Make: Projects

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Scan slides and negatives on any ordinary scanner.

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Preserving 35mm photos on a computer is a great way to keep them safe, and chances are that either you or someone you know has an old box of irreplaceable memories waiting to be scanned. The problem is that an ordinary scanner doesn’t really scan slides or negatives properly. The reason is that slides should be illuminated from behind, while conventional scanners are designed to capture reflected light from a document.

You could go out and buy a dedicated film scanner, but there is a much cheaper alternative if you already have a flatbed scanner or scanner/copier attached to your computer. A simple cardboard adapter can be used to capture the light from the scanner and reflect it behind the slide. Once the adapter is in place, you can scan the slide as though it were an ordinary document.


Step #1:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital PhotosTurn Slides and Negatives into Digital PhotosTurn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Take a piece of silver card stock, and download and print out the paper template on the plain (non-silver) side.

Step #2:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Cut around this shape with the scissors and fold the triangular wings upright so that the shiny sides of the card stock face each other.

Step #3:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Now fold the longest part of the rectangle in to touch the edges of the triangles, so that the whole thing resembles an open-bottomed triangular wedge with the shiny side of the card stock to the inside.

Step #4:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

Tape the corners of the adapter together, and it's ready to use!

Step #5:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos
  • To use the adapter, place a slide or negative onto the scanner, and then place the adapter over the top. For the best results, line up up one side of the slide with the center of the adapter. Leave the lid of the scanner open. If your scans have an uneven brightness, try adding a thin piece of tissue paper between the slide and the adapter. The tissue will diffuse the light, and stop the scanner from seeing the space behind the slide.
  • Take a preview scan with your favorite image editor and crop the scan to the area of the slide. The higher the resolution you scan at, the more detail you will get. I recommend setting the scanner to at least 1200 DPI.

Step #6:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos
  • If you are scanning negatives, you need to perform a little bit of additional computer jiggery-pokery to reverse the color of the negatives. Most image-processing programs, including Microsoft Paint, will have an "invert" function that will reverse the colors for you. You might also want to adjust the brightness and contrast of the images to make them look better on the screen.
  • You will probably notice that there are a few specks of dust on your slides when you scan them in. This is usually unavoidable, but a soft lens-brush or a clean makeup-brush can help minimize the problem. To remove any persistent specks or scratches, you can use a photo editor with a "heal" tool. If you don't have a program that can do this, you can download GIMP or for free.

Step #7:

Turn Slides and Negatives into Digital Photos

This image shows the raw scan on the left, the inverted scan in the middle, and the final image with the scratches and dust removed on the right. The entire process took less than 10 minutes to complete.

  • Andrew Lewis

    The silver paper reflects the light from the scanner and bounces it behind the slide. The slide is illuminated from behind, which gives a clearer image.

  • Andrew Lewis

    Do you have the slide aligned correctly relative to the reflector? The slides should be perpendicular to the reflector so that the light can bounce behind the slide without being obstructed. If the card has a completely mirror finish, then it might not be diffusing the light enough. Try putting a piece of thin tissue between the negative and the reflector, and see if that makes any difference.

  • copwriter

    This did not work for me. All I got was a grayish blob where the image was supposed to be. I tried several adjustments of brightness and contrast, with no better result.

    • Maria McLain

      On a different website concerning this topic, the person scanning the slides placed them on the scanner with a sheet of wax paper on top of the slide and an illuminated tablet on top of the wax paper to serve as the backlight. They closed the scanner and scanned the negatives and then edited them. It seemed to work pretty well.

  • Dave Browne

    Here’s another angle on scanning old B&W negatives:
    my O/S is Linux Lite or Lubuntu and my scanner is an HP Officejet Pro L7650 All-in-one.

    I have been trying for years to scan old B&W negatives (620 format
    & larger) with this scanner with very poor results until recently. I
    used to use “Xsane” which is a very good scanner software system for
    prints, doc’s & transparencies but lousy for Negatives. The images
    were heavily pixilated, blotchy & blurry.
    However, I recently
    discovered by using “Simple Scan” which is like a generic scanner
    program that comes with Linux operating systems I have gotten excellent
    results without needing to modify my scanner in any way. Simple scan
    allows me to use 75 to 2400 DPI. after which I save the negative image
    to a file. Then I open the file with “Gimp” (similar to PS Pro) and
    convert the image to a positive. I can then “heal” the image of any
    blemishes, scratches, etc. The final step is to “Export” the positive
    image to a file as a jpeg. I do find it is necessary most of the time to
    adjust the brightness & contrast. DB