Home Darkroom Design for Small Spaces




About: Maker at heart, and cyclist. Typewriter collector and black and white film photography enthusiast.
360 view of my converted closet - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


I would like to start off by saying that this darkroom design will not be applicable to everybody. Your closet might be bigger, smaller, or you might be utilizing a bathroom space. Your girlfriend might threaten to break up with you if you even hint at taking over her precious closet. Mine was a dear and she cooperatively surrendered the biggest closet in the apartment to me.

When I started on this project, my greatest resource has been The New Darkroom Handbook. It is filled with information about everything you will need to build a darkroom from the ground up. The only problem was that I had big dreams. My closet is only 3.5 feet by 7 feet, but I wanted to print as large as 16" x 20". I searched far and wide for space saving ideas, and the recurring theme seems to be a tray ladder, like this.

I have never used tray ladders personally, but the general consensus on the internet is that they are great for RC and small fiber prints. But once you go big the print tends to flop around. The thought of maneuvering large prints into the ladder for hours on end in my small claustrophobic space doesn't seem so ideal.

In the end, I designed a set of drawers stacked on top of each other, each accommodating trays up to 16" x 20". They can be pulled out individually to drop prints into the tray, and hidden away when I don’t need them.

I built my cabinets by CADing it up in Solidworks, then cutting the parts on a Shopbot CNC. All the parts are then put together with the help of a few screws. I uploaded my Solidworks file along with an STL file at the end of this instructable. Please feel free to play around with them. At the very least, I hope this guide can be an inspiration to those of you who are thinking about building a darkroom.

Okay, let’s get started building your darkroom. I know you’re excited! :)

Step 1: Checklist

Let's start off with the essentials. Italicized items are nice, but not necessary.

First, we need to prep the room. I made the mistake early on to do a 'test run' without ventilation installed. Within five minutes, the closet was a death zone. Please make ventilation your number one priority for your health and also for the enjoyment of using your darkroom.


  1. Ventilation
  2. Darkness
  3. Safelight
  4. Plumbing

I will be covering the first three in the following steps. If you are interested to install plumbing for your darkroom, look no further than The New Darkroom Handbook.

Next, we need to gather equipment for the dry and wet sides of the darkroom. Most of these equipment can be had for super cheap on Craigslist, or if you are the patient type and are willing to drive far enough you can even get them for free!


  1. Enlarger
  2. Negative Carrier(s)
  3. Lens(es)
  4. Easel
  5. Grain Focuser
  6. Timer
  7. Masking Tape
  8. Air Blower

I use the masking tape to keep test strips stationary when they're being exposed. The air blower is there to get rid of dust before loading negatives into the enlarger.


  1. Trays
  2. Tongs (or gloves)
  3. Timer

I personally prefer tongs because I don't like leaving gloves on all the time in the darkroom, or taking them on and off. However, gloves are really useful when you're pouring chemicals and cleaning them up.

I have a water holding tray for prints that are fixed, and transfer them to the kitchen to wash after a printing session. For RC prints I hang them to dry in the living room. For fiber I have screens from Home Depot that I place prints on to dry overnight.

Step 2: Ventilation

Ok, let's start with ventilation. Because without clean fresh air, darkrooming is no fun. This step is to build a duct with fan to suck all that poisonous air out of your darkroom. For incoming air I have another flexible duct shaped like a "U" (to cut out light) without a fan attached. I let the negative pressure naturally bring outside air into my darkroom. These two ducts snake out the darkroom under my light tight curtain when the room is in operation.

I want to mention that this method isn't the best way to implement ventilation. But it's a very quick and easy way to hack everything together and make it work. So far it hasn't failed me, and air is always fresh in my darkroom.

Here's a list of everything I used:

  1. Inductor 6 in. In-Line Duct Fan
  2. 6 in. x 25 ft. Flexible Aluminum Foil Duct
  3. 12 in. x 4 in. to 6 in. Universal Register Box with Flange
  4. 6 in. Metal Worm Drive Clamps (you will need a quantity of two)
  5. 6 in. B-Vent Pipe Hanger
  6. 6 in. x 8 ft. Semi-Rigid Aluminum Duct
  7. In-Line Switch
  8. Grounded wire with plug

One important thing is to make sure the duct fan you're buying is rated at the appropriate CFM (cubic feet per minute) for your space. From what I remember off the top of my head, an ideal darkroom needs six air changes per hour.

