How To Mix D-76 B&W Film Developer at Home & Save a Lot of Money

April 23, 2021  •  2 Comments

How To Mix D-76 B&W Film Developer at Home & Save MoneyHow To Mix D-76 B&W Film Developer at Home & Save Money If you develop your own black and white film at home, then you already know that you probably go through periods where you develop a lot of film and then nothing for a while.  Many people end up wasting a lot of developer because they have to discard it.  Not only is this costly, it isn't so great for the environment either. 

In this article today, I share the D-76H formula which is a version of the original D-76 formula minus the undesirable Hydroquinone agent.  This version of the formula performs exactly the same as the original formula and it is much more friendly to our environment too.  

There is good reason why D76 is the developer that all other developers are measured against and you will find D-76 on every film manufacturers recommended developers data sheet. 

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Being able to mix your black and white film developer on demand has a lot of obvious advantages ranging from a significant cost savings to being less wasteful and more eco-friendly to our environment.

If you are looking for the ultimate results in your black and white work, then you should consider mixing your own developer as I outline in this article and properly testing each of your films.  I have a visual-based step-by-step video workshop that walks you through the entire film testing process from beginning to end. 

In the article below, I include everything you need to know to start mixing your own black and white film developer today. 

The formula that I share with you today omits hydroquinone and increases metol by 0.5g. This formula is reported to prevent the increased contrast associated with the original D-76 formula during storage, but it does not prolong the shelf life. However, the most important point is that the use of this developer does not discharge hydroquinone to wastewater.  I tested aged D-76 on a couple of different occasions and could never measure the increased pH that is reported to occur.  Even if that is the case, this formula is better for the environment. 

Hydroquinone is a carcinogen.  The chemical has been identified as both a potential clastogen and mutagen. A clastogen is a toxin that has the capability of cause breaks in chromosomes, cause sections of them to be destroyed, and to rearrange the sections and thus cause mutations that can lead to various types of cancer.  A mutagen is a material that causes mutations and damage in DNA. When the DNA is altered, it can cause any number of chain reactions that can negatively impact the health, including cancerous growth of cells and cell division.Other than its use in darkroom photography, hydroquinone is still one of the most commonly used skin lightening agents on the market in the United States.  The ingredient has been banned due to numerous safety issues and serious toxicity concerns in Europe, Japan, and several other countries. I am not a chemist, however, it is my understanding that hydroquinone in conjunction with UV light can magnify its toxicity.

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D-76H Film Development Formula

Formula to prepare 1 liter of the stock developer

Distilled Water @ 125F/52C 500ml

Metol - 2.5g
Sodium Sulfite (anhydrous) - 100g
Borax (decahydrate) - 2g
Distilled water to make 1 liter

** Developed by Dr. Grant Haist (Kodak) as an alternative to regular D-76

Mixing Instructions

  • Heat 500ml of distilled water to 52C/125F in a clean 1000ml+ graduate
  • Dissolve 2.5g Metol in a separate and clean graduate with distilled water and then add to main 1000ml beaker
  • Dissolve 100g Sodium Sulfite in a separate and clean graduate with distilled water and then add to main 1000ml beaker
  • Dissolve 2g Borax in a clean and separate graduate using distilled water and then add to the main 1000ml beaker
  • Add chilled distilled water to the main 1000ml beaker to make 1000ml at 20C

Tip: I keep a one gallon jug of distilled water in the darkroom refrigerator at all times for this purpose.

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D-76H Usage

The D76-H formula can be used as a stock solution or 1:1. I personally use it as a one-shot developer diluted at 1+1 because I believe I get even better shadow detail.

To establish the correct development time for your black and white film, you really should properly test your film to identity the true film speed (EI) and then validate (N) normal, (N+) expanded, and (N-) contracted development times.

If you are a roll film user or you don’t need accurate or repeatable results with your films, use the Massive Dev Chart development times for D-76 as a good starting place. Since D-76 is the standard for all B&W film developers, the technical information sheet for your specific film will have a suggest development time.

A good strategy is to rate your roll film at two-thirds or one-half box speed and develop for 10% less than the suggest time.

I have tested HP5+ in D-76H using my Jobo CPP-3 processor and determined EI rating to be 200 with a N (normal) development time of 7 minutes.

CLASSIC D-76 Formula (with Hydroquinone)

Distilled Water @ 125F/52C 750ml
Metol 2g
Sodium Sulfite (anhydrous) 100g
Hydroquinone 5g
Borax (granular) 2g
Cold water to make 1 liter


If you want to review other darkroom formulas, you can visit the main Analog Photography Formulas Page.


B&W DEVELOPER PHOTOCHEMISTRY OVERVIEW BY TIM LAYTON

By understanding the basics of photochemistry and the relationships between developer components you will have the ability to select and modify formulas to meet your specific needs.

An entire book could and has been written on this topic, so keep in mind I have dramatically summarized the important points in an effort to save you time and help you apply the most important principles. 

When a photographic emulsion is exposed to light, the silver salt (i.e, silver bromide, chloride, iodide) which the light reaches, undergoes a definite, but invisible change to a form that is known as the latent image. The exposed parts of the emulsion gain an activation that makes it susceptible to the reducing action of a developer.  When placed in a developing solution the exposed (activated) particles of the silver salt are reduced chemically to black metallic silver, leaving the unexposed particles of silver salt unchanged. Reduction in this sense is a conversion of silver salt to free silver and of the reaction one or more reducing agents (developers) are necessary.  

