I’ve had several people ask me whether I can sell bulk rolls of film. Actually, now I think of it, everyone has specifically asked about bulk rolls of Ilford HP5+.
I can indeed get bulk rolls from Ilford, so for now I have listed them in the store as a special order, but I think I may also buy some to stock normally, so nobody has to wait to get them.
Once I added them to the store, someone wrote me asking about them and how they work. I wrote him back, and I’m going to paste the important parts of that email here, for anyone else who is not familiar with bulk loading film. Let me know if you have any questions, I hope it helps. Also if anyone is interested in me carrying supplies like bulk film loaders and empty film canisters, let me know in the comments, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you buy a bulk roll, it comes in one long roll that is enough for about 18 rolls of film, of 36 exposures each. You need a bulk loader, which is kind of a light-proof box with a handle. You put the bulk film in it, then you crank it out, into empty film canisters.
The first advantage of this is price. In the case of Ilford (the most popular bulk loading option by far I believe), you can get 18 rolls for the price of about 12. You do have to buy a bulk film loader, and these cost maybe $75 – $100 new, although if you can find one used you might pick it up for peanuts. You also need empty film canisters, but you can use these a number of times.
The second advantage is flexibility. Once you have the film in the bulk loader, you can make canisters with any amount of frames you want, up to 36 (if you go over 36, there can be big problems, although I forget offhand what they are). So if you feel like just making a roll with 12 exposures for instance, you can do that. A common reason to do that might be to quickly test a camera without having to use a whole roll of film.
One thing to note: Every roll of film wastes a certain amount of film while loading it (the stuff that you see while the camera is open basically), so if you get a bulk roll and do rolls of 18 frames instead of 36, you’ll have double the wastage.
Also by using a lot of short rolls instead of a smaller amount of long rolls, you’re going to increase your workload if you develop the film yourself.
These things might not be the biggest deal to you though, especially if you really prefer shooting shorter rolls. If you send your film out to be developed, it’s much more economical to use longer rolls, but most people who are bulk loading B&W film are probably developing their own film.
I’m going to also link 2 popular videos on bulk loading, which probably cover this more in depth than I have!