View Full Version : So just how hard can it be to make film?

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05-04-2005, 12:03 AM
I was reading blaughn's thread about the future of the LF market. Of course, the lynchpin of our continued existence is the availability of film, and to a lesser degree, paper. (Paper supported emulsions being easier to produce by individuals, if push came to shove.)

Jim Chinn commented on micro-manufacturing of film by some to-be-identified creative entrepreneur.

So I'll bite. How hard can this be? What is involved in making film?

Are Kodak's and, say, Ilford's, recipes for some traditional films be sufficiently known that someone could duplicate them if they could assemble the manufacturing capability?

Can film be produced with sufficiently affordable equipment that one could start with a small operation and then grow it over time if demand required?

Where would one start?

05-04-2005, 12:06 AM
If you want to give it a go, try coating glass plates :)

05-04-2005, 02:07 AM
If you want to give it a go, try coating glass plates :)

That might work for my Wista 4x5, but it would be really hard to wind a roll of glass plate onto my Mamiya 6! :)

05-04-2005, 02:07 AM
Think of making a car, now think of making one in total darkness.


05-04-2005, 02:43 AM
I hope I never have to find out how hard it is! It's all I can do to find time to go photograph. It's hard enough to find time to coat my own paper! I'm sure I would try glass plates before I'd try polyester. I'd think that if film went away, plate holders\backs would start popping up in the marketplace pretty soon.

I wonder if the currnet liquid emulsions on the market are any good? If film went away, I wonder if other liquid pre-mixed emulsions might start showing up, too?


05-04-2005, 07:14 AM
Making an orthochromatic film should not be very hard, it is making a fast speed (100 asa and above) panchromatic film with consistency that it is difficult.

The dyes used to give film panchromatic properties are difficult to obtain and I imagine in small quantities probably very expensive. Sadly I think neither Kodak or Ilford would release their formulations even if they decided to quit making film altogether, so in essence you would have to re invent the wheel.....seems to me we will have to be happy with glass plates, but heck, if it was good enough for G. Eastman, it might just be good enough for us... :)

dr bob
05-04-2005, 08:06 AM
Probably the greatest difficulty in film manufacturing would be the correct layering of the emulsion. That step has to be pretty exact to gain full reproducibility and quality control. Another problem is controlling the various steps in emulsion production considering the various sensitization steps and materials. Who knows the exact kind and quantity of these chemicals used to produce the various effects we see in modern (and classic) films? Trade secrets! Even the times and temperatures used in processing emulsions are closely guarded secrets even today. Unless one wants to wing it as a hobby there are EPA ad OSHA requirements. Film manufacturing involves a lot of solvents and some by-products that could be problematic. Yes, one can do it but Id rather pay more to get a quality product ready for use.

I believe that someone somewhere will continue to make at least b&w films for ever. The cost may be high and the quality control less than that of the present BIG BOYS, but as there will always be a need, there will be a supply.

05-04-2005, 08:32 AM
Having worked two summers in a coating plant, I'd say Wolliscroft is the closest so far.

05-04-2005, 08:41 AM
i think jorge and dr.bob hit the nail on the head. while panochromatic emulsions could probably be made by the small manufacturer or home chemist, the dyes are very expensive, and the process is a pollution-nightmare.

hasn't kodak been listed for years as harsh polluter?

i guess that might be one of the harsh realities of photo-emulsion manufacturing, and probably one of the reasons why the eastern european + chinese film industry is gaining such ground.

ortho emulsions ( like black magic or liquid light ) are not too too hard to make on your own. ryuji suzuki and others do this sort of thing, quite sucessfully. while black magic and liquid light are very slow ( asa 1 - 6 depending ) it is my understanding from conversations with one of the chemists who works / worked for luminos, that silverprint is very fast - close to asa 100!. it is still available at the calumet website and i imagine it is so expensive because of its relative speed (34$ USD / 8oz).

i've coated thin plastics ( like food wrap + nitrocellulose ) with liquid emulsions before, while it can be done, the non-rigid aspect of the backing/substrate does not make it very easy, and i couldn't imagine coating a whole roll of "film" like this. the emulsion binds well, but the bending/curling causes cracks in the emulsion ( food wrap). if that is the kind of look you are going for ... i also tried to make a "roll" of collodion to put the liquid emulsion onto. it isn't too hard to pour collodion on a sheet of glass, use a pin to pry it off, and carefully cut it into strips. i say carefully, because it isn't safety film, but explosive film. the emulsion didn't bind with the collodion, and i can't imagine sticking an explosive like that into my enlarger head ( B-O-O-M ) ----- >> i'll stick to using dry plates :)

05-04-2005, 10:54 AM
From a purely business standpoint then, perhaps contracting manufacturing of film to China or eastern Europe, based upon a desired film type, could be a way to build a film production business. If plants already exist in those countries, they might be willing to do OEM manufacturing, and probably already have a selection of films formulas from which to start.

Since over the next year I'm going to be traveling to Shanghai frequently on business (unrelated to photography, unfortunately) perhaps I'll ask around and find out what the state of film manufacturing in China is today.

Is this what J and C does?

05-04-2005, 11:36 AM
Is this what J and C does?

