your own film for 1) increased control over how your negatives look (For example, you can alter the development time to increase or decrease density and/or contrast), and 2) more options when photographing (For example, you can rate the film speed higher in your camera and compensate for this with processing). Refer to the book for information about film, descriptions of small tank processing, general work area, chemicals, safety and storage issues, and black and white film processing. Here, on our web resources, we describe  the C-41 colour negative development process. [2]


For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:

  1. What is the colour negative process?
  2. What is the colour printing process?



Colour processing can produce improved images to B&W and by perfecting the process the pinnacle of film based photography, that of a high quality, colour image should be achievable.




Most commercial labs process colour negative film with fast turnaround and at reasonable cost. However, if you plan to shoot a large quantity of colour film, self-processing can be less expensive. If you want to control the development process, you may want to process the film yourself. Colour processing is similar to black-and-white processing. 35mm-processing in the small tank utilizes the same method of loading the film on reels in a tank, pouring in chemicals and agitation, but with different chemicals, times and temperatures. Colour has less latitude than black-and-white processing: processing times and temperatures must be spot on. The developer temperature must be 100˚F, with accepted variance of only ±1/4 . When processed correctly, negatives benefit from self-processing. The colours will be more saturated. The more often you process film, the greater understanding you will have of how time and agitation can produce specific results. [2]


The Colour Negative Processing C41 Process:

  • Heat the drum                             37.8°C            5minutes
  • Colour develop (bottle 1)           37.8°C            3minutes 15 seconds  (1 to 4 films)
  • Bleach fix (bottle 2)                    37.8°C            4minutes                       (1 to 4 films)
  • Rinse with water                         30°C               1minute                          (1 to 4 films)
  • Stabiliser with WA (bottle 3)    30°C/40°C    1minute                         (1 to 4 films)
  • Dry                                                 20°C                Until Dry


Small tank is used for single film                                                                                                     Large tank in used for 3 to 4 films

Remember: The loading reel is different to the reels used for black and white film.


Colour Negative Film: is the type of film found in convenience stores and is available to everyone for affordable print processing using C-41 chemicals. You get negative prints from this process.

Colour Positive Film: also known as ‘Reversal’, ‘Slide’ or ‘Transparency’ film uses E-6 chemicals for processing and when mounted on card stock look exactly like slides that go into projectors. You get positive prints from this process.


Summary/ Conclusion

The C41 colour process is easy to follow but due to the use of bleach and stabiliser it is necessary to follow guidelines for correct development. A well produced colour photograph still holds presence against any digitally printed image, due to its chemical nature being made from invisible pixels.




[1] LOMOGRAPHY. (2010) Film 101: What is the difference between negative and slide film. [Online] Available from:                                             [Accessed: 27th January 2016]

[2] REFRAMING PHOTOGRAPHY, (2016). Processing Images: C41 Colour Negative Process. [Online] Available from:                                                                                                                             [Accessed: 08 May 2016]

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