What Kind Of Microfilm Do I Have?

We frequently receive requests from individuals and organizations that have microfilm records but are unsure of the specific type of microfilm they own, and the question “what kind of microfilm do I have?” comes up frequently. 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.

  • 16mm microfilm comes in rolls that are either 100 feet or 215 feet long. 16mm roll film is most often used for office-sized 8-1/2″ x 11″ / A4 documents or for financial records, like checks. It can also be found in government offices of all kinds or insurance companies. 215 foot 16mm microfilm is most frequently used for document types that would have both the front and the backside captured at the same time (e.g. checks, insurance forms and medical forms).
  • 35mm microfilm comes in 100 foot rolls. 35mm roll film is used where larger frames are required due to larger source documents. Newspapers, architectural drawings, and engineering plans are common large-format documents that are found on 35mm roll film. 35mm roll film is often the microfilm of choice for archiving older and historic documents so that the original documents can be captured at a higher resolution.

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).

  • Jacket microfiche are made of sleeves that hold strips of 16mm or 35mm rollfilm, or a combination of both, stored in a clear Mylar jacket. Jackets are typically 4 inches x 6 inches and can hold up to five strips of film, typically in a horizontal orientation. A title strip area across the top of the jacket will usually have the microfiche’s title and indicate its contents.
  • COM fiche(Computer Output Microfilm) are 105 mm x 148 mm sheets which have individual frames arranged in a permanent grid pattern and are generated by computer processes, hence the name. Each sheet will have an area at its top with an eye readable title describing its contents. COM fiche are usually of a higher reduction ratio (typically 42x reduction in size of what it would look like in hard copy). A single sheet of this fiche can hold up to 300 frames.

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

  •     Prevent Data Loss: Keep your data safe and secure. Converting to a digital format prevents information loss before the microfilm is damaged, lost, or becomes unusable for other reasons (degradation, water damage, etc.). And once your records are digitized, you can protect your data further with Backup Disaster Recovery applications (from BMI) or with your existing data protection and backup/recovery practices.
  •  Save Storage Costs: Once your records are digitized, there’s no need to store and maintain microfilm and associated hardware (readers, scanners). Depending on the amount of data you currently have stored on microfilm, this could free up significant space and save on storage and equipment costs.
  •  Search and Send Files: After your microfilm is converted to a digital format, the data is as convenient to access and share as any other file on your computer. Search, print, modify, and share digital images without the need for film readers or outdated indexing systems.

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!