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Do you Pre-wash your film?
Old 07-24-2007   #1
drewbarb
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Do you Pre-wash your film?

The issue of pre-wetting or pre-washing film has come up in several threads recently. This got me thinking. I learned to process film 20 years ago, and never heard of the technique of pre-washing film until I started processing film at a small high-end black and white boutique lab in NYC eight years ago. The guy who founded the lab trains everyone who works there in his methods of processing film, regardless of their experience. His methods include a pre-wash in plain water of all films to be developed in standard developers, except where contra-indicated. The way it was explained to me, pre-washing helps in a variety of ways, including stabilizing the the film at the development temperature, and swelling the emulsion, preparing it for the developer. The idea is that this results in more even and consistent developing, and slightly finer grain.

Regardles of the precise science or voodoo here, I have continued the practice ever since. I now run a small lab offering boutique black and white services to a few other photographers, and I pre-wash all my own film and all the film I run for my clients (except films that will be run in two bath developers like Diafine which specifically indicate not pre-wetting).

So that's what I was taught, and this has been my experience. I'd like to know your thoughts on the practice, and get an idea of if and why people do this or don't do it. Thanks.

(Edit for clarity.)
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Old 07-24-2007   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drewbarb
His methods include a pre-wash for all films in standard developers, except where contra-indicated. The way it was explained to me, pre-washing helps in a variety of ways, including stabilizing the the film at the development temperature, and swelling the emulsion, preparing it for the developer.
So you pre-wash in the developer to prepare the film for the developer. I'm sorry, I don't get it . Could you elaborate a little on the actual process to help newbies like me?
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Old 07-24-2007   #3
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My guess is that you prewash the film in a water bath at the same temperature as you are using throughout the process. Interesting idea, how long do you do it for? My guess is about three minutes, but that is only a guess.

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Old 07-24-2007   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shadowfox
So you pre-wash in the developer to prepare the film for the developer. I'm sorry, I don't get it . Could you elaborate a little on the actual process to help newbies like me?
Hey Fox- Sorry- maybe I should have been clearer. Pre-wetting is the practice of soaking the film in plain water before the developer. I use 2 minutes in clean water, same temperature as my dev, same agitation routine. Hopefully this thread will yeild other thoughts on the possible benefits of the practice.
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Old 07-24-2007   #5
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Pre-wetting film makes sense, which is why people do it: but if the tank is tapped smartly on the table top once the developer has been poured in, there's little danger of air bubbles remaining.
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Old 07-24-2007   #6
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Barb, I develop my own. I don't prewash. I read your post to a thread elsewhere here at RFF and saw you mention this part of your process.

Thanks for the idea, I'm going to try it.
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Old 07-24-2007   #7
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Drew,

I did it years and years ago (I think it started for me with Ilford films) and then I dropped doing it...
The reasoning back then that I read was "for more even developing and to help prevent pinholes (air bubbles) in film" or something like that...
I think I'll be trying it again...

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Old 07-24-2007   #8
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I thought I remember somewhere reading that Ilford specifically recommended against it for their films. Something about how it washed away a wetting agent or something that Ilford felt helped in the development process. That said I've started doing it when I use the more specialized developers like Dixactol Lux and Exactol as they are prone to uneven development if the film and canister are a different temp than the developer and if the developer hits the dry film unevenly when being poured into the small tanks. It did help for that. Otherwise with developers like D-76 and Rodinal I sometimes do it when I rememeber but do not recall any benefit or detriment.
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Old 07-24-2007   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rich815
I thought I remember somewhere reading that Ilford specifically recommended against it for their films. Something about how it washed away a wetting agent or something that Ilford felt helped in the development process.
...
I always wondered what Ilford did differently. I noticed back in the 70s that their film dried differently than anyone elses. I just couldn't get uneven drying which was the cause of drying spots or in extreme cases, drying blemishes. A drop of water anywhere on FP4 or HP5 was difussed out in the film and no drying spot. I thought is was neat, and figured it had something to do with the emulsion or base. Maybe it was an additive after all. Whatever, I really liked that about their film.

