How to Bulk Load 35mm Film by Amy Elizabeth

35mm black and white film image of a lake - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Amy Elizabeth

I recently bought my very first roll of bulk 35mm film: a 100’ roll of Arista 400, which has been a go-to stock of mine lately.

With the increase in film prices and decrease in supply, I liked the idea of buying one entire roll to have on hand.

And honestly, I don’t know what took me so long to do this. As an avid DIYer, bulk rolling is totally up my alley, and once I loaded my first roll I was hooked.

But as an avid DIYer, I didn’t buy the classic corresponding gadgets (a bulk film loader and empty reloadable cartridges); I even bootstrapped those parts as well.

So join me as I walk you through my experience of bulk loading, the pros and cons I have found, and how I did it all with items I have on hand.

Find 100 foot rolls of film on Amazon.

35mm black and white film image of a lake - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film

What is Bulk Film?

Bulk film can be found in 35mm format at many major film suppliers, and it is available in many of the major black and white stocks.

Bulk film is essentially a giant strip of film (typically 100’ or 400’ long) and comes all rolled up and placed in a light-proof bag in a box or a canister. It’s like the IKEA of film. You’re given the basics, have to put it together, but you save money by doing so.

The trick is getting the film off of the giant reel and into cartridges so it can be loaded into your camera.

And obviously this has to be done in the dark so the film doesn’t get exposed to light.

100' roll of film - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
A bulk film roll will either come in a box or a canister.
Medium format black and white film image of a portrait - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film

What Supplies Do You Need for Bulk Film?

Optional Supplies

You can buy a bulk film loader for around $50, which makes it possible to load the film onto the cartridges in the daylight.

But I wasn’t even sure if I would like bulk rolling, so I decided to have my hand at it without the loader. The last thing I need is more film gear I don’t use but don’t have the energy to sell off.

I also didn’t want to buy a bundle of reloadable film cartridges when I knew I could just create my own empty cartridges when developing film.

Medium format black and white film image of a lake - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
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So What Supplies Do I Use?

  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • Darkroom changing bag
  • Empty film cartridge with a couple inches of film still attached
  • Long leader (optional)

The trickiest of these items to get is the almost-empty film cartridge. If you are a home developer, this is easy. If you aren’t, I would recommend buying re-loadable cartridges, but keep in mind you will want a way to get these back from your lab.

If you develop at home, you can easily obtain an almost-empty cartridge by not cracking the cartridge open to retrieve your exposed roll of film.

Either leave the leader out, or retrieve the leader if your camera automatically winds it in. Load your film onto the reel, and when you get to the end of the roll, cut the film free but still leave about 1.5” of film still attached to the cartridge.

You might end up losing part of your last frame, so either be okay with cutting it off, or shoot a blank for the last frame.

You now have all your supplies for bulk loading!

Supplies - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Bulk film loading supplies

How to Bulk Load Your Film

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that loading your film needs to happen in complete darkness.

Even be careful if you open up the bulk roll in daylight, because all that guards your film from total ruin is an open-ended black bag. But also, there’s no need to open up the canister in daylight, so consider just not.

Make sure your hands are clean and dry if you’re not using gloves. You will get fingerprints on the end of your film, which will be exacerbated by any dirt or lotion you might have on.

Put your film canister, empty cartridge, scissors, and tape in your changing bag.

Open up the canister and take out the roll of film, but try to touch it only along the edges to avoid coming into contact with the faces of the film strip.

The outside of the roll of film is the shiny side, so keep that in mind when you line up the film with the empty cartridge.

When I line up the film, I will even tuck it into the cartridge a bit to ensure the film is straight. If it’s askew, it won’t successfully wind into the cartridge.

How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Slide the strip into your empty cartridge behind the bit of film that’s already there, first wedging a corner into the back. *This is done in your changing bag.
How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
After I wedge in the corner, I wedge in the other side and line up the strips. *This is done in your changing bag.

I then tape the little strip at the end of the empty cartridge to the bulk film. I grab my scissors, stick them into the head of the cartridge and start winding and counting my full turns.

How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Tape the strips together. *This is done in your changing bag.
How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Put the scissors into the end of the film cartridge and turn counterclockwise to wind the film into the cartridge *This is done in your changing bag.

This is a common chart for the number of turns and approximate resulting exposures, BUT I typically get more than the chart reads.

