Abstract Environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) was employed to study the mechanism of film formation of a carboxylated styrene-butadiene latex copolymer with a glass transition temperature (Tg) of 6°C. ESEM allows the investigation of wet samples in their native state which is required to study the drying process of latex dispersions. The film forming process was tracked by time-dependent ESEM monitoring of the latex particle morphology and by observing the different stages occurring during the drying process. The focus of our study was an analysis of the three-dimensional (3D) arrangement of the latex particles and a comparison of their appearance on the surface and in the center of the coalesced film. It was found that in the course of film formation, the latex particles arrange in domains which are similar to colloidal crystals. Such domains occur at the stage of dense particle packing. Particle coalescence appears to begin first in these domains before a continuous and homogeneous film is formed which then spreads across the entire substrate. The results suggest that for our carboxylated styrene-butadiene copolymer the current model known for the film forming mechanism which includes four main steps should be complemented by two additional ones, namely the arrangement of particles in crystal-like domains and the beginning of coalescence within these domains. This specific behavior only occurs for monodisperse latices.