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Radiographic film has two parts: the base and the emulsion. In most
x-ray film, the emulsion is coated on both sides; therefore, it is called
double emulsion film. Between the emulsion and the base is a thin
coating of material called the adhesive layer, which ensures uniform
adhesion of the emulsion to the base.

What is the purpose of the adhesive layer?

The adhesive layer allows the emulsion and the base to
maintain proper contact and integrity during use and
The emulsion is enclosed by a protective covering of gelatin called the
The overcoat protects the emulsion from scratches, pressure,
and contamination during handling, processing, and storage.
The base is the foundation of radiographic film. Its primary
purpose is to provide a rigid structure onto which the emulsion
can be coated. The base is flexible and fracture resistant to
allow easy handling but is rigid enough to be snapped into a
Film base requirements
The base of radiographic film is semirigid, lucent, and made of
polyester. The base of radiographic film maintains its size and shape
during use and processing so that it does not contribute to image
distortion. This property of the base is known as dimensional
stability. The base is of uniform lucency and is nearly transparent to
During manufacturing, dye is added to the base of most radiographic
film to slightly tint the film blue. Compared with untinted film, this
coloring reduces eyestrain and fatigue, enhancing radiologists
diagnostic efficiency and accuracy.

Film base evolution

The original radiographic film base was a glass plate. During World War
I, high-quality glass became largely unavailable while medical
applications of x-rays, particularly by the military, were increasing
A substitute material, cellulose nitrate, soon became the standard
base. Cellulose nitrate, however, had one serious deficiency: It was
By the mid-1920s, film with a safety base, cellulose triacetate, was
introduced. Cellulose triacetate has properties similar to those of
cellulose nitrate but is not as flammable.
In the early 1960s, a polyester base was introduced. Polyester has
taken the place of cellulose triacetate as the film base of choice.
Polyester is more resistant to warping from age and is stronger than
cellulose triacetate, permitting easier transport through automatic
processors. Its dimensional stability is superior.
The emulsion is the heart of the radiographic film. It is the
material with which X-rays or light photons from radiographic
intensifying screens interact.
The emulsion consists of a homogeneous mixture of gelatin and silver
halide crystals.
It is clear, so it transmits light, and it is sufficiently porous for
processing chemicals to penetrate to the crystals of silver halide. Its
principal function is to provide mechanical support for silver
halide crystals by holding them uniformly dispersed in place.
The silver halide crystal is the active ingredient of the radiographic
emulsion. In the typical emulsion, 98% of the silver halide is silver
bromide; the remainder is usually silver iodide.
Silver Halide Crystal
The silver, bromine, and iodine atoms are fixed in the crystal lattice in
ion form. Silver is a positive ion, and bromide and iodide are negative
ions. When a silver halide crystal is formed, each silver atom releases
an outer-shell electron, which becomes attached to a halide atom
(either bromine or iodine). The silver atom is missing an electron and
an electron and therefore is a positively charged ion, identified as Ag +.
The bromine and iodine atoms each have one extra electron and
therefore are negatively charged ions, identified as bromide and iodide
(Br and I).

The halide ions, bromide and iodide, are generally found in greatest
concentration along the surface of the crystal. Therefore, the crystal
takes on a negative surface charge, which is matched by the positive
charge of the interstitial silver ions, the silver ions inside the crystal.
The shape and lattice structure of silver halide crystals are not perfect,
and some of the imperfections result in the imaging property of the
crystals. The type of imperfection thought to be responsible is a
chemical contaminant, usually silver sulfide, which is introduced by
chemical sensitization into the crystal lattice, usually at or near the
This contaminant has been given the name sensitivity center. During
exposure, photoelectrons and silver ions are attracted to these
sensitivity centers, where they combine to form a latent image
center of metallic silver.

Silver Halide Crystal Formation

The crystals are made by dissolving metallic silver (Ag) in nitric acid
(HNO3) to form silver nitrate (AgNO 3). Light-sensitive silver bromide
(AgBr) crystals are formed by mixing silver nitrate with potassium
bromide (KBr) in the following reaction:
AgNO3 + KBr AgBr + KNO3
The arrow indicates that the silver bromide is precipitated while the
potassium nitrate, which is soluble, is washed away.
Formation of the latent image (Gurney Mott theory)
The image-forming x-rays exiting the patient and incident on the
radiographic intensifying screen-film deposit visible light energy in the
emulsion primarily by interaction with atoms of the silver halide
crystal. Immediately after exposure, no image can be observed on the
film. An invisible image is present, and is called a latent image. With
proper chemical processing, the latent image becomes a visible

When light photons from the radiographic intensifying screen interact

with film, it is the interaction with the silver and halide atoms (Ag, Br, I)
that forms the latent image. This interaction releases electrons in the
crystal. These electrons are released with sufficient energy to travel a
large distance within the crystal.
While crossing the crystal, the electrons may have sufficient energy to
dislodge additional electrons from the crystal lattice. Secondary
electrons liberated by the absorption event migrate to the sensitivity
center and are trapped. After a sensitivity center captures an electron
and becomes more negatively charged, the center is attractive to
mobile interstitial silver ions. The interstitial silver ion combines with
the electrons trapped at the sensitivity center to form metallic silver

