ideas: set up your own darkroom

Set up your own darkroom

Almost any room can be adapted for use as a darkroom provided there is enough space, either temporarily or permanently, for one person’s use or for many, for colour work or just for black and white. Here are some general principles of darkroom design. plan of a darkroom


The room must be made light proof – that means doors, windows and ventilation systems must not let in light. Specialist blackout blinds can be made to order for windows, or thick dark coloured velvet curtains can be used for a temporary set up, and as an extra measure to prevent light coming in under doors. Black painted boxes can be constructed around fans to prevent light entering.

Safe lights which are red, orange or yellow can be used for black and white printing and can be tested to make sure they do not fog paper.

Colour printing must be carried out in total darkness.

a developing tank

Film processing can be carried out with the main lights on once the film has been loaded into a development tank.


Darkrooms must have adequate ventilation to prevent build up of chemical fumes which can cause respiratory problems for some people.

All chemistry, whether concentrated or diluted ready for use, must be stored in clean, properly sealed, clearly labelled bottles.

Avoid skin contact with chemistry as this can cause dermatitis. Use rubber gloves when handling concentrated chemistry, and tongs when printing. If chemical splashes onto skin, wash immediately with water, if it gets in your eyes, wash with water and call a doctor.

Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the darkroom as this can be dangerous.

If you swallow any darkroom chemistry drink lots of water or milk and call a doctor.

Water and electricity don’t mix well. Keep switches and sockets away from taps and sinks, and have pull cords for lights. Make sure pipes can’t leak onto electrical cords or equipment. Keep hands dry while working.

Keep all electrical items in good working order and make sure power systems are earthed where necessary. Don’t overload your circuits.


Wet and dry work areas should be kept separate to prevent chemical contamination of photographic papers which can ruin your prints.

Papers and film should be stored separately from chemical solutions to prevent contamination – a fridge is useful as photographic emulsions deteriorate if kept in a warm environment.

The flow of work in the darkroom should go in one direction: Enlarger > Dev > Stop > Fix > Wash > Dry


Dust on negatives and wet hands can spoil prints, so keep self and surfaces clean and dry at all times.

Chemical contamination can ruin film and prints, and be wasteful, so all trays and tanks should be kept spotless. Separate tongs should be used for each processing bath when printing, and don’t be tempted to use water instead of stop bath, it won’t work and it won’t save you money.


  • Clean / vacuum regularly
  • make sure all processing trays and tanks are clean before use
  • wipe up spills immediately
  • don’t use a fan heater
  • don’t smoke in the darkroom
  • dispose of used chemistry immediately after use

Equipment and accessories

a measuring cylinder

Wet area:

  • trays
  • jugs
  • measuring cylinders
  • developing tanks
  • tongs
  • processing chemistry
  • storage containers
  • print and film washers
  • thermometer and other processing accessories

Dry area:

  • enlarger
  • timer
  • masking easel
  • contact printer
  • focus finder
  • print trimmers
  • print and negative dryers
  • photographic paper
  • film
  • filters and other printing accessories.