You’ve decided to do a microfilm scanning project, but now what? First, you’ll want to do some research on different scanning companies to make sure you’re choosing the right one for the job. Next, it’d be useful to understand some high-level topics about microfilm scanning so you don’t go into a project discussion blind and not know what’s going on.

When people with microfilm to scan contact scanning services like ours, they usually have the same set of questions.

In this blog, we list the top five frequently asked questions that we receive about microfilm scanning and answer them so you’ll have what you need for a successful conversion project.

1. What Kind Of Microfilm Do I Have?

“What kind of microfilm do I have?” is probably the most-asked question we get. Unless you’re an expert in microfilm, it makes sense that you wouldn’t know all the nuances of microfilm types and could use some help identifying which type of film you have. 

Microfilm comes in rolls (or reels) of either 100-foot or 215-foot length, and in two frame sizes: 16mm and 35mm. 16mm microfilm is generally used for documents that were originally 8.5×11”, such as meeting minutes, financial statements, or student transcripts. 35mm microfilm is generally used for large-format documents, such as newspapers or engineering drawings. 

Microfilm is further classified by how it’s stored, placed, and read. Check out our page on various microfilm types to help you identify what you have. 

2. Should I Scan My Own Microfilm Or Work With A Scanning Company?

“Can I scan my own microfilm?”. Yes. “Should I?” Maybe. 

If you purchase a microfilm scanner, then you can scan your own film internally. There are many microfilm scanners available, with starting prices around $5,000 for the low-volume research models. Scanners for high-volume, large projects will cost you at least 10x more.

Before starting a microfilm conversion project on your own, you need to understand what you’re undertaking.

Outsource vs. Inhouse Signpost

Benefits to scanning your own microfilm include: 1) not having to part with your records and send them to a scanning company; 2) you control every aspect of the project process; 3) your inherent knowledge of the records allows you to make on-the-fly changes and updates to your digital conversion plan. 

Downsides to scanning your own microfilm include: 1) spending time scanning microfilm instead of your primary work. If the project is hundreds or thousands of rolls, this could take a while; 2) the need to learn about post-scan processing, such as adjusting images, indexing/organizing your digital files, and choosing digital output formats; 3) scanning machine maintenance and repair. If your scanner breaks, what do you do?

Most non-production level scanners are for reading, saving, and exporting records in small batches and are not ideal for large collections of records. Not to mention, they are bulky and take up a lot of space. Lastly, it’s difficult to verify whether you’ve digitally captured all the images from your microfilm reel. 

In the end, it is possible to scan your microfilm records yourself, though we recommend working with a microfilm scanning service. They’ll have the people, software, and systems in place to efficiently execute your project.

Read our article on why you should hire a scanning expert to get a better understanding of why it may be better to outsource your project than to take it on internally.

3. What Are My Options For Microfilm Digitization?

Once you decide to digitize your microfilm, there are a couple of conversion options you can choose from. If you partner with us, your two primary choices are a traditional microfilm conversion or our Digital ReeL full-service solution. 

With a traditional microfilm conversion, your records will be scanned and indexed as PDFs, TIFs, or JPGs. The digital files will be delivered on USB drives, through an FTP site, or some other electronic delivery method. What you do with your files from there is up to you. You might keep them on a USB drive, store them on your organization’s shared network, or import the files onto an electronic database or document management system (DMS). If you don’t have a DMS in place, you’ll have to figure out where to store and organize your records.

With  Digital ReeL, you get an affordable all-in-one microfilm scanning and hosting solution. Digital ReeL houses your collection of microfilm records in one place. It presents a complete replica of the original microfilm so you can visually verify that all images and data have been captured. When you choose this method, we will scan, index, and load your records into our secure hosted web viewer. You’ll be able to access the portal from any location as long as you have an internet-connected device.

Digital ReeL gives you global full-text searching capability through OCR optical character recognition and built-in image adjustment tools. These tools improve image quality and the speed of records retrieval.

Take a look at our dedicated “traditional microfilm conversion vs. Digital ReeL” page to see more details and decide which option is best for you.

4. How Much Does Microfilm Scanning Cost?

We understand that every organization has a budget to work with, so pricing is one of the most important things you’ll want to know. This is why we strive to be transparent about pricing so you’ll at least have a starting point.

The general range for scanning microfilm is $20-40/ roll

Although that’s the range we give, the final pricing depends on the specifications of YOUR project. Other factors could affect the pricing: the size of the project (how many reels you want to scan),  the type of microfilm, the resolution you need, your indexing requirements, project timelines, and more.

For example, with all other factors equal, if you have a large quantity of microfilm (i.e. 2,000 rolls), your price per roll will be lower than if you have a small quantity of film (i.e. 150 rolls). 

Or, if you need your project completed in six weeks when the normal schedule would take twelve weeks, your price might be higher if you choose the expedited option. 

One last example is if you have damaged microfilm (tears, vinegar syndrome, etc.): the cost will be higher because we need to take extra steps to repair it before we can scan.

To get into the nitty-gritty about this topic, check out our article on microfilm scanning costs. It dives headfirst into the nine factors that determine your scanning price.

5. How Does Microfilm Scanning Work?

Deciding to work with a microfilm scanning service is one thing, but knowing the actual process is another. Our 10-step microfilm scanning process is the baseline for all our film scanning projects. It ensures security, audit tracking, and quality control while delivering the results you need.

The first step is transferring your records to one of our secure facilities. You have the option of doing this through a third-party vendor, ground pickup and delivery using our vehicles, air transportation, or a combination of these methods. 

When your records arrive at our facility, we tag each container with barcode labels to indicate the date received, job number, box number, and our customer’s name. After we label your records, we keep them in a secure storage until it’s time to scan. 

Before scanning your film, we carry out a couple of steps to prepare for your project. We create a custom job order and process flow matched to your project scope of work, photograph the microfilm labels, and tag your microfilm rolls with unique ID (UID) barcodes. After these logistical tasks, we prep your microfilm for scanning by doing density readings, and cleaning and repairing the microfilm if needed.

Reviewing Metrics

Once your microfilm is ready, we scan a small portion of the entire project as a test batch. This is the Milestone 1 (M1) Proof of Concept. You can review and see if we need to make any adjustments before we scan the rest of your records. This step helps us make sure we’re doing things right, and allows you to ensure that you’re getting what you asked for! Once we get your approval, we’ll scan the rest of your records and convert them into digital formats.

After we scan your microfilm, we conduct post-scan image processing and quality assurance (QA) checks. If everything is correct, we move forward with indexing and organizing your digital files. Last but not least, we deliver your records back to you. If you choose Digital ReeL, we’ll import your records and data into the application and organize everything for you.

Next Steps

Now that you have the answers you need, you’re one step closer to having your microfilm records scanned and digitized. Give us a call at 800.359.3456 or email us at info@bmiimaging.com, and we’ll have one of our reps work with you to build your custom microfilm conversion project!

Further Reading

For more information about microfilm scanning, take a look at the articles below:

“5 Ways To Ensure A Successful Microfilm Scanning Project” lists out what an organization should consider if they want to have a successful microfilm scanning project. 

“How To Choose The Right Microfilm Scanning Partner” gives a framework of everything you should look for when you are deciding who to work with for your microfilm conversion. 

“Making The Business Case For Microfilm Digitization” is an infographic that highlights all the reasons why your organization should consider digitizing your microfilm records.