EDIT: I don't use a prewash. I think I may have tried it a couple of times when I first read about it, didn't see any noticable difference, and decided it was more trouble than it was worth. I know many people swear by the procdure though. As I mentioned in the other thread, I think it had to do both with presumed more even development, and not needing stop bath. Some people think that is too much of a shock to their film.
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Old 07-24-2007   #10
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Some films have an anti-halation dye that dissolves out into the developer, staining the developer. If you reuse developer, then you might prefer it not be stained. A pre-wash will dissolve the anti-halation dye to protect the developer. One reason for pre-wash anyway. When I've done it I've also added just a drop of Photo-Flo wetting agent to help avoid air bubbles.

One problem, theoretical, is that after the pre-wash the water now present in the emulsion may slow the developer in reaching where it needs to work, and dilutes it there if only at the beginning. It's this very effect which makes the pre-wash a bad idea with Diafine, which relies on full-strength Part A soaking into the emulsion.
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Old 07-24-2007   #11
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I don't bother and never have. With B/W everything is pretty much at room temp anyway before you start.

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Old 07-24-2007   #12
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I don't pre-wet my film, and will probably never try it unless I run into uneven development problems. Fairly consistent results so far, and no problems at all.
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Old 07-24-2007   #13
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I have been prewashing films for about 10 years. I pour in pre wash, agitate 10 inversions, tap tank on table to release bubbles. I repeat with the film, and I cut development by 20% to compensate for the dev being able to take quicker due to the emulsion being wet.

The reason I heard for it that convinced me to do it was that the prewash makes the film wet and when the developer is poured in it can take to the film more evenly, thus helping even development. I think the example was illustrated by pouring water over a piece of dry film and the water ran in different directions, wetting the film unevenely where the water ran. If this is dev on a dry film, then this may encourage uneven development where the dev ran first. With a prewash, everything is nice and wet and this is avoided.

Its not much of an effort to prewash, and I haven't had uneven development (well only when I put 7 35mm films in one huge tank and got streaking from the sprocket holes but that's my own stupid fault - I now limit the films in one tank to 3). I usually put the prewash in then mix the dev, measure its temp and then calculate the dev time while the film is soaking in the prewash.

Hope this is useful
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Old 07-24-2007   #14
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Ok, we now have in this thread two completely opposite statements:

"One problem, theoretical, is that after the pre-wash the water now present in the emulsion may slow the developer in reaching where it needs to work"

and

"I cut development by 20% to compensate for the dev being able to take quicker due to the emulsion being wet."

So, which is it?
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Old 07-24-2007   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rich815
I thought I remember somewhere reading that Ilford specifically recommended against it for their films. Something about how it washed away a wetting agent or something that Ilford felt helped in the development process. That said I've started doing it when I use the more specialized developers like Dixactol Lux and Exactol as they are prone to uneven development if the film and canister are a different temp than the developer and if the developer hits the dry film unevenly when being poured into the small tanks. It did help for that. Otherwise with developers like D-76 and Rodinal I sometimes do it when I rememeber but do not recall any benefit or detriment.

Rich,

I honestly don't remember if it was Ilford film or another one...but it was something I read at about the same time I started using Ilford...that was over 20 years ago SO just do the math...(20 years divided by memory loss times pi...)
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Old 07-24-2007   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rich815
Ok, we now have in this thread two completely opposite statements:

"One problem, theoretical, is that after the pre-wash the water now present in the emulsion may slow the developer in reaching where it needs to work"

and

"I cut development by 20% to compensate for the dev being able to take quicker due to the emulsion being wet."

So, which is it?
They both could be correct depending on developer being used and the dilution of the developer...just a quick thought and I had to get rid of it...
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Old 07-24-2007   #17
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Hi, I've been prewashing for atleast the last 1o years and have had no problems at all. I prewash for 5 mins and then develope at the normal time with no adjustment becasue of the prewash.

I started this practice when I got uneven development in some rolls of the original Ilford SFX 200. The Ilford rep rcommended it, it worked and I've continued the practice for all films, even for films I have processed on a commercial scale for other labs.

