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Introducing all-new Cross-Processed Presets

VSCO Stories
August 19, 2022
With the introduction of KA3X and FR4X, we’ve added a totally new category of cross-processed presets into the VSCO Film X library, and we’re excited to show it to you.

Introduction

In today’s highly digital world, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in interest for all things analog, with vinyl and film topping the list. In opposition to the flawless reproduction of digital mediums, these older formats impart their own delightful characteristics to media, as well as a unique experience. Some formats have a subtle effect, while others are more substantial. But then there are those analog mediums that go beyond the traditional borders, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

At VSCO, we’ve been working hard to recreate as much of the magic of film as possible in the digital workflow since our launch in 2011. Though it can never be identical, we’ve gone to great lengths to get as close as physically possible.

What is Cross-Processing

In the world of color film, there are two dominant processes: negative and positive. Cross-processing (often shortened to “xpro”) typically refers to running positive film through negative chemistry. But first, what are these two processes, and why do they exist?

Negative film is the most common type, and it creates a negative image, where black is white, white is black, orange is teal, etc. This film needs to be processed with C-41 chemistry and the result is the brown-ish looking film base that most people have probably seen at some point. As light hits the film, silver-halide crystals respond, and the result is that more light activates more crystals, creating darker areas in the film. When film was printed in the darkroom, this worked out nicely since the same concept applied to the light-sensitive paper. As two negatives equal a positive, the resulting print looked realistic with the simplest process possible. In the digital age, negative film is scanned and reversed back to a positive digitally.

Positive film is more rare and expensive, and creates a positive image that looks about like what the original scene would have looked like. This film needs to be processed with E-6 film chemistry and the result is a film with a clear base (the part the image sits in with the sprocket holes). The E-6 process has a reversal step that converts the negative image to a positive image in the film. Before digital projectors, positive film was widely used for all types of color projection, from movies to board rooms.

So then, cross-processing is putting film into the wrong type of chemistry. The most common usage is using the C-41 process, made for negative film, with positive film that was meant for the E-6 process. Since the reversal step is skipped, the result is a negative image on a clear base, with all sorts of unpredictable attributes due to the “off-label” use of these elements. Running negative film through the E-6 process is also possible, but the muted tones that result are generally less popular.

Why cross-process?

Cross-processing is, quite simply, very fun. It’s putting film through the “wrong” process, achieving effects that weren’t intended by the manufacturer, breaking the rules, coloring outside the lines, being a bit rebellious. Traditionally, not all film labs have even been willing to offer cross-processing as a service since it could affect their chemistry. However, the results are well-worth the effort. Unlike the more predictable and realistic results of various film types, cross-processing is pure chaos. The look is usually unexpected, swinging between extremes and full of vivid color that would not be seen with normal film processes.

About KA3X

In 2019, we launched our model of Kodak Ektachrome E100VS as KA3. This popular film was available from 1999-2012, and it was already very warm and colorful as a positive film. However, as a cross-processed film, E100VS is among the most dramatic of all film looks. Any list of “best films to cross-process” will inevitably include this film.

A strong yellow-green cast is one of the hallmarks of cross-processing, and this film’s got it. In the 0 position on the Character slider (which simulates changes to the exposure of the film), KA3X definitely has a green tone. Blues are very deep and saturated, but also often trend towards cyan and green.
Pushing up to +3, the warm reds and oranges take over and the green cast fades. This is one of our favorite looks of the film.
Way over to +6, it’s practically starting to invert as it falls apart in interesting ways. Warm colors become almost neon, and cool colors become darker for highly dramatic surrealism.
At -3, it actually looks quite believably normal, just with high contrast and color.
All the way to -6 and it becomes more desaturated and lower contrast, but still looks remarkably great with high contrast, low color saturation, and slightly purple shadows.

About FR4X

FR4 was the first positive film model we launched back in 2017 with Fuji Provia 400X. This incredible film (with a price to match) had a short life from 2006-2013, and had some of the greatest flexibility ever seen on a positive film. This made it an excellent candidate for cross-processing, where it runs the full gamut of looks from happy pastel-surrealism to melancholy blues.

At the default 0 setting on the Character slider, the most noticeable change is the pinkened highlights, along with increased contrast and boosted warmth, for a kind of pastel-like color palette.
Pushing up to +3, warm colors begin to take over and cool tones begin to recede into darkness, creating a wonderful contrast.
All the way to +6, warm colors are nearly neon while whites are muted and blues are darkened and saturated. Pastel surrealism has never looked better.
Down to -3, warm colors recede (though the pink highlights persist), saturation decreases, and cooler tones begin to dominate.
At -6, warm tones are nearly gone and cool tones reign, even turning shadows blue. For a moody subject, it’s hard to do better than this.

Conclusion

We’ve had a great time diving into the world of cross-processing and we hope you enjoy the results just as much. If you’re in the mood for something different, definitely start with these presets, and be sure to play with the Character slider.

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