DIY: Film rolling at home

Film is probably the only thing I roll. For a newbie photographers it might sound scary and complicated, but it doesn’t take much time to get this tricky process right. Here’s how and why I do it.

It all started when a friend of mine took me to a garage sale where I managed to get a couple of half-empty film spools. All the other needed things were already lying around at home. Here’s all you’ll ever need to get started:

  • drycompletely light sealed room
  • a spool of film
  • sticky tape
  • scissors

My bathroom did the trick for the first item. I’m sealing the door with towels and a black sheet on top of them all. Everytime I do this I spend a minute or two in before I start handling the film so my eyes can adjust and to stop feeling the discomfort. This is important because I still notice some light leaks that would otherwise ruin the fun.

Before going in the bathroom, though I make sure that everything is ready to be taken in. I use price tag stickers to label my canisters. There’s a small trick here – covering the DX code, which you will see on the photo bellow, is important as not doing so might result in your camera automatically setting up for a film that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the one you’ll be rolling.

I then cut small pieces of the stickers and stick them to one side of the film that’s still on the canister. I make sure I have sufficient tape sticking out to later fix the new film. I also back myself up by readying pieces of tape for the end side. As soon as this is done I set up my table in the bathroom with everything arranged. A small hint that will save lots of frustration- keep the scissors in your back pocket. I don’t own the special dark room safe red lights so I do the next few steps in complete darkness.

After getting the new film out of its box I unwind a small amount and match it with the film on the canister, making sure they’re parallel and being curved the same way. This last bit is crucial as you don’t want the film to be facing the wrong way. Once that’s done I use the tape to further secure the film. I only handle the film on the sides avoiding any contact with the light sensitive surface. Then I start rolling the film in. And I roll until the can is full. The film still needs to be moving freely, though, so do not overdo the rolling part. This is what might annoy some, since you don’t know the exact frames you have rolled in. This is easily fixable with some kind of measure that is around 140cm long (just over 36 frames), but I do want a few extra frames in there. Once I’m done with a canister I put it in a plastic bag in my back pocket reducing the clutter around me.

There are a few tips on storing I’d like to share:

  • get yourself some sealing bags and leave a pouch or two of silica gel in them – this will keep your film nice and dry
  • keep all the film your fridge and only take it out when you need to – this will reduce the film decaying process
  • label your film spools to not be opened- someone’s curiosity might be quite costly

So that was how I do this.

As for the why: const and reliability. Doing this has saved me more than have the money I would have spent. With most of the materials available in your desk’s drawer and used film canisters easily obtainable (almost always for free) from your local photo studio the only real expense is the film spool. They come in 30m batches which are enough for about twenty 36 frames rolls.

Best of al: you don’t have to count on anyone else’s supply.

Bonus reason: people are impressed when they see a fridge full of tomatoes and photographic film.

Now get out there and shoot some film!