Photography & Video

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By Andrew Lewis
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.


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Materials

A sheet of A4 (8 ½ x 11) thick, silver card stock
Downloadable template
, below
Scissors
Pencil
Ruler
Sticky tape

Download PDF Download the Template PDF
Right click to save the PDF to your desktop. Directions on downloading PDFs.

Directions

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Step 1: Take a piece of silver card stock and download and print out the paper template on the plain (non-silver) side.
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Step 2: 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.
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Step 3: 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.
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Step 4: Tape the corners of the adapter together, and it’s ready to use!
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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 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 of the slide.
Take a preview scan with your favorite image editor and crop the scan to area of the slide. The higher the resolution at which you scan, the more detail you will get. I recommend setting the scanner to at least 1200 DPI.
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If you are scanning negatives, you need to perform a little bit of additional computer jiggery-pokery to reverse the color of the slides. Most image processing programs will have an ‘invert’ function that will reverse the colors for you, including Microsoft Paint. You might also want to adjust the brightness and contrast of the slides 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 Paint.net for free.
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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.
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About the Author:
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Andrew Lewis is a journalist, a maker, victophile, and founder of the www.upcraft.it blog.

180 thoughts on “How-To: Turn Slides and Negatives Into Digital Photos

  1. I was just starting to ponder whether or not it was possible to scan negatives on my flatbed, now I ponder no longer! Thanks for such a simple solution (mine involved back lights and whatnot)!

  2. Great article, thanks.
    Two questions:
    Will this technique work for colour film as well?
    Do you have a template for medium format negatives?
    Thanks.

  3. To answer some of the questions being asked here – This template will scan medium format film (that’s what I scanned in the article) and yes, it will work for color slides.

  4. Neat: I’ve been trying to think of a way to rig something up to handle this. To the poster asking about 120 film: I picked up a sheet of 12×12″ silver paper at the craft store meant for scrapbooking. I eyeballed the above template, and made my own super-size version: the wedge is 3″ wide and 7″ long at the base, which should easily cover a 120/220 frame. Added bonus: the scrapbook paper has a 1/2″ grid printed on the back for easy measuring and cutting.

  5. It is possible to make this project from white card, but I find silver paper with a tissue paper backing gives better results. I’d encourage you to experiment with both, and see which version works best with your scanner.

  6. I’ve tried using a lightbox, but the results are not great. If you use a florescent bulb (to get the best white) you end up getting a rainbow banding due to the way florescent bulbs work (they aren’t “on” all the time, they flicker very fast). Incandescent bulbs are hard to get a nice clean white from. This is just my experience, let me know if you have more luck.

  7. thank you so much for this article! i’ve seen other tutorials like this. but usually involves the use of a backlight.
    i was just wondering if it would work ok to just tape tracing paper to the adaptor to diffuse the light? just a thought.

  8. You can just tape the tracing paper over the open side if you like. I’d recommend just adding it over one half of the opening, so that it doesn’t cut down the light too much.

  9. Thank you for sharing this simple and cheap device that could save hundreds dollars by not buying a film scanner.
    I am going to try this method and hopefully, I could scan my entire negatives in my collections.

  10. To avoid Newton Rings try taping the negs to thin card and raise them slightly from the glass. Either that or a film holder will work well.

  11. Thought I’d try this with my admittedly old HP 5100C flatbed scanner. Hopeless results. I don’t seem able to change the scan quality from the 300dpi default. All my scan showed was a dark shape with the tiniest hint of colour on one very small midsection. Any thoughts?

  12. One point, the light source is a strip running parallel to the sensor strip, which normally responds to reflected light from the document above. How do you prevent the sensor still seeing the light reflected from the surface of the negative or slide? I still have anti-Newton ring glass plates from my darkroom days.

  13. One point, the light source is a strip running parallel to the sensor strip, which normally responds to reflected light from the document above. How do you prevent the sensor still seeing the light reflected from the surface of the negative or slide? I still have anti-Newton ring glass plates from my darkroom days.

  14. One point, the light source is a strip running parallel to the sensor strip, which normally responds to reflected light from the document above. How do you prevent the sensor still seeing the light reflected from the surface of the negative or slide? I still have anti-Newton ring glass plates from my darkroom days.

  15. One point, the light source is a strip running parallel to the sensor strip, which normally responds to reflected light from the document above. How do you prevent the sensor still seeing the light reflected from the surface of the negative or slide? I still have anti-Newton ring glass plates from my darkroom days.

  16. This is very interesting. Getting a film scanner will surely burn a hole in my wallet. I’ll give this a shot. One question – will using a scanning mask help in any way? I want to be able to scan the sprockets as well. Thank you.