Here's what to do:

  1. Take the duct fan (1) out of its box and splice the wires (8) together along with the switch (7).
  2. Install the bracket (5). A good spot for the bracket would be right above the wet side. Because chemical fumes rise, install it as high as it seems appropriate.
  3. Attach the flexible aluminum foil duct (2) onto the duct fan (1) with a clamp (4). Make sure the fan is blowing air into the duct, not the opposite.
  4. At the other end of the flexible aluminum foil duct (2), attach the hood (3) with the other clamp (4). The flange at the end of the hood will make it easy to hang out a window.
  5. Use the Semi-Rigid Aluminum Duct (6) to let air into the darkroom. I twisted mine to a '3' shape and placed it on the floor on the opposite side of the doorway from the out duct.

That's it! Hopefully the flexible duct will be long enough to reach out the nearest window. You can always add more flexible ducts if yours is too short. You might want to add more fans along the way for added ventilation strength if you're a long way from a window. I've also thought about adding a fan for air going into the darkroom, but this current setup works wonderfully so I might not get around to that.

Step 3: Creating Darkness

To create darkness, I opted for a curtain. I like its flexibility because I can pass ducts under the curtain and still seal out light. For this part, I bought everything from IKEA:

  1. SANELA (curtain) http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/8023020...
  2. BETYDLIG (wall bracket, you will need x2) http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/6021722...
  3. HUGAD (curtain rod)http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/3021713...

I picked this curtain because it's fuzzy, the matte finish should discourage light bouncing off the surface and into the darkroom. Unfortunately IKEA doesn't sell this in black, so brown will have to suffice.

This should be pretty straight forward: Install the wall brackets. The curtain comes in a pair which is very handy. I placed them against each other so that the fuzzy texture faces out on both sides. Put the curtains onto the rod, and place the rod onto the brackets. The fact that there's two layers of curtains will allow you to wrap them around ducts easy peasy.

Because of the nature of the fabric, dust might be a problem sometime down the road. So far my prints have come out fine. I vacuum pretty often and then place an air purifier on high in there for a few hours. I like to think that makes a difference >:)

Step 4: Safelight

This should be the easiest step because most rooms will have a light socket. I usually have an LED light in the socket when I'm setting up. When everything is ready I change the bulb to one of these:

Delta 1 Brightlab Universal Red Junior Safelight 11 Watt (B&H link)

Delta 1 Brightlab Universal Red Junior Safelight 11 Watt (Amazon link)

You can also get one of many safelight models on Craigslist or eBay.

Step 5: The Dry Side

For this step and the next step, it is less of a how to and more of a general overview in how I arrange my darkroom space. I hope this can be an inspiration to you if you are considering building your own darkroom.

The IKEA TERTIALlamp is my favorite lamp for everything. I believe this is the seventh one I have installed somewhere in my home. It's cheap and can mount anywhere and can be positioned almost anywhere in space! Its purpose in the darkroom is to be a quick light when I need to view prints in the fixer, adjust the easel, change lenses, etc. I highly recommend it.

Adjustable shelves are very useful. I bought my shelf pins from here: http://www.widgetco.com/shelf-pins-1-4-antique-bra... They're beautiful and works wonderfully.

The dry side cabinet is constructed from one inch thick plywood on the top and two sides. Everything in the middle is made from half inch plywood.

Step 6: The Wet Side

Again, this step is less of a how to, but more like a brief overview of features which I hope would inspire your next darkroom project.

The centerpiece of this cabinet is the all white splash zone. This allows me to pour my chemicals in and out of the trays right inside the darkroom. This will save you a lot of time especially if the kitchen is pretty far away, and carrying a tray full of chemicals through the house is never a good idea. With this set up, it takes me 15 minutes to set everything up, and about 25 minutes to clean up.

These are the drawer slides I used: http://www.rockler.com/centerlinereg-lifetime-seri... Strong and smooth like butter. I highly recommend these for all sorts of drawer projects.

The wet side structure is constructed from half inch thick plywood, and the white splash zone is made from one inch thick plywood laminate.

Step 7: Files

Attached are two identical files. One is the original Solidworks file I used to design my darkroom. Hopefully the parameters are good enough that if you are so inclined, you can change the dimensions to fit your space.

The second is an STL file, so everybody can take a look at the CAD design.

I hope this has been helpful and inspiring.