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Old 07-24-2007   #18
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Having done it both ways, I simply follow the recommendations of film and/or developer manufacturer. Sprint Systems film developer works better, more evenly, with a presoak, which they recommend.
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Old 07-24-2007   #19
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Kodak tech support has gone back and forth on this- sometimes saying you should, sometimes you shouldn't. I don't bother unless I'm getting into a short development time- less than 6 minutes I will prewet just to be safe, but like Alex I've never seen any difference in my own or students films. I do prewet sheet films- but more for the ease of handling and to prevent them sticking together in the developer should I not get them fully under before the next sheet goes in- any fussing with partially wet films takes place in the water, so I can concentrate on agitation cycles during developing.

Consider the effect of uneven development on a sheet of paper- very hard to see the difference of even 15 seconds difference of immersion after a 2 minute developing time- with film we have usually a much longer development to even out the small difference in immersion time.
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Old 07-24-2007   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by payasam
Pre-wetting film makes sense, which is why people do it: but if the tank is tapped smartly on the table top once the developer has been poured in, there's little danger of air bubbles remaining.
I do both, probably a "belt and braces"thing!! Most E6 processes recommend a pre soak to bring everything up to temp.
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Old 07-24-2007   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rich815
Ok, we now have in this thread two completely opposite statements:

"One problem, theoretical, is that after the pre-wash the water now present in the emulsion may slow the developer in reaching where it needs to work"

and

"I cut development by 20% to compensate for the dev being able to take quicker due to the emulsion being wet."

So, which is it?
Neither. Pre-washing won't change your development time at all. The first "theoretical" idea is just not true; the second idea, the practice of cutting development time might work well to produce great results, but it has nothing at all to do with the pre-wash. The practitioner has simply discovered a processing time that works with his method of exposure, his water content, temperature, and agitation technique. The idea that the pre-wash will reduce the time needed for development is nonsense- unless he's using water that has developing characteristics all it's own.


One other point about pre-washing- as some have noted, it tends to really help when you get into very short development times- say, less than 7 minutes.
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Old 07-24-2007   #22
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awww .... I'm still going to try it. It's only film
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Old 07-24-2007   #23
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Yes I do. Religiously.
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Old 07-24-2007   #24
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John, are not E-6 temperatures relatively high?
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Old 07-24-2007   #25
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I don't because I primarily use Diafine. A presoak is a _really_ bad idea with a two bath compensating developer... and the instructions say not to do it, too

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Old 07-24-2007   #26
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What I would really love to learn, when reading this kind of discussions, is the hydraulic and chemical detail of the development process.

Prewetting, for example, is said to enable the developer to reach the active emulsion faster. Why? Because the water already soaked into the emulsion layers and the developer moves through the water.

Sounds reasonable.

The same goes for concentration and agitation of the developer. Higher concentrate will bring more developer into the emulsion to react with the silver halides. And agitation will allow for quicker refresh of the developer that's in the emulsion.

And then on a smaller level, what's the role of grain? What is a grain actually? A clob of silver halides? Is it the grain itself that is activated by exposure? Is a grain something binary: activated yes/no - developed yes/no, or is it capable of storing gradations? And about sharpness: Some developers retain the structure of the grain (e.g. Rodinal), others seem to break it down or soften it.

And how does all this work in the time? Highlights are told to develop first, while shadows come up later. Why is that? How is the dilution of developer evolving during development. Why can you e.g. stand develop for hours at high dilutions without much risk of burnt highlights? Is it just because developer runs out? What if you refresh developer or if you increase the volume? Will it still stand-develop safely for hours on?

Can someone recommend a good book that covers this process??

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Old 07-24-2007   #27
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I'm with the "No, because Ilford says don't" crowd, because I use mostly Ilford film. The datasheet for my other favourite, SPUR Orthopan UR, also says not to.

If some datasheet says I should do it, then I will.

Easy

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Old 07-25-2007   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vicmortelmans
... Can someone recommend a good book that covers this process??
For cook-book type recipes, Creative Darkroom Techniques, by Kodak (no individul author listed.) How to do all sorts of stuff, before, during and after regular processing.

For a discussion of standard processing, The Negative, by Ansel Adams. It's all about fine tuning the process to control the characteristic light vs density curves. And more.