Film processing steps

The latent image is invisible because only a few silver ions have been
changed to metallic silver and deposited at the sensitivity center.
Processing the film magnifies this action many times until all of the
silver ions in an exposed crystal are converted to atomic silver, thus
converting the latent image into a visible radiographic image.
Radiographic film processing basically involves the following steps:
1. Development
The developing stage is very short and highly critical.
The principal action of the developer is to change the silver
ions of exposed crystals into metallic silver. The developer
provides electrons to the sensitivity center of the crystal to change the
silver ions to silver.
When an electron is given up by a chemical, in this case the
developer, to neutralize a positive ion, the process is called
reduction. The silver ion is said to be reduced to metallic silver, and
the chemical responsible for this is called a reducing agent.
Components of the Developer and Their Functions
The principal component of the developer is hydroquinone.
Secondary constituents are Phenidone and Metol. Usually,
hydroquinone and Phenidone are combined for rapid processing. As
reducing agents, each of these molecules has an abundance of
electrons that can be easily released to reduce silver ions.
An unexposed silver halide crystal has a negative electrostatic charge
distributed over its entire surface. An exposed silver halide crystal, on
the other hand, has a negative electrostatic charge distributed over its
surface except at the sensitivity center. The similar electrostatic
charges on the developing agent and the silver halide crystal make it

difficult for the developing agent to penetrate the crystal surface

except in the region of the sensitivity center in an exposed crystal.
The developer contains alkali compounds, such as sodium carbonate
and sodium hydroxide. These buffering agents enhance the
action of the developing agent by controlling the concentration
of hydrogen ions: the pH.
A restrainer, usually potassium bromide is also added to the developer
to restrict the reducing action to those crystals with sensitivity speck
It does this by permitting overactive reducers to attack it, instead of
unexposed sliver halides
Without the restrainer, even those crystals that have not been
exposed are reduced to metallic silver. This results in an
increased fog that is called development fog.
A preservative sodium sulfite is used as a preservative agent to
help decrease the oxidation of the reducing agents when they
are combined with air.
Glutaraldehyde is the most common developer solution hardener. It
controls the swelling of the gelatin to prevent scratches and abrasions
to the emulsion during processing. It also maintains uniform film
thickness to assist in transport through an automatic processor

The chemicals are suspended in water as a solvent. The water used

for mixing chemistry should be filtered to remove impurities
2. Fixing
When development is complete, the film must be treated so that the
image will not fade. This stage of processing is fixing. The image is
said to be fixed on the film, and this produces film of archival quality
Archival quality refers to the permanence of the radiograph:
The image does not deteriorate with age but remains in its
original state.
When the film is removed from the developer, some developer is
trapped in the emulsion and continues its reducing action. If developing
is not stopped, development fog results.

Components of the Fixer and Their Functions

Activator (stop bath)
The step in manual processing that follows development is called stop
bath, and its function is just that to neutralize the residual developer
in the emulsion and stop its action. The chemical used in the stop bath

is acetic acid. This acetic acid, however, is called an activator. An

activator neutralizes the pH of the emulsion and stops
developer action.

Clearing agent
The terms clearing agent, hypo, and thiosulfate often are used
interchangeably in reference to the fixing agent. Fixing agents
remove unexposed and undeveloped silver halide crystals from
the emulsion. Sodium thiosulfate is the agent classically known as
hypo, but ammonium thiosulfate is the fixing agent that is used in most
fixer chemistries.
The fixer also contains a chemical called a hardener. As the developed
and unreduced silver bromide is removed from the emulsion during
fixation, the emulsion shrinks. The hardener accelerates this
shrinking process and causes the emulsion to become more
rigid or hardened. The chemicals commonly used as hardeners are
potassium alum, aluminum chloride, and chromium alum.
Normally, only one is used in a given formulation.
The fixer also contains a preservative that is of the same composition
and that serves the same purpose as the preservative in the developer.
The preservative is sodium sulfite, and it is needed to maintain the
chemical balance because of the carryover of developer and fixer from
one tank to another.
Agent solvent
Finally, the fixer contains water as the solvent. Other chemicals might
be applicable as a solvent, but they are thicker and are more likely to
gum up the transport mechanism of the automatic processor.
3. Washing
The next stage in processing is to wash away any residual chemicals
remaining in the emulsion, particularly hypo that clings to the surface
of the film. Water is used as the wash agent
In automatic processing, the temperature of the wash water
should be maintained at approximately 3C (5F) below the
developer temperature.
In this way, the wash bath also serves to stabilize developer
temperature. Inadequate washing leads to excessive hypo retention
and the production of an image that will fade, turn brown with time,
and be of generally poor archival quality.
4. Drying
Finally, the film is dried to remove the water used to wash it and to
make the film acceptable for handling and viewing.

Components of the developer

summarized in the table 1 below


their functions are

Components of the fixer and their functions are summarized

in the table 2 below