TurnsExposures
3036
2424
1918
1310

When the film is wound into the cartridge, instead of cutting the end to form a leader, I tape on a leader from an already developed roll of film.

This leader gets exposed to light anyway, so why waste perfectly good film just to load the camera when you can tape on a spare piece? (Now you see just how thrifty I actually am 😂)

But this hack has gotten me 10 exposures with 10 turns, and 15 exposures with 13 turns, so I will unabashedly share my thrifty trick with you.

Note: A 100’ roll of film will give you about 18 rolls of 36-exposure film. Keep in mind if you’re loading smaller rolls, you are “wasting” more of the potential frames on the front and back end of the strip.

How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Tape on a long leader.

Once you have your film loaded, cut the film free from the bulk roll by cutting rather close to the opening of the cartridge. Just make sure you leave enough film on so the cartridge can’t suck up the tail end, leaving you stuck to retrieve it.

Place the bulk roll back into its lightproof bag and then back into the canister.

At this point, you can open up your changing bag, take out the spooled cartridge and either cut a leader into the film or tape a leader on to save a few frames.

It is now ready to be loaded into your camera!

How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
The leader strip is long enough to span the length of the camera.

What Are the Pros of Bulk Loading Film?

I have fallen in love with bulk loading because it truly offers many advantages.

It’s more cost-effective to buy a bulk roll than a bunch of individual rolls. Since you’re reusing old cartridges, it also creates less waste.

But maybe my favorite advantage is that you can load any size roll you want. This is great for projects where I just want to shoot a few frames and develop the roll to have the images ready ASAP.

It’s also great for half-frame cameras, where 36 exposures turns into 72 and feels like it takes an ETERNITY to shoot through.

35mm black and white film image of a lake - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Medium format black and white film image of a portrait - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film

So Then, What Are the Cons?

The most obvious one is that it’s fussy. It’s not as easy as just grabbing a roll from your stash and putting it in your camera.

If you’re not careful (I’m pointing at myself here), some frames could end up with smudges and fingerprints, particularly at the end that’s taped to the cartridge.

Lastly, if you don’t develop at home, it’s not necessarily more economical, because you have to spend the same amount for your lab to develop and scan one roll of 10 exposures as you would one roll of 36 exposures.

And you also have to consider that you will want your cartridges back to use again, so if your lab isn’t local, you’ll want to pay for shipping to have them returned.

Medium format black and white film image of a portrait - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
35mm black and white film image of a lake - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film

Definitely consider these pros and cons before buying your first roll of bulk film.

For myself, I for sure became a fast fan of it. Maybe I’ll even buy the bulk film loader and the reusable cartridges.

But then again, in the full spirit of DIY, I’ll probably stick with my circuitous method.

Medium format black and white film image of a portrait - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film
Medium format black and white film image of stairs - How to Bulk Roll Film on Shoot It With Film

Thank you so much, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including FAQs for developing your own film and Freelensing: How to Do It & Everything You Need to Know!

To see more of Amy’s work, be sure to visit her on her website and Instagram!

Leave your questions about bulk rolling film below in the comments, and you can pick up some 100′ rolls of film for yourself on Amazon.

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Amy Elizabeth

Amy Elizabeth is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How To Develop Black and White Film at Home and Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR.

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Blog Comments

I like your idea of re-using and taping to an old cassette. We used to buy re-fillable cassettes in the past. Not sure if they still make them.

Hi William! They do sell them! I’m sure that would be easier, and I might invest in some now that I know I really enjoy bulk loading!

It’s all well and good, but when I look up film prices at Freestyle and do the arithmetic, the cost saving is pretty small. On Tri-X, maybe a dollar a roll, or 10%.

You’re correct, bulk loading isn’t much of a starter with Kodak film, and has not been for several years, at least, because their 100 foot roll prices save you so little. For other films, however the cost savings can be as much as 50% or so over retail (this might vary of course depending on location). It’s important to ascertain what the savings may be with the types of film you prefer to shoot the most of.

Hi Steve!
Thanks for chiming in! Using BH prices, for Arista 400, it saves about 40% and for TriX 400 it saves about 36%. But honestly, even a 10% savings sounds good to me at this point with the price of film and how much I shoot. BUT it totally depends on what you’re willing to trade off. If the time and fuss of bulk loading is too much, then it’s not worth it for you. It’s why I hesitate to make sweeping statements on the value of bulk loading, and I included caveats in the article. Know your own boundaries; that’s what’s most important! Cheers!

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