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We frequently receive requests from individuals and organizations that have microfilm records but are unsure of the specific type of microfilm they own. This short introduction to microfilm may help you determine which type of record you have and what characteristics distinguish your records. Microfilm, by the way, was first practically employed by the French in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 to send messages by carrier pigeon over enemy lines. Scanning your microfilm should be easier, assuming no pigeons.

Microfilm is the popular term that has traditionally been the catch-all phrase used for all formats of this media. Here are some of the distinct types of what is referred to as microfilm; you’ll need to know this if you’d like to digitize your records.



Microfilm in roll form is a length of film containing a sequential series of images or frames. When there is one row of images down the length of the film, the film is called simplex. When there are two rows of images running down the length of the film, it is called duplex. Duplex film is typically one that shows both the fronts and the backs of each pictured document. There are several other formats in which documents can appear on microfilm rolls, but simplex and duplex are the most common.

Roll film typically  comes in only two widths: 16mm (millimeters), which is about ¾ of an inch wide, and 35mm, about 1 ½ inches wide.

ANSI Cartridge

3M Cartridge

ANSI cartridges are essentially 16mm roll film in a square, hard plastic case (a cartridge). Rather than a single square hole in the middle of a plastic spool, ANSI cartridges have a metal hub with four smaller, round holes. They often require a special adapter to allow them to be loaded onto a reading device. Other than their cartridge format, ANSI cartridges are identical to normal 16mm roll film in terms of what types of images they’re typically used to store.



Microfiche, from French for small card, is made of a flat sheet of film usually with a polyester base on which multiple pages are captured in reduced size. The standard size is 105mm x 148mm (about 4 inches x 6 inches).

Aperture Card

Aperture Cards are similar to the very old IBM-punch cards (Hollerith cards), but have a hole (aperture) into which a single 35mm microfilm frame has been mounted.   At one time, machinery existed to automatically store, retrieve and sort aperture cards with a high level of automation. The punched holes you see on an aperture card were machine-readable metadata that is associated with the microfilm image. The metadata, title information, is frequently printed across the top of the card for visual identification, and the hole punches may not always be used. Aperture cards have traditionally been used in engineering applications.

Converting Microfilm to Digital

 Digital conversion is the smart choice for businesses and government agencies with microfilm and microfiche archives. In a short period of time, your data will be converted to a digital format that’s easier to find, easier to share, and easier to use. The microfilm conversion process goes like this:

  1. BMI works with you to arrange transportation of your microfilm records to our conversion facility in California.
  2. A BMI Project Manager creates your unique project process flow and executes a “Milestone 1” Proof of Concept, which you approve to ensure the project is on track with what you want.
  3. Microfilm is analyzed for density and, if necessary, cleaned and repaired for optimal scanning.
  4. State-of-the-art scanners convert microfilm into a variety of digital image formats (PDF, JPG, TIFF, Digital ReeL, etc.).
  5. Data is captured, files are indexed, and images are processed for searchability and ease of use.
  6. Document images are delivered to you via standard methods (DVD, USB, SFTP) or hosted at BMI’s secure data centers and accessed from a Web-based application.

Benefits of Digitizing Microfilm

Still have questions about what type of microfilm you have? Want to learn more about converting your microfilm to digital? Contact us at (800) FLY-FILM.

BMI Imaging can digitally convert any type of microfilm!

BMI Imaging Systems | 1115 E. Arques Avenue, Sunnyvale California 94085 | 800-359-3456 | 408-736-7444 | Sacramento California 95834

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