Bellows material? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

In looking for materials to make a new bellows I have looked at a number of backpacking cloths. Some sure look nice, but the laminated Ultrex & GoreTex I have looked at are not light tight. Anyone know of a good material that will take the folding and use one puts a bellows through and will stay light tight & supple?

-- Dan Smith (, April 13, 2001


Hi Dan, I've made a couple of bellows for 8*10, and I've yet to find the secrete to what the pros use. I used a PVC backed ripstop nylon. Two layers of this, the inside and outside seem to be light tight enough for my 8*10, but I don't think it is totally light proof, at least in direct sun light. An old B&J I have has some kind of rubber for the inter layer. I wish I could find some of that if anyone on this Q&A knows where that stuff can be had. The C1 seems to have somekind of rubber impregnated stuff too. I doubt if any material is going to last forever.

If you can't find the person who knows the answer to what the pros use? It seems two layers of PVC backed nylon will work. This is very thin stuff. You might use three layers to be conservative. Leave an 1/8th inch between the ribs to get a good fold. Next set I will make bellows for my 4*5, I think I will use something I recently found a fabric store called black-out material. It's found in the curtain section. The draw back is, it is white, but it seems to be pretty light tight from the incomplete testing I did so far. And it seems to have some kind of rubber kind of coating which means the ribs and colored cloth will easily glue to it. Warning about walking into a fabric store and saying give me something light tight, that didn't work for me. If you follow any of this advice do so knowing I'm not a pro, it just worked for me. And if you find out what that rubberized thin black material B&J used for the lining is please pass it along to me. Best of luck, David

-- david clark (, April 13, 2001.

A few years back some camera maker sold a bag bellows made of neoprene. I never saw it, but I presume the neoprene was thinner than the usual wetsuit material; that might be something to consider.

-- John Hicks (, April 13, 2001.


This seems to be the most frequently asked question for DIY bellows construction. Unfortunately, I've never seen anyone post a specific type of fabric available from a specific dealer. Traditionally, the answer was simple: leather. The problem with leather, of course, is the cost. I've seen Morrocan leather advertised in the Shutterbug classifieds, but I've never inquired about cost, size, etc. I believe you can also get leather from the art supply dealer, (Personally, I would not use leather unless I was a professional bellows maker or had constructed enough bellows to really know my stuff!)

Beyond leather, I believe that the most common synthetic fabric is black vinyl impregnated with neoprene. There may be some variations on this, but the basic idea is a synthetic substrate coated or impregnanted with some type of rubber. The substrate may be nylon, polyester, vinyl, etc. and the specific type of coating material may vary. I beleive that Neoprene is a trade name for a specific type of rubber, but you could probably find better information from a website on platics/rubber etc.

Whatever material you come up with, it needs to be thin and lightfast. The material thickness is important because the outer shell is typically lined with black fabric (cotton, polyester, silk, etc.). If the outer shell is too thick, the bellows will not fold properly. I wish I could give you a specific thickness dimension!

The last bellows I made was constructed with a synthetic fabric purchased at a boat supply store. I live in Florida so finding this material was not a big problem. You might try a fabric store, but I don't think that the standard Jo Anne fabrics will cary anything useful. Finally, you might try Mcmaster-Carr at They sell rubber coated/impregnated fabrics, but I have never ordered any. I have ordered all kinds of parts/materials from McMaster and, if you do any other DIY stuff, they are a great supplier of just about anything! Hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (, April 13, 2001.

i am currently looking for material for a bag bellows. This material does not need to fold the way a conventional pleated bellows. I bought a few yards of the black out material that is usually used for drapery lining. I think this is the white material the poster above referred to. It is not light tight. It looked good at first but in the dark room after my eyes adjusted I could see plenty of light. The rubber backing material is porous which is the problem. For the bag bellows I may use a cordura fabric I found at an upholstery shop. It would be too heavy for a pleated bellows but for the bag this may work just fine.

Someone please call me if they find that elusive perfect bellows material.

-- Dave Schneider (, April 13, 2001.

Fargo enterprises sells bellows making materials. http://www.fargo-

-- William Blake (, April 13, 2001.

The previous post mentions the material that I use. It is available from Micro Tools as product #SMC-2 (shutter material cloth). This is the material used in shutter curtains such as 35mm cameras use. You have to call in your order for sheets of it, as the catalogue lists it only in 1 sq. ft. pieces. It is ultra-thin ( .010") and light-weight. Rather than using it on the outside of the bellows, where it can be damaged - use it as the liner. This then allows the use of almost any appropriately thin material on the outside. I use a very thin, lightweight canvas, as it is extremely difficult to find vinyl or neoprene material thin enough. But you could use anything that floats 'yer boat. The most important thing, other than light tightness is whatever you use must be thin enough to fold into the rear standard without putting pressure on the front standard.

-- Matt O. (, April 13, 2001.

Hi Dan, I called Fargo Enterprises ( 800 359 2878) and they have the above mentioned material. He says it is light proof. Normally sold in 10" squares, it's called shutter material cloth. Best, David

-- david clark (, April 13, 2001.

There has been a recent thread on the Cameramakers mailing list on bellows materials. The archives for this group are at: There are many different ideas for materials. You will have to read through and decide what sounds best for your application.

-- Leonard Robertson (, April 14, 2001.

Mole Richardson sells a ruberized black fabric which I plan to use to make a bellows in the next couple of weeks. The whole roll is long,but sometimes they have shorter pieces or a partial roll that can be cut. I intend to double it and use either rubber cement or spray mount to glue my matt board panels.

I've got a piece of this that I've had for years, it's water proof and tough and light tight. ent=&id=7136

I think this is the product (below) but I might be wrong. Best to contact them first. "Rubberized black fabric" is a description they'll understand.

Roll Tuf-Flock/Velour 52"x 24' Black Ultra flat black material. Your Price: $47.63 Item #: PP191 Weight: 5.0000 lbs.

-- William Nettles (, July 14, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