Film Photography

The worst part of using expired film is getting it to lay flat in your scanner

I recently shot a roll of Kodak Plus-X that was manufactured in the 1970s. Do you know what happens to film that’s been wound tightly for 40 or 50 years? It curls like mad when you pull it out of the developing tank.

I didn’t let the film dry like that — I put a clip on the end so the film would hang straight. But even a couple hours of that wasn’t enough to remove the curl. This film was a huge pain in the neck to lay flat in my scanner’s film holder.

If you have any tips to combat that, let me know in the comments.

The film had considerable base fog, which isn’t surprising given its age. My scanner cut through it with no trouble. I’ll share some images from this roll soon.

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21 thoughts on “The worst part of using expired film is getting it to lay flat in your scanner

  1. nwellons says:

    I’ve had good luck removing curl by hanging my film on a line in our shower after steaming it up with hot water. At the bottom of the film, I use a plastic clothes pin. If it feels warm and humid in the bathroom, you will likely have good luck.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    For some reason, you seem to have far more “curling” problems than I remember with processing films. I remember some films that curled more than others, but some of my later emulsions seemed to come right off the drying rack dead flat. Lots of 120 wasn’t curly at all. I never heat dried films, always just ambient air. I also cut my film and put it into Print File style negative storage sheets soon after drying. If you do that, you can actually just put a heavy book on it and in a short period of time, it should be as flat as possible.

    • Well, this is long-expired film, maybe 50 years. It spent all that time rolled tightly into a 35mm canister. Fresh film I shoot doesn’t curl like this!!

  3. Some of the developed rolls of film my father put back in their aluminum cans 70 years ago were wound inside out. I assumed it was to compensate for a rightside out curl. Needless to say they had a bad inside out curl when I took them out of the cans, cut them into six-frame lengths and put them in NegaFile sleeves.Ten years later they are better but still not flat.

    The best online comment I remember from an old netnews group was (1) there is a lot of advice available for dealing with curled negatives. (2) None of it works.

    • I was afraid of that.

      Some very curled film that I shot years ago and put into my storage system will still curl right back up when I take the negatives out.

  4. Per the first comment, I always have good luck with a clothespin at the bottom of the roll and then add some weight…I use a handful of metal washers tied on with a string. Doesn’t get rid of all of the curl but helps.

    • That’s a good idea. I use office binder clips, one at each end of the film. The top binder clip is hung off a plastic clothes hanger, which I hang over the shower curtain rod. I could easily tie a weight off the bottom binder clip.

  5. Hi Jim, I don’t know if this will help, as it’s a pretty dumb solution, but I just tape the ends of the film down with blue tape. Actually, I scan my 35mm with a Plustek, my flatbed isn’t made for scanning film, so I tape 120 film to a light pad and scan that. Super crude, but it works.

  6. I’ve had similar problems with some expired Tri-X Pan. That stuff is a nightmare to keep flat. I had to resort to cotton gloves to allow me to handle the film more robustly, used a good dollop of my patience allowance, and swear a lot.

  7. Here’s how I fix curly film: After processing, I re-roll the film opposite the direction it wants to go and place it in one of those aluminum screw cap containers of Olde. Then I put that in a tight-lidded jelly jar so it can’t possibly get wet and into warm water in the bathroom sink, weighting it down as needed and leave it in there until the water is cool. When you take it out, the curl will be gone. Extremely curly film may need to be warmed twice, use warmer water or left in the container over night to “set”.

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