April 13, 2017 / By tracy mikulec / In Film Photography,Film Tips and Reviews

Tips for bringing film through airport security and the effects X-rays have on film

So you love to travel and you love to shoot film? Chances are high you’re going to find yourself in an airport security line with a bag full of film at least once in your life. Maybe fifty times.

So what about those TSA X-rays? What affect can they have on your film? This is a question we hear from our customers often. Fortunately, our photographers have carted many a roll through airport security and have come home with some helpful tips to ease your mind and pave the way for your future film travels.

Airport security X-Ray your film

Film and X-Ray FAQs

What ISOs are most affected by x-rays and how much?

Most signs at TSA security check points indicate film below 800 ISO will not be affected by the x-rays and, in our experience, this appears to be pretty accurate. We’ve sent dozens of rolls through x-rays (when the option to hand-check was not available) and the machines didn’t seem to have a very noticeable effect on the film—especially our black & white rolls.

What is the most ideal way to safely get my film through security?

Don’t keep film in checked baggage!

Checked baggage often goes through equipment with higher energy X rays, but X-ray equipment used to inspect carry-on baggage uses a very low level of x-radiation that will not cause noticeable damage to most films. The high-dose X-ray scan on checked baggage can damage film immediately and corrections can’t be made at the processing lab.
See below for examples of  how X-rays effect film in checked baggage.

We always recommend getting your film hand checked if possible, especially if you’re travel will include multiple x-ray scans. Even if it is below 800 ISO. We prefer to air on the safe side when your sweet analog memories could be at risk. When you make your way to the front of the line, just politely tell a TSA agent you have photographic film and you would like to request a hand-check.

Here are a few ways to keep your film organized and accessible for an efficient TSA experience:

• Take your film out of all canisters and wrappers.

• Place it in a transparent, ziplock bag.

• Keep your film in a side pocket or other easy-access area of your carry-on for quick removal.

• Don’t keep film in any luggage or baggage that will be checked. This includes cameras that still have film in them.

• Consider shipping your exposed film to the film lab for processing… preferably to The Darkroom.

Instant Film

Always have instant film hand checked and never have it scanned through the x-ray machine. It must be hand checked. Film that’s wrapped in silver wrapping will likely be opened by the TSA agents, so you’ll save time and have it done with more care if you prepare it yourself prior. Anything instant such as Polaroid, Fuji pack film and Instax will be fogged with muddy shadows when scann by the x-ray machines.

What if I can’t get my film hand-checked?

If for some reason you don’t have time, aren’t permitted, or totally forget to request a hand-check for your film, don’t sweat it. The odds are in your favor. We’ve gathered a handful of our x-rayed film scans—most of which went through an x-ray a total of 6 times and still produced great results!

Kodak TMAX400 U.S. X-RAY 4 TIMES


Ilford SFX 200 EU X-Ray 6 times

Ilford DELTA 3200 EU X-RAY 6 times

Examples of how X-ray effects film in checked baggage.

Below illustrates the extreme effects of X-rays when scanned in checked luggage.

If you’re curious, here’s what to expect when your film is scanned in check baggage.

Source: Kodak.com

Exposure from checked baggage scanners can have an extreme effect and fog film.  Fog typically appears as soft-edged bands 1/4 to 3/8 inch (1 to 1.5 cm) wide. The orientation of the fog stripe depends on the orientation of the film in the scanner relative to the X-ray beam. The X-ray banding is often linear or wavy running lengthwise or horizontally on the film. Whether the undulating wave lengths is visible depends on the photographic content. Busy scenes will obscure or lessen X-ray effects, otherwise photo may display some signs of wavy lines or fogging.

black-and-white negative films – Patterns in dark areas
color-negative films – Neutral or brown patterns in the dark area
slide film – Neutral or brown Patterns in the light areas

800 speed film scanned with Examiner 3DX 6000 X-Ray check baggage scanner

As an example of how X-ray effect film, below is an unexposed KODAK VISION 200T negative film scanned by a checked-luggage scanner.

5 responses to “Tips for bringing film through airport security and the effects X-rays have on film”

  1. Jaygatsbysr says:

    Thanks for posting guys. This article is very accurate and consistent with my personal experience. I travel all the time and always ask for a hand check. It’s easiest to have all your film (inc. camera if it has film in it) in a separate bag so you can just hand that all to the security agent. One thing I will add is that if you are dealing with a foreign country that doesn’t speak English, don’t be afraid to be stern with the security that it can’t go through the X-ray. Throughout south east Asia one of the ways I was allowed to do this was by taking a picture for the security personnel to prove the camera is functional. Otherwise be nice and grateful that the security is treating your camera and film better than the baggage personnel sure would.

  2. Bob Nuttmann says:

    What about the x-ray cases sold to defend the film from the rays? Does anyone use them?

  3. ANDREW says:

    I aways put my film in a lead “airport xray secure xray” bag. I keep it in my carry on. It almost always prompts a hand check when they put it through the xray scanner. Too many times have I had a hassel with the security for a hand check. They even once did a hand and sent it through the xray machine anyway. That was in India, but this is the exception. Almost everywhere else they ask what’s on the lead bag and I tell them it’s film. They usually just do a quick check and let me through. Less problems this way (at least in my experience).

  4. Joann says:

    Great info and examples. I often travel with Ilford Delta 3200 and always assumed It was toast if it went through any x-ray machine. I have a small stockpile of x-rayed rolls, (from EU airport security that refused to handcheck film and when I’ve forgotten I had it in my bag going through museum security), that I’ve been afraid to shoot. I won’t let it go to waste now!

    I’ve always sent instant film through the carry on x-ray machines and have never noticed a problem. But then I purposely shoot expired instant film most of the time, so any x-ray effects would be just another imperfection I actually want the film to produce.

  5. Thanks- getting ready to travel with loads of film(negatives) , memories from 20 years ago.Do I need a clearance in advance from the security?

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