As far as I know it's partly what J&C does in companionship with Fotoimpex. It is also what MACO, Bergger and several others do.

Fotokemika does a lot of that work (think EFKE/ADOX and RolleiR3), as does Forte. There is also Slavich in the FSU who will coat any emulsion on any substrate, if the order is large enough. If you want 20x24" orthopanchromatic glass plates, they're the ones to ask.

Paul Howell
05-04-2005, 11:54 AM
I think Kodak still sells glass plates (Timex 100) for scientific and industrial uses. Expensive but available by speical order. I would guess that plates are available in China, Russia, and Japan for the same reasons. But for 20XI24, they would be very expensive. Making plates at home, because of the toxic materials (at least in Arizona) you would need a permit for industrial use. The police will think you are making crank.


Photo Engineer
05-04-2005, 12:01 PM
Jim Browning makes his own emulsion and has coated it. See his web site for the excellent details that he has posted there for doing this. He now has matrix film made for him at the Efke plant. So, yes, this is a way to go to get custom products.

If your homemade film or paper cracks, add some sorbitol to the mixture. This is a common humectant used in making film and paper to prevent or minimize cracking and crazing.

The biggest problem you will ever have if you make your own film or paper is coating it uniformly enough to make a good quality material. I see a similar discussion going on over on photo.net. Good luck to you all.


05-04-2005, 01:37 PM
Emulsion making in concept is fairly easy. In practice, however, it is an incredibly complex undertaking.

First off, you have the gelatin. It has to meet certain standards of purity -- meaning it can't have the wrong impurities, but it needs to have some of the right impurities. (Shortly after Eastman started manufacturing dry plates, he had a large batch fail. Investigation traced it back to the sulfur content of that batch of gelatin. This product failure played a large part in the formation of the Kodak Labs.)

Once you have the gelatin, you have to very carefully and consistently add the other ingredients (i.e., the silver, the halide(s), the sensitizers, etc). Then you have to let the emulsion age for a period of time.

Once it has aged, it has to be allowed to solidify. It is then shredded and carefully and thoroughly washed to remove all of the excess and byproduct chemicals.

Then you get into coating...

While much of the basic science of emulsion making is quite well documented in the literature, there is a great deal of proprietary, unpublished knowledge involved as well. Kenneth Mees addressed this in the preface to his book "The Theory of Photography" saying that he had to basically ignore that whole aspect of the science because much of his knowledge of it was acquired via his work for Eastman and was therefore nondisclosable.

I have a great fear that, because so much of this is proprietary, it will be "lost" information should the major manufacturers cease manufacturing film.

Jim Chinn
05-04-2005, 03:00 PM
Actually I used to work with just two other people and we made cars. High performance racing late model stock cars and scca prototypes. And I did so much of it for a couple of years that I could probably due my aspect of production blindfolded.

As I stated in other posts you have to stop looking at the idea of creating film and emulsions through the eyes of Kodak. For some reason in America today we become hypnotized by the idea that there is only one way to do something, or only a big company can do it. I am not a scientist but i know that somewhere there is going to be simpler chemistry, process and technology to make quality film in small quantities. You have to think outside the box of the current film production paradigm. The biggest thing you need to understand is that Kodak needs to make millions of $ and has to produce film by the millions of feet at a certain cost to produce a profit. Get that concept out of your head and start thinking minimum parameters for small batch coating. Say 100 sheets of 8x10 or equivalent roll at a time.
I am sure that many of the steps, chemistry, etc that Kodak uses to make TriX are probably totally irellevant when talking small batches but required when producing millions of feet that has to stay fresh for several years.

Photo Engineer
05-04-2005, 03:12 PM
I agree with Jim. Making an emulsion need not be as complex as it is to produce a Kodak or Fuji film. It can be simple and probably can perform in a suitable manner for many applications. Matthew Brady didn't have Kodak film and made some beautiful photographs.

If you read the literature, there are hundreds of steps involved in making an emulsion, and it takes weeks or months to produce the film and paper we use.


05-04-2005, 03:12 PM
but heck, if it was good enough for G. Eastman, it might just be good enough for us... :)

It wasn't good enough for George Eastman. That's why he invented film, the key to the success of the Brownie camera.

05-04-2005, 03:23 PM
It wasn't good enough for George Eastman. That's why he invented film, the key to the success of the Brownie camera.

He started Kodak making glass plates, this was limited to LF cameras and his purpose was to bring photography to everbody, thus the research and eventual process of coating acetate cellulose. Coating either one is very similar, glass plates were good enough to get him started and produce good quality negatives (as a matter of fact they are better than acetate film for definition or resolution) but could not be rolled or made in smaller sizes for smaller cameras.

05-04-2005, 03:52 PM
Well, the good news is in 20 years when there are no more mechanical shutters and the ones we have now are shot, we'll be coating our own glass plates with asa 3 goop and won't need a shutter anyways. I'm ahead of the curve having worked with Freestyle APHS Ortho for several years now. Sign up for my ASA 3 Ortho Workshop. Just kidding.

05-04-2005, 03:57 PM
Jim, one of my mechanical shutters is still precise - and it was made in 1926. I think it will outlast me too.