E6 film processing steps

Several manufacturers sell E-6 processing kits. They vary only slightly. Whichever you choose, be sure to follow the enclosed instructions for that kit precisely. Tack them up near your work area so you can glance at them easily.


The procedure which follows is for the popular Unicolor kit. (The processing times are the same for any of the E-6 films unless you have pulled or pushed the film to change its effective ASA rating.)

  1. Mix the chemicals in the order in which they will be used according to the instructions. Label each bottle with the name of the chemical and the date mixed—these chemicals have a definite shelf life after which they must be discarded. Put a number on each label, too, according to the sequence in which the chemicals are used. The number should also go on the cap to avoid mixing up caps and contaminating solutions. If you plan to use solutions immediately, mix them at the proper temperature, 38° C (100°F) for inversion-type tanks. 40.5°C (105°F) for motorized agitators.
    Pour a little of each solution, after it's mixed, back into the bottle it came in, cap the bottle, shake, and pour the contents back into the graduate. This ensures that you've got all of the chemicals into solution. After that's done, pour the solution into a clean brown glass bottle, cap it, carefully wash the graduate and the thermometer (which doubles as a stirring rod), and go on to the next solution.

  2. Place each bottle, after it's filled, into your plastic tub water bath. This should contain water at about 39°C (102°F), assuming you are using an inversion-type tank. It is critical for the success of this procedure to maintain the temperature of the chemicals at 38°C (100-7 plus or minus one-half degree C (one degree F). Without a temperature-controlled water bath, you will have to check water-bath temperature frequently and add hot water as the temperature drops. Between steps, take the time to check the temperature of the chemical itself for the next step. You may need to run hot water over capped bottle to adjust the temperature. Keep some cold water or ice cubes nearby, too, in case you overcompensate and get the water bath or solution temperatures too warm.

  3. A changing bag is all you'll need in the way of darkness for E-6 processing. In the bag, load the film onto the reel just as you do for black-and-white film. Place the film in the tank and attach the tank cover. Put the developing tank into the water-bath while you do step 4. Because the tank is empty except for the film, it may float in the water—that's okay.

  4. Check again to be sure all solutions and the water bath are at 38° C (100°F). Set your time for 61f2 minutes.

  5. Start the timer as you pour the first developer, solution number 1 into the tank. Tap the tank twice, gently but firmly, on the table or counter, to dislodge any air bubbles that may be clinging to the film. Agitate the tank for 30 seconds immediately and then for 5 seconds every 30 seconds until the developing time is up.

  6. About 10 seconds before the end of the 6.5 minute period, begin pouring out the first developer. Use a funnel and pour it back into its brown bottle—it can be used again.

  7. Run water at 38°C (100°F), into the baffle top of the developing tank for 2 to 3 minutes. Don't open the tank! Drain tank.

  8. Set timer for 2 minutes and start it as you pour in reversal bath, solution number 2. Agitate 5 seconds every 30 seconds. At the end of the two-minute period, pour the reversal bath back into its bottle.

  9. Set timer for 6 minutes and start it as you pour in the color developer, solution number 3. Agitate, as in step 5, for the first 30 seconds and then for 5 seconds every 30 seconds thereafter. At the end of the developing time, pour the color developer back into its bottle.
    From the next step on, the solution temperatures are less critical than in the first developer, reversal bath, and color developer steps. Temperatures should be between 32°C (90°F) and 43°C (110°F).

  10. Set timer for 1 minute and start it as you pour in stop bath, solution number 4. Agitate 5 seconds every 30 seconds. Pour the stop bath back into its bottle at the end of the step.

  11. Another water rinse, 2 minutes into the baffle top of the developing tank. Don't open the tank! Drain tank.

  12. Set timer for 3 minutes and start it as you pour in bleach, solution number 5. Agitate 5 seconds every 30 seconds. At the end of the time period, pour the bleach back into its bottle.

  13. Set timer for 2 minutes and start it as you pour in fixer, solution number 6. Agitate the tank 5 seconds every 30 seconds. At the end of the time period, pour the fixer back into its bottle.

  14. A third water rinse, for 2 or 3 minutes into the baffle top of the developing tank. The light-tight top of the tank must not be removed yet!

  15. Pour in stabilizer, solution number 7, and time for 30 seconds, agitating gently the first 10 to 15 seconds only. Although Unicolor specifies room temperature for this solution, keep it at or near the temperatures of the other solutions so as not to make too drastic a change for the film. At the end of the one-half minute period, pour the stabilizer back into its bottle.

  16. The film may now be removed from the tank. Its appearance will give you a jolt—it will look opalescent and no images will be visible. That's normal—your pictures will gradually appear as the film dries. Hang the film, as you do with black-and-white film, in a dust-free place—in the center of a room away from doors and windows, or, better yet, inside a shower stall with the curtain pulled.

  17. When the film is dry, you'll want to mount the pictures. There are several ways to accomplish this. Slide mounting gadgets are available for almost any budget. Or you can use the heat-sealed type mount with an electric iron. There are snap mounts, if you can find them. Simplest of all are slip-in mounts. You can save money by mounting only the acceptable pictures. Cut carefully, mount, and enjoy!

The standard E-6 process is much like C-41 and is a great improvement over previous home processing techniques. Its predecessor, E-4, consisted of a nine-chemical, thirteen-step marathon. Taking more than one hour, compared to E-6's 37 minutes, it was a real turnoff.


Be aware that several color chemicals are dangerous if ingested and cause severe skin reactions in some individuals if not neutralized promptly. Color developers, bleach, and fix are the principal culprits. If you are hyper- sensitive to chemicals, you should wear rubber gloves during most of the processing stages involving the previously mentioned chemicals.

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