3 Easy Ways to Remove 35mm Film From a Canister (One Without A Bottle Opener)

When developing 35mm film yourself at home, one of the first steps is to remove your film from the film canister in complete darkness or by using a film changing bag. This article will explain 3 different ways to remove film from a canister – including one without any tools at all.

There are 3 ways to remove 35mm film from a film canister in order to load your film into your developing tank for processing: using a bottle opener, using a film canister opener, or using your bare hands.

Keep in mind all of these steps should be performed in complete darkness, otherwise, your film will be exposed to light before it has been developed and it will be ruined. If you don’t have access to a room that is completely dark, I recommend using this light-tight film changing bag.

Unused 35mm film canisters
Unused 35mm film canisters | Photo By Chris BolandOpens in a new tab.

Method 1: Using A Bottle Opener

Using a bottle opener is an easy way to get the 35mm film from a canister, since most people have one laying around and they are fairly cheap. Like all of these methods on the list, these steps need to happen in complete darkness to keep from ruining the film so I recommend a rounded bottle opener like this one Amazon.com, that isn’t pointy or sharp one end so you don’t cut yourself during the process.

Follow these steps to open the 35mm film canister smoothly with a regular bottle opener: 

  1. Choose a bottle opener that has a long handle which will give you more leverage when opening the canister and reduce the risk of damaging your film.
  2. Hold the canister filmly in one hand and lace the opener firmly against the flat side of the film canister (without the knob) making sure the edge of the bottle opener is underneath the lid of the canister.
  3. Pull up on the bottle opener until the lid pops off. You may have to do this several times. Be gentle while opening since too much force could damage your film or possibly cut yourself with the sharp edges of the film canister or bottle opener. 
  4. Remove the film so you can begin loading it onto your film reel for the film developing tank

Method 2: Using A Film Canister Opener

Another method of opening a film canister, is using a film cartridge opener tool is an easy way to open film canisters since tool is make specifically for this job. I recommend this film canister opener tool on Amazon.com which has great reviews.

Follow these steps to open the 35mm film canister smoothly with a film canister opener tool: 

  1. Hold the film canister in one hand and find the ridges of the lid of the film canister on either the flat side (without the knob) or the side of the canister with the knob since the tool works on both sides.
  2. Set the film canister opener so the two back “teeth” are underneath the lid and the one front “tooth” is one top of the lid.
  3. Get a firm grip on the film canister with one hand and with the tool in the other hand, pull up on the opener until the lid of the film canister pops off.

Method 3: Using Your Hands

What if you don’t have a film canister opener or bottle opener handy? Well, you can use your hands. You may think that using your fingers to retrieve the film from a canister without using a bottle opener or film canister opener tool requires some real strength but in reality is easy and straightforward.

Follow these steps to open the 35mm film canister smoothly with your hands: 

  1. Locate the slot on the edge of the canister that the film comes out and side your fingernails inside the slot.
  2. Then, hold the canister securely in one hand with the knob pointing to the right and gently begin to pull up to seperate the sides of the canister. This should cause it to rip open, allowing you access to the film inside.
  3. Once separated, it should be opened enough to get the film leader out of the canister and onto a film reel so you can process the film in a developing tank.

Keep in mind to avoid touching the film during this process as much as you can with your hands so you don’t get fingerprints on your film.

More Questions

Can you Open a Film Canister in Broad Daylight?

While it is possible to open a film canister in broad daylight doing so will expose the film in the canister to light before it has been processed and it will be ruined. Only open film canisters in complete darkness using a completely dark room or a film changing bag to avoid ruining the film.

Related Article: Do You Need a Darkroom to Develop Film?

How to Open a 35mm Film Canister With a Bottle Opener?

Opening a 35mm film canister with a bottle opener is an easy and effective way to get your film out of the canister without damaging it. Place the bottle opener on the flat side of the canister and twist it clockwise until it opens up. Of course, this should be done in complete darkness or inside of a light-tight film changing bag to keep from ruining your film.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to getting film from a canister for developing your film at home, you have a few options. You can use two different tools: a bottle opener or a film canister opener tool. Alternatively, if you don’t have one of these two items laying around, you could always try using just your hands.

Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to remember to be slow and careful to avoid injury since it will be performed in a dark space and film canisters and made of metal. By following these steps carefully, you should be able to successfully retrieve your photos without damaging them in any way.


My name is Lee Jones, MFA and I'm the professor behind The Photography Professor. My goal is to answer your questions about film-based photography in a format that is easy to read and understand.

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