Tips for bringing film through airport security and the TSA X-rays and the new CT scanners

So you love to travel and you love to shoot film? If so, you’ll often find yourself in an airport security line with a bag full of film. So what about those TSA X-rays and the new TSA CT Scanners? What effect can they have on your film?

This is a question we hear from our customers often. We have everything you need to know on the effects of the new CT Scanners, the traditional X-Ray scanners along with helpful tips to ease your mind on your next trip or when planning future film travels.

Airport security X-Ray your film

FAQs – Your Film and CT Scans/X-Rays

TSA CT Scanners

While not at many airports yet, Kodak Alaris warns that the new TSA CT scanners WILL damage unprocessed film. Currently being rolled out in the US and other countries, just one scan from the CT Scanner could destroy your unprocessed film.

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 prior to your return trip… It’s easy if you take some prepaid mailers from The Darkroom.
TSA CT Scanner
This is what TSA’s new CT scanners look like.

TSA plans to have up to 145 units in place at airports around the nation by the start of 2020, along with 16 units at federal testing facilities.

TSA X-Ray Scanners

Most signs at TSA security checkpoints 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.

Processed film is not affected by x-rays.

TSA X-Ray Scanner

Flying with Film: Results from 3x X-Ray

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 affect 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 err 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.

If you do want to check film in your luggage, you can buy specialized film bags for X-ray scanners

Xray film Filmguard Bag

Filmguard Bag specializes in protecting film in X-ray scanners by lining the vinyl bag with lead. Features include the ability to protect against fogging/streaking of unprocessed film with different sizes that can hold thirty-five rolls of 35mm film, or three 50-sheet boxes of 4×5″ film, or a small camera with a few rolls.

Note: We haven’t tried these bags and don’t know how well they work.

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 scanned by the x-ray machines.

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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.


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 wavelengths is visible depends on the photographic content. Busy scenes will obscure or lessen X-ray effects, otherwise, the 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.

66 replies on “Tips for bringing film through airport security and the TSA X-rays and the new CT scanners”

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.

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).

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.

[…] Further reading […]

Be warned. Lisbon airport has some very different ideas then the airports I’ve taken film through in Kuwait, Pakistan, India, Dubai, Amman, Rome, Istanbul, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Luang Phrabang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, New York City, Vancouver, etc… (the list goes on and on).

No friends of photographers, I can’t feel ashamed saying the airport security guards here and their managers are real bastards. Despite transferring through this airport in 2018 and being given a hand inspection upon request, on this transfer I was forced to X-ray my film in order to pass – and that was just transferring, not even going through immigration. No matter how long I tried – even speaking with the head of airport security – the message was the same: if it goes past security it goes through the X-ray and that is final. I asked what they do with professional photographers – and they insisted that all professionals did their research properly and knew that they needed special written permission from ANAC for their film. Of course ANAC was completely closed on weekends and didn’t take last minute quick turnaround submissions anyway. I have never had to apply to a civil aviation authority for permits to get film hand inspected, and even now I don’t really see much in the way of letting people know that’s what they have to do. So for those of you going to or from Lisbon, or even transferring through – be warned. If I had instant film it would be totally toast. Not eager to see how my infrared and high iso color rolls are going to look 🙁

Hey Ryan how was it at the end ?
Same just happened to me in Lisbon Airport while transferring …..
I only have 400 ISO speed film so should be ok but did you have any issue ?

Just had a similar experience transferring through Lisbon. Without express written permission, everything goes through the X-ray. Luckily I had only low iso colour sheet film. I will try to reply here with the results when it gets processed

same here, in lisbon portra 400 was heavily damaged due to a hand check being denied. be aware!
is there really no official procedure in place? i do this professionally and it it feels like playing there lottery every time.

i was in Oslo airport and they refused to hand check my camera with a roll of portra 400 inside. just got my roll developed and it’s completely toasted… luckily the second roll i had that was unused at the time turned out slightly better (underexposed for most photos but i’m not sure if it’s related or not)… super upset about my films but it is what it is and hopefully i’ll learn my lesson next time

I’ve emailed several security departments at ANAC and Lisbon airport over the past 2 weeks for an upcoming trip and received no response as of yet (19 days and counting).