If anyone has any questions please feel free to message me. I will do my best to help out! :)

Thanks for reading!




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    19 Discussions


    5 months ago on Introduction

    I have always wanted my own darkroom but I have no real expertise in this field. I am keen even though I do not have prior experience whatsoever in photo development. If I do have my own darkroom, perhaps I could pick up on the hobby and increase my experience level over time. I guess I need to explore my options to see where I could actually head to with limited resources and a lack of storage space does not help.


    1 year ago

    I would just say that if you're going to spend the time to make a dark room in your home, you had better make the most of it. This day and age, liking and storage space isn't easy to come by so I hope that building a dark room in your home will give you the motivation to get out there and take more pictures to see how they would turn out!


    2 years ago

    Thanks so much i started one in a closet smaller than yours and couldnt breath i had no room so i stopped. This really helped and im excited to get back into my new darkroom as soon as i finalize it.


    2 years ago

    If you had a laundry room, that would actually be a perfect size for a darkroom and you wouldn't even need to tweak it too much since it'd already have a basin and clothes line in there right?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    If you managed to secure a room with running water, you're already ahead of the game! If that room has a ventilation fan too, that's even better!


    3 years ago

    Hi, the whole idea of a small darkroom like that is awesome. I have an empty room in a basement that is 5 1/2' by 3 1/2' and I would love to be able to put it to good use. The only issue is ventilation, there is no window in that room and the basement windows don't open. Would it be possible to take a small fan and ventilate the room using that instead of the ducts that you use for yours. Any help would be great. :)


    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Hi Crafty_Libra, any fan would work as long as you can get enough fresh air in and all the bad chemical fumes out. Most importantly, that fan will still keep the room light tight. I can't remember what the safe minimum is, I think it's something like four full air changes per hour?

    The ducts were an easy solution to keep the room light tight without sacrificing a lot of space to make an air channel.

    I hope this helps, and sorry for the late reply!


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hello, your tray drawers are really really nifty. I will try to make some inspired by your design.

    I am trying to wrap my head around your wet area. It's not a sink, I guess, (which is why you call it a wet area!), but I am unable to determine what it is that you have on the bottom from the pictures. Is it a plastic tray or tub? Or simply a laminated top that is water-proof? Meaning you can't "fill it up"? And you wipe away the moisture with the paper towels?

    Thanks for your inspiration to make own small darkroom more efficient.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Hey Grembr, thanks!

    You are right, the area is simply made from laminated plywood. The wet area is used when I am pouring chemicals back into bottles. In case anything spills, it's easily wiped clean with paper towels. If you seal the seams with silicone I am sure you can also fill it up, but I can't think of why I would need that.

    So right now, I tape the seams with painter's tape so that in case I spill a large amount of liquid (happened once), it doesn't flow through the seams and drip into the crevices and on to the floor.

    I am glad I have inspired you :) Please share your darkroom once you've made it happen!


    4 years ago on Step 2

    SO I have a window in the room i'm using, can i install the fan in the window? also I want to run air in, right? Do i need an exhaust for the 'not fresh' air?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 2

    Hey Celesmeh, you can definitely ventilate air in and out using that window, you just have to make sure it is light tight. I realize I did not specify that my fan is used to vent air out of the darkroom, another duct shaped like a "U" to cut out light is fitted under the curtain to bring clean air into the darkroom through negative pressure.

    Although I read somewhere that it is better to have positive pressure: a lot of air coming in creating pressure. Rather than negative pressure: air is being sucked out to create pressure. Positive pressure is good because that way air is being pushed out through pressure and dust will get pushed out with it resulting in a cleaner darkroom. But then I don't know how true that is, and my set up is vented with negative pressure.

    I hope my answer helps!



    4 years ago

    Very nice! Thanks for posting sources for your supplies; very helpful.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Olivia!

    Hunting for components was the hardest part in my opinion, so I wanted to make it easy for everybody else :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Awww, man, I haven't darkroomed in forever. Now I miss it.

    Looks like a great setup. And a great instructable.


    PS post an example of your work?

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks scifiguy451!

    I'm putting together a website at moment. I'll post a link to it once it's live.

    Here's one I scanned yesterday from a 5x7 print

    Alamo Square Park.jpg

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent first instructable! This looks very well done. Thanks for taking the time to share this!

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! I had a lot of fun creating this and I feel honored you guys chose to feature my instructable :)