View Full Version : Whatís the trick to unloading film holders?

11-May-2019, 13:56
...without damaging the emulsion, that is. 3 out of 4 sheets I developed today gave me serious trouble getting out of the holders (4x5, unloading in dark bag). In the process, I scratched the emulsion right around the notches in the edge of the sheet pretty good. I had just cut my fingernails, and didnít have anything to get under the notch and lever the edge of the sheet up. Is there a trick to doing this?

Tin Can
11-May-2019, 14:05
One, longer fingernail

11-May-2019, 14:08
Some film holders have a milled out semi- circle at the flap end of the holder so you can get under the film easily.
Some don't. The least expensive option is...don't cut your fingernails before you need to unload holders. :)

11-May-2019, 14:13
I always have a small 1" x 3" sheet of unprocessed film with rounded corners either in a corner of the film changing bag or in the darkroom hanging from a piece of string within arms reach. Always easily works and have never scratched the film in the holder.

11-May-2019, 14:29
Great idea, Greg!

lab black
11-May-2019, 15:05
Guitar pick

11-May-2019, 15:26
I suggest cleaning the grooves of the holder really well, and try polishing the flat surface behind the holder in case there's something slightly rough or sticky.

Kent in SD

11-May-2019, 16:03
Like Greg said... I keep a little piece of 35mm film end lightly taped to one of the boxes of film in the bag, and if I can't lift the sheet up in the holder, I use it to get under the sheet to lift...

The next (sometimes tricky) step is to start pulling the sheet out, so when lifted, firmly pinch the top edge, hold the holder flap down with your other hand, and pull film at an angle that will just clear the end of the holder flap (that edge of the film has the biggest margin, so don't be afraid to give it a tight squeeze)..

If you have difficulty sliding film in or out of a holder, a modern reason is that some films are cut with a moderately rough edge, so they can bind... One thing you can try is wiggling the film side to side slightly, or if it gets stuck, reverse the pull with some wiggling and feel if it starts moving...

Also, if the weather is really soggy, or too hot/humid in the bag, the film can be a little sticky, or a wave or bowing of the sheet, that affects it's fit in the holder...

Don't sweat, there's a solution!!! ;-)

Steve K

Bob Salomon
11-May-2019, 16:39
I use the Linhof GlassPlate/Sheet Film Holder. While they are thicker then sheet film holders as they also accommodate glass plates they have a spring loaded plate to adjust for the difference in thickness between glass and film, the flaps fold down so access for loading and unloading is far easier and they have an ejector lever on each side that pushes the film or plate out about ĺ” so unloading is simple. The lever is because glass plate scratch easily and would be hard to slide out otherwise.
Some also have a numbered friskit that exposes the number on the edge of the film or plate so you always know which side of which holder the film or plate was in.

Unfortunately these have not been made for several years so you can only find used ones today.

11-May-2019, 17:28
Since you are using a changing bag; centre yourself and exude calm, as any hint of frustration will build up humidity in the bag and make things worse!

11-May-2019, 17:43
Since you are using a changing bag; centre yourself and exude calm, as any hint of frustration will build up humidity in the bag and make things worse!

Old film holders can smell fear.;)

Kent in SD

Jim Noel
11-May-2019, 18:08
Practice in the light!!!

11-May-2019, 18:08
Thanks to all for the suggestions. Since I'm too vain to cultivate an extra long nail, and haven't attempted to play guitar in years, it looks like a piece of film will do the trick. And centered calm, of course.

Doremus Scudder
12-May-2019, 08:57
Since you're using a changing bag, my method may not help much...

However, for those who tap around in the dark trying to find their guitar pick, piece of film, etc., my way will possibly be simpler.

I wear nitrile gloves when processing film since I use PMK. Unloading holders with the gloves on is a bit more difficult than without.

For stubborn sheets that won't allow me to get a finger underneath, I simply breathe on them, just like you would breathe on your eyeglasses before cleaning them. One or two breaths and then a few seconds wait and the film will buckle allowing you to get your finger easily under the edge. This has never failed for me.



Bernice Loui
12-May-2019, 09:48
Most film holders have a circular recess on the film holder back at the edge of the sheet of film. This circular recess is intended to allow sliding a finger nail underneath to lift up the sheet of film for removal. Inverting the film holder, turn the film holder upside down can help increase the gap between the sheet film's edge and film holder back to ease removal.

Another way is to give the sheet of film a gentle blow between the film holder and sheet film edge. This more often than not will free the sheet of film from the film holder backing. Alternative to blowing is to use a can-O-gas to accomplish the same.

Keep the angle of the sheet of film being removed small relative to the film holder. Large angles between the sheet of film and film holder during the process of sheet film removal increases the risk of scratching the sheet film back or non-emulsion side. These scratches are permanent and not easy to deal with during the printing process. The film holders that have the greatest risk for scratching the non-emulsion side of the film are ones made with grained (sanded) aluminum then black anodized. The grained finish is abrasive and tends to scratch. Film holders with painted metal backing has much less tendency to scratch film during removal.


12-May-2019, 12:22
Guitar pick

This is so simple and so cheap and can be used for surprisingly lots of things.

John Layton
12-May-2019, 15:06
Like this thread!

I've often wondered why all film holders don't feature the half-moon milled cutout, but have never thought of a solution to this.

Having been personally handed a flat pick from my guitar hero Leo Kottke years ago...but admit that I'm more of a finger picker than flat picker - I'll now put Leo's pick to good use!

12-May-2019, 15:14
Are there modern film holders that do not have the half-moon or equivilent? I do not remember seeing any that do not. I use them to tell if there is a sheet of film already in the holder -- if I can not feel the indentation, then it is loaded already -- I am always spacing out if I have loaded both sides or not.

Mark Sawyer
12-May-2019, 15:18
Practice in the light!!!

What Jim said.