The Customer Service at Lisbon Airport has responded but repeatedly directs me to a department that wont.

Plus one from Lisbon (june 2022). The lady checking boarding passes at security check was actually quite polite and said it would be ok to hand check them, but when I got to the tray line no amount of talking would convince the officers to hand check my film. Should’ve had aurhorizarion from airport authorities. And they had sniffers right beside the scanner!

Most airports are less willing to mess with hand inspections in this era of digital photography. For many years, film had virtually disappeared from the security equation. I still find airports in the USA that absolutely refuse to just hand inspect film. Indeed, when they make you take electronic stuff out of your bag for hand inspection, they end up putting each item removed from bag back on the belt. I had one instance in Houston where they removdd 6 usb cables, 5 batteries, a power brick and some other odds and ends from the bag by hand. Then they put each one through individually on the belt. Something similar happened to me in Frankfurt and Beijing. So, these are every day items and were treated this way. Imagine something strange like film being encountered. Hopefully, with the increase in both film use and CT scanner use the hand inspection will come back into play.

I have read the reviews so in total sense it would be better and safer to don’t have any x-rays on unexposed film and exposed film ?

I had mixed experiences – one airport in Boston was able to hand check. At the airport in Denver Colorado there was so sign that I could see at least regarding checking 35mm film. They also kept directing you like herding sheep so you went where they yelled for you to go. I got up to the check point to start putting my sneakers luggage etc in the bins and asked about scanning my film already in a clear bag and out and the woman rudely said “you’re in the wrong line, you have to go to that one” and pointed to a few lines over. She was not going to budge and I had waiting in the security check line for 25-30 minutes I couldn’t afford to start over to go to a new line. Was very disappointed and now makes me paranoid not all airports give a rats bum. Was going to look into the lead bag. They will take it out but at least it’s protected.

Sorry for any spelling errors.
Was waiting in one large line and was directed to individual security check lines and *saw no sign regarding hand checking film* prior to getting in a smaller line

Was super anxious to travel with film but appreciated this article and happy to report my experience traveling with 35mm film was a success. Went to 4 airports in the US and didn’t see any signs saying film can go through but the TSA agents were happy to hand check every time, (every time just handed to them while I was putting things in bins) and got it back to me quickly. I made sure to use all the film so didn’t have to have them hand check the camera. I also kept it in the box I purchased it in so they recognized it as film just by me holding up.

I was just refused a hand check in Qatar Hamad International. Fingers crossed all the film i shot of our epic trip are alright. When I was a kid, my dad traveled with a lead-lined bag. Not sure how that’s any different if the security personnel can’t see inside. They’ll want to take the film out and zap it regardless.

[…] However, new airport scanners like the TSA CT (Computed Tomography) scanners (like the one below) will damage any unprocessed film on the first scan. To keep your film from being ruined, put all of your unprocessed and/or new film in a clear, plastic bag and request a hand-check during the security line. Also, keep in mind only new and unprocessed film will be affected, including instant film. […]

Traveling from JFK airport to London, a border guard noticed I had a transparent bag of exposed films and asked me if I like him to hand-check. I was quite surprised as I had anticipated some difficulties. He was incredibly polite and helpful. So, my takeaway from that was – make airport staff’s job easier, and be friendly and respectful.

Planning on travelling to Spain (Barcelona), Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence), and the South of France (Nice) this summer. Would anyone know of any problems regarding hand-checking films in any of these places?
Really anxious about being denied hand-checks and having to put my film through X-rays scanners 😣

I just went through security at the Nice airport, and they would not hand check my film, even after explaining multiple times that it should not go through the machine. They instead pointed at a pictogram of a digital camera and insisted that it meant that my film would be ok. I hope you get more understanding people.