  17. I scanned hundreds of B/W negatives using an ordinary Epson TX111 flatbed scanner and the results were very good. I placed a clear sheet of glass on the negatives and left the lid open. The best results were obtained during the middle of the day when ambient light was at it’s brightest.

  18. would this work with a hp c4280 all in one ? and if so what settings? i have 35mm color film shot with a holga

  19. I’ve tried it on a Canon Lide 90 scanner and it didn’t work. The resulting images (from negatives) are completely black. I suppose that the type of light mounted on this scanner aren’t powerful enough.

    1. I had the same experience. All I get is black negatives, with image being almost completely non-visible. Perhaps the scanner light is not bright enough?

      1. I suspect the Canon scanner is a “contact image scanner” instead of a “CCD” imager.
        am not sure of exactly how the former works, but I had a contact image scanner a few years ago, and on it anything that did not contact the plate scanned black (i.e. any creases or the curve at the neck of a book. Also if I remembered its cover pad was dark instead of reflective. Many thin case scanners are supposed to be contact image.You might see if an acquaintance has a CCD type scanner to try. Scanners can be had fairly cheap;y at yard sales and thrift stores on occasion, if you find one that works.

  20. Did not work at all! It’s shame since I had hope despite being warned about the certainty of not working/producing poor results.

  21. Is there anything less complicatead than this? That is already to use, and for the entire flatbed scanner. I have varying sizes of negatives, from real tiny, to reel, to large, and good for negative and positive negatives, and slides and xrays, and so forth?

  22. I noticed that Canon scanners (better: their drivers) detect a negative strip or diapositive and switch to black and white. Even if you surround the negative with colored paper. The paper gets scanned in color and the tiny negative stays black and white. Tested with Mac OS, Canon Lide110.

  23. Thank you soooooo much for sharing this idea – worked a treat for me. I’m no photo genius, so found this simple idea fantastic… used the setting you suggested and woop woop huge colour images I can go away and play with… this is going to make a great Christmas treat for members of my family :D

  24. Comparing Methods to Digitize Slides
    http://www.andromeda.com/people/ddyer/photo/slide-transfer.html
    It’s tempting to use a simple attachment to a flatbed scanner to scan slides. This attachment is made by HP and is basically a mirror box which directs light around to the back of the slide, so the scan sees mostly transmitted light instead of reflected light. The mostly is an important consideration; Since lots of light is hitting the slide in the normal reflective path, dust on the near side of the slide or on the scan bed appears as white spots rather than black spots, and white spots are a lot more visible than black. At 1200 dpi, scans seem pretty soft and lack contrast, even after pre-scan adjustment.
    http://www.andromeda.com/people/ddyer/photo/scanners/scanjet-adapter.jpg
    The mirror box looks like a pretty generic design, but it is not. The specifications are precisely tuned to the geometry of the scanner; it doesn’t work even with close family members of the scanner it is designed for.

  25. Thank you for sharing wonderful idea. I used Epson workforce 545 multifunction scanner. With these instructions I got dark black scans. With little experiment I found that is works with lid open and good ambient light to scan old negative into great pictures. I used photo frame clear glass to hold the negative and standard table lamp to add into ambient light. Thank you.

  26. Andrew my scanner only scans at 300DPI it is a HP scanjet 3300C. Is it possible to increase its DPI to 1200 or not?

  27. The pictures in the article don’t open :( Is the problem on my side or is there sth wrong with the server?

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    You will only require a computer or even a console that comes with a internet connection and usage
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  29. Didn’t work for me. The slides just scanned black. I got better quality scans simply using the white cover of the flatbed scanner.

    1. Have u tried this…? building this thing would drive me nuts and its easy..but I’d have a fit if it didn’t work.

      1. Sorry no, never did get around to it… maybe I can try it tomorrow or tonight with some old negatives I have, and let you know :)

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  72. You can try this
    1) Put the film on the scanner
    2) Put a phone with white display(you may use a white wallpaper with no icon) over it
    *Keep the scanner cover open
    3) Scan it on max possible quality(res)
    4) Invert the image(in terms of color)
    5) Then open the image in GIMP
    6) Go to Tools->Colors->Layers…
    7) Select the dropper with white color and select a point in the image that according to you is 100% white
    8) Now select the dropper with black color and select a point in the image that according to you is 100% black
    *Don’t choose a point in step 6 and 7 outside the image like film border etc
    Now you are done.
    (You may try the auto feature as well)
    I tried with a pre-scanned films(steps 4 till end) and the results are pretty impressive.
    (This is not my original content but rather a comprehension of 4-6 similar articles that I read on internet.)

  73. A piece of white toilet paper on top of the negative and, about six inches above, the white LED light from my phone did the trick on some very old negatives (1950’s). Scanned at 1200 dpi and used Paint.net to invert the colours etc.

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