For the chemistry of film, The Fundamentals of Photographic Theory, by T. H. James and G. C. Higgins. A chemistry background is recommended for this one. It's from the 60's, and so, may not be fully up to date, but fortunately, not much has changed with film for the last 40 years!
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Old 07-25-2007   #29
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Chris, that's good information! I already read Adams, but he's not in detail on the chemistry. Your third reference seems more like what I'm looking for!
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Old 07-25-2007   #30
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When I lived in Cheshire I got to know a guy at Ilford pretty well, and he recommended against pre-soaking films. His view was that, while it had been a good idea with vintage films in order to ensure even development, with modern films it was a complete waste of time. Since then, I haven't bothered with pre-soaks unless the manufacturer expressly recommends it (such as Adox/Ekfe CHS films, which are essentially '50s technology anyway).
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Old 07-25-2007   #31
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Lots of good info on this thread- thanks especially to Chris for the resources to check, and Mr. Phillip for his thoughts from his friend at Ilford. I think I'll keep pre-wetting most films, in the interest of not fixing what isn't broken with my processing technique; but I might try a few rolls (especially of Ilford films) without pre-wetting, and see if I can see a difference. Thanks all.
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Old 07-25-2007   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drewbarb
Lots of good info on this thread- thanks especially to Chris for the resources to check, and Mr. Phillip for his thoughts from his friend at Ilford. I think I'll keep pre-wetting most films, in the interest of not fixing what isn't broken with my processing technique; but I might try a few rolls (especially of Ilford films) without pre-wetting, and see if I can see a difference. Thanks all.
What "film/developer combos" do you use with your pre-soak?
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Old 07-25-2007   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by payasam
John, are not E-6 temperatures relatively high?
yes thats true, about 40degC, but its easy to maintain with a water bath.
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Old 07-25-2007   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris101
Yes I do. Religiously.
In holy water perchance??
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Old 07-26-2007   #35
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A friend pointed me to this:

http://wiki.silvergrain.org/wiki/index.php/Presoak
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Old 07-26-2007   #36
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Where's the "only when appropriate" option?

I do it for TJ-Max films. Otherwise, the fixing step becomes a pain.
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Old 07-26-2007   #37
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Quote:
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thanks for this site, a lot of info there.
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Old 07-26-2007   #38
drewbarb
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jan normandale
What "film/developer combos" do you use with your pre-soak?
The developers I keep around all the time for regular use are Rodinal, HC-110, Microphen, Xtol, Diafine, and ID-11, although sometimes I am asked to use others. I shoot Fuji Neopan and Across, Ilford HP5 and FP4, Delta 3200, Kodak Tri-X and HIE. Clients send me all sorts of other films, too, from the usual suspects of APX, Delta, and TMax films to the occasional weird Chinese and eastern European films one rarely sees in the Midwest U.S.

I pre-wet everything except film to go through Diafine, and sometimes other divided compensating developers.

Thanks to the person who posted the wiki silvergrain page. I may try to do some testing without pre-wetting to see if I may get better (or at least different) results. One other point- I have never heard of pre-wetting being a strategy to eliminate air bubbles. When I process in closed tanks I always tap them periodically to dislodge airbubbles- even during the pre-wet stage.
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Old 07-26-2007   #39
totifoto
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drewbarb
The way it was explained to me, pre-washing helps in a variety of ways, including stabilizing the the film at the development temperature, and swelling the emulsion, preparing it for the developer. The idea is that this results in more even and consistent developing, and slightly finer grain.
This is what I was told as well when I learned how to develope B&W films. I always do it for at least a minute before the developer.
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Old 09-12-2009   #40
delft
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Thank you for encouraging me to re-think my processing habits, Drew. I pre-soak 120 and 4x5 (5x4), but I'm not quite sure anymore about why I do this. For large format, the fact that my combi-plan tank takes some time to fill may have something to do with it. For 120, I vaguely remember a film that coloured even the stopbath with it's anti-halation dyes (or was the stop off?). I'll be following this thread with interest.

Dirk

P.S. I also presoak C41 to get the stuff at the right temp.
P.P.S. When I presoak, I do it for 1 minute, at dev temp.
P.P.S. I could not miss this opportunity to write 'P.P.S'.
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