B&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim LaytonB&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim Layton The Reducing Agent: You will find a variety of reducing/developing agents used in black and white film photography.  Most of them are too powerful to be used alone because they would reduce all of the silver salt in the emulsion without regard to the latent image. A proper reducing agent must be selected which confines its action to the exposed particles of the silver salt, leaving the remainder unaffected. The most common reducing agents are metol, hydroquinone, and pyro, but there are several others to include Amidol, Glycin, and Rodinal to name a few.  

The effect of the developing agent is largely dependent on the agent used and the way it is used.  You will notice in several formulas that more than one agent is used and in various ratios.  I've realized that a high percentage of hydroquinone is synonymous with brilliant images, while metol produces softer results.  Knowing this type of information can help you identify the formula that is best suited for your photography. 

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B&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim LaytonB&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim Layton The Alkali (Activator): In addition to the reducing/developing agent, there are three other components in a developer that play an important role.  The first is the alkali which is ordinarily essential in most developers.  Most developers in use today are neutral or slightly acidic in their normal state, and in this condition, they are not very effective as a developing agent.

When an alkaline salt like sodium carbonate or potassium carbonate, for example, is introduced into the developing solution, something very interesting takes place.  The developing agent forms an alkaline salt which makes the developing agent more sensitive.  It is this alkaline salt that actually reduces the exposed grains of silver salt to metallic silver.  The alkali has a secondary effect on the developing solution which is also important.  It helps the gelatin emulsion swell and thus facilitates the penetration of the developing solution throughout the layer of the emulsion. 

For fine-grain developers, you will typically see a less energetic activator like borax used because you want the grain size controlled (softer development).  Another alkali used is sodium metaborate which is helpful in tropical climates when the target development temperature of 68F/20C is not possible. 

You must carefully weigh the alkali in your formula because too much can cause fog and too little can result in slow and soft development.  

You will find many formulas that use sodium carbonate as the activator because in the monohydrated form it is stable and predictable. 

B&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim LaytonB&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim Layton The Preservative: It is a common event for the reducing agent and alkali to combine freely and easily with oxygen.  Because of this, developing agents spoil very quickly when exposed to air.  To increase their usable life, and to allow the developing agent to do its work on the exposed silver halide, and to prevent the occurrence of stains, a preservative must be added to the developing solution. 

Sodium sulfite is frequently used as the preservative in many formulas.  In developers that require two stock solutions, a slightly acidic preservative such as sodium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite is preferred.  In some fine-grain developers, a large amount of sodium sulfite is used to aid in keeping the grain size to a minimum.  

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Because developing agents keep better in acid solution than in one which is alkaline, it is common practice to use one of these acid sulfites as the preservative in the developer part of the stock solution.  In single-solution developers, sodium bisulfite is never used alone as a preservative, since it neutralizes some of the alkali in the solution and would result in softer development. 

B&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim LaytonB&W Darkroom Photography Formulary by Tim Layton The Restrainer: The fourth and final important component of a typical developing solution is the restrainer, potassium bromide.  The restrainer acts as a "brake" on the chemical reaction of development and keeps the operation under control.  An increase in the concentration of the potassium bromide will result in slower development and too little may cause development fog.

With this information under your belt, starting reviewing the formulas for your favorite film and print developers and see if you can determine the four key components: developing agent(s), alkali, preservative, restrainer.   Next, compare these formulas against each other and see if you can start to understand why it behaves the way that it does. 


GENERAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS

  • Use chemically pure materials or your resulting formulas may not perform as expected. If you purchase from the vendors listed in the resources section, you should have reasonable assurance.  
  • Mix all components of a solution in the order listed in the formula.
  • Wait until each chemical is thoroughly dissolved before adding the next component. 
  • Use distilled water and not your local tap water. 
  • Use a proper scale capable of measuring two decimal places.  
  • Try and develop your film and paper at 68F/20C for optimum results.
  • Get my time/temp development conversion chart if you need to deviate from the standard 68F/20C temperature.
  • Use all formulas as one-shot solutions and eliminate the need for replenishing solutions.​​​​​​

FORMULARY SOURCES 

You will need sources to acquire the various chemicals, tools, and materials to make your processing chemicals, so I have included a link to some of the most notable resources to help you jumpstart your search. If you know of other good sources in your area, please contact me and let me know so I can update the list. 

View my Analog Photography Chemistry Directory for suppliers around the world.


DISCLAIMER

Tim Layton With Silver Gelatin Large Format PrintTim Layton With Silver Gelatin Large Format Print I do have to mention that if you choose to use any of the information contained on this website or in my guidebooks, it is at your own risk and I am not accountable for the outcome, your personal safety, nor do I guarantee anything by sharing this information.  The lawyers make me say this stuff...   

As with all chemicals, you should properly research each individual component and understand its purpose and potential hazards before using it in your own environment.

All of the information in the B&W Analog Photography Formulary is the public domain and has been published many times by various sources over the last 100+ years.  It is for this reason along with the fact that I may not accurately provide credit to the original publisher that I do not always cite each formula or recipe.

 

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Comments

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Peter, I have a couple of thoughts to share. First, one of the biggest benefits of mixing your own chemistry is using it on demand and cutting down on waste. I mix all of my developers as one-shot, so I mix what I need on demand. If I have some left over, it is very little if any ever. However, I have tested the shelf life up to several months with this formula and it performed as expected. There are a couple of variables that help with shelf life: removing air from the storage bottle and room temp. By using an according style storage bottle that solves the first problem and keeping your storage area in the 60F to 70F range solves the other one. Even with all that being said, I would encourage you to mix on demand what you need and use it as one shot. I hope this helps. Thanks, Tim.
Peter Campbell(non-registered)
Hi Tim,I just read your article on the modified D76.I was wondering what is the shelf life of the stock solution?
regards
Peter
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