X-ray films for general radiography consist of an emulsion-gelatin containing radiation sensitive silver halide crystals, such as silver bromide or silver chloride, and a flexible, transparent, blue-tinted base. The emulsion is different from those used in other types of photography films to account for the distinct characteristics of gamma rays and x-rays, but X-ray films are sensitive to light. Usually, the emulsion is coated on both sides of the base in layers about 0.0005 inch thick. Putting emulsion on both sides of the base doubles the amount of radiation-sensitive silver halide, and thus increases the film speed. The emulsion layers are thin enough so developing, fixing, and drying can be accomplished in a reasonable time. A few of the films used for radiography only have emulsion on one side which produces the greatest detail in the image.
When x-rays, gamma rays, or light strike the grains of the sensitive silver halide in the emulsion, some of the Br- ions are liberated and captured by the Ag+ ions. This change is of such a small nature that it cannot be detected by ordinary physical methods and is called a "latent (hidden) image." However, the exposed grains are now more sensitive to the reduction process when exposed to a chemical solution (developer), and the reaction results in the formation of black, metallic silver. It is this silver, suspended in the gelatin on both sides of the base, that creates an image. See the page on film processing for additional information.
The selection of a film when radiographing any particular component depends on a number of different factors. Listed below are some of the factors that must be considered when selecting a film and developing a radiographic technique.
- Composition, shape, and size of the part being examined and, in some cases, its weight and location.
- Type of radiation used, whether x-rays from an x-ray generator or gamma rays from a radioactive source.
- Kilovoltages available with the x-ray equipment or the intensity of the gamma radiation.
- Relative importance of high radiographic detail or quick and economical results.
Selecting the proper film and developing the optimal radiographic technique usually involves arriving at a balance between a number of opposing factors. For example, if high resolution and contrast sensitivity is of overall importance, a slower and finer grained film should be used in place of a faster film.
Radiographic film can be purchased in a number of different packaging options. The most basic form is as individual sheets in a box. In preparation for use, each sheet must be loaded into a cassette or film holder in the darkroom to protect it from exposure to light. The sheets are available in a variety of sizes and can be purchased with or without interleaving paper. Interleaved packages have a layer of paper that separates each piece of film. The interleaving paper is removed before the film is loaded into the film holder. Many users find the interleaving paper useful in separating the sheets of film and offer some protection against scratches and dirt during handling.
Industrial x-ray films are also available in a form in which each sheet is enclosed in a light-tight envelope. The film can be exposed from either side without removing it from the protective packaging. A rip strip makes it easy to remove the film in the darkroom for processing. This form of packaging has the advantage of eliminating the process of loading the film holders in the darkroom. The film is completely protected from finger marks and dirt until the time the film is removed from the envelope for processing.
Packaged film is also available in rolls, which allows the radiographer to cut the film to any length. The ends of the packaging are sealed with electrical tape in the darkroom. In applications such as the radiography of circumferential welds and the examination of long joints on an aircraft fuselage, long lengths of film offer great economic advantage. The film is wrapped around the outside of a structure and the radiation source is positioned on axis inside, allowing for examination of a large area with a single exposure.
Envelope packaged film can be purchased with the film sandwiched between two lead oxide screens. The screens function to reduce scatter radiation at energy levels below 150keV and as intensification screens above 150 keV.
X-ray film should always be handled carefully to avoid physical strains, such as pressure, creasing, buckling, friction, etc. Whenever films are loaded in semi-flexible holders and external clamping devices are used, care should be taken to be sure pressure is uniform. If a film holder bears against a few high spots, such as on an un-ground weld, the pressure may be great enough to produce desensitized areas in the radiograph. This precaution is particularly important when using envelope-packed films.
Marks resulting from contact with fingers that are moist or contaminated with processing chemicals, as well as crimp marks, are avoided if large films are always grasped by the edges and allowed to hang free. A supply of clean towels should be kept close at hand as an incentive to dry the hands often and well. Use of envelope-packed films avoids many of these problems until the envelope is opened for processing.
Another important precaution is to avoid drawing film rapidly from cartons, exposure holders, or cassettes. Such care will help to eliminate circular or treelike black markings in the radiograph that sometimes result due to static electric discharges.