I flew through France to Florence. I had hand checks at all security checkpoints from USA to abroad. It was a real hassle at times. They would leave my Ziploc bag full of film, unattended, and I would be waiting a long time until someone got to it. Once they did hand check, they would open up each canister and brush each roll of film. The issue is getting through in a timely manner with lay overs of 2.5 hrs or less. This summer 2023 I am going to Malta and I am not i sure if I want the hassle. I shot film in 2001 in Malta traveling from the USA I can’t remember how it was handled, but I have the pics and they are all ok.

hi there
does removing the foil around a roll of medium format of unexposed film lead to any light leak?
I’m trying to make it easy on the staff by removing the foil before hand but don’t want to damage my film


Hi all,
I will be travelling from Australia next month through Adelaide, Melbourne, Singapore, London Heathrow, London, Stansted & Salzburg.
Can anyone tell me any of these airports are going to give me a hard time having my film hand checked?
I usually develop my own film at home, but I am wondering if I should not travel with unprocessed film, but buy film in my holiday destination & pay a lab to develop before travelling through each airport?

I’ll be transferring at Abu Dhabi Airport, United Arab Emirates in August. Has any had any problems with hand checks there?

I lost most of a bulk roll of HP5+ at the Oakland Airport this morning. Had successful hand checks of my bulk loader in the past, but the young TSA agent this morning insisted on opening up the loader “because there could be bullets inside.” He did not seem to grasp that this would wreck the film and insisted he just needed to check inside, as if I could just use it after he exposed 80 feet of film. So I opened the loader, took out the reel, and asked him to chuck it in the bin. He seemed confused that I did not want it anymore.
I think the advice in this article is good. He did not have a problem with the individual 35mm cassette I had. Not sure what he would do with a bag of home-spooled 35mm cassettes, but now I know to leave the bulk loader at home!

Traveling from Edinburgh airport they absolutely refused to hand check my film and said they only hand check over 800iso. Really disappointing experience. I had a lead bag, but still worry that’s not enough to get perfect film back. I had portra 400 120

I just went through an X Ray Scanner at Mexico City airport. The security personal were ambiguous about the hand check as I got closer to the X Ray machine, and they let me no other option than get my camera through the X Rays 🙁 I have loaded a Kodak Pro Image 100 and hopefully my photos survive 🙏. Thanks a lot for the information and examples!

What about instant film? For instance I’m thinking of bringing my fuijifilm mini instant. I won’t be bring film with me as I’ll buy it in the area I’m traveling to but I’m concerned about the photos I take after. Will those printed pictures be affected by going through the scanner??

I am bringing home my mom’s childhood home movie film, some more than 60 years old. It is already developed so it should be fine, do you agree?

I will be bringing a panoramic X-Ray through Turkish Airport, will I have problem. Is there a new procedure in the UK where need a request from the dentist in Turkey, a form to be filled in etc. Thank you

This is a must-read for anyone traveling with film! The care you’ve taken to explain the nuances of different scanners is appreciated. Keeping film organized in transparent bags and requesting hand-checks is now on my travel checklist.

The film will be spoiled, those who say otherwise simply haven’t checked it. For example, the base of a sheet that has been exposed adds approximately 0.2 to the density. I check all my sheets using a densitometer. And you need to understand that while traveling, the film passes through the scanner more than just once. This is very unpleasant to get the base ≈0.35 instead of ≈0.15. If you are an amateur and shoot 35mm, scan it and photoshop it, then you won’t notice this.

I lost 3 films a month ago, but I don’t know if it was because of the scanning devices at the airport or not, because the films were subjected to security scanning 5 times (2 in Romania – 2 in Athens – 1 in Riyadh)
After returning home and developing the films, only 9 of the 105 images appeared, and the rest of the images did not appear
Although I am sure that the development steps were perfect, I do not know 🙁

I don’t know, I think CT scanners end traveling with film for good. TSA agents are cop academy washouts pretending to be drill instructors, who’s gonna risk their work trusting an agency shown to be unable to stop drugs or weapons? Putting film through X-ray machines is just about all they CAN do lmao

Hello everybody.

I am running to some damage on my Portra 400 4×5 sheet film.
I keep them frozen, they have been through X-Rays.
A color shift, and extra exposure happens on the sides of the sheet, haven’t noticed any problems in the non exposed part of the film.
Here are some examples.

Does any one of you have an idea of where this problem could come from?

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