How Much Does Microfilm Digitization Cost?

“How much does it cost to convert microfilm to digital?” is one of the most common questions we get from libraries, law enforcement agencies, museums, school districts, and other organizations interested in digitizing their microfilm collections. “It depends” is the most common answer.

There are many factors that impact the total cost of a microfilm digitization project. In order to get the most accurate estimate for your microfilm conversion project, make sure the conversion partner you’re considering takes into account all the aspects of your job, not just the amount of microfilm images you need digitized.

General Pricing

First, note that the header of this section is general pricing. That’s not by mistake! It’s important to understand that microfilm scanning projects have many twists and turns, and your particular requirements will be the deciding factors on how much a project costs; every project is unique and each variation can move the price around. That said, some price ranges are below to at least give you a ballpark. We’re also including ranges for microfiche sheets and aperture cards, in case you have some of those you’d like to digitize. 

Microfilm scanning:
$20 – 40/roll for 100′ rolls, and up to double that for 215′ rolls. 

Microfiche scanning:
$0.75 – 1.25/sheet for 16mm and 35mm jacket fiche (5- and 2-channel jackets, respectively).
$3 – 5/sheet for COM fiche (the fiche with about 250-300 images on each sheet).

Aperture card scanning:
$0.25 – 0.75/card. 

If you have film, fiche, or cards and are thinking about scanning into an electronic format, get in touch with us and tell us what you’re trying to do. We’ll put you in touch with one of our sales reps and they’ll be able to give you a quote that will make sense for your project specifics.

Side note: we can provide pricing based on how many images we scan, but our standard is to use entire units for pricing: rolls of microfilm, sheets of microfiche, and number of aperture cards.

Additionally, we put together an article that discusses “low cost” microfilm scanning. As we allude to above, cost is a very relative term and the price of a scanning project depends on numerous things. The article discusses some methods to provide the lowest cost scanning options, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. Take a look at the article if you want to understand why low cost may or may not be in your best interest.

Microfilm Conversion Project Cost Factors

Type of Microform

“Microfilm” is the catch-all phrase used for any microphotographic reproduction of books, manuscripts, maps, journals, and other documents. Technically, the correct umbrella term is “microform” (which includes microfilm, microfiche, aperture cards and other types of film). When pricing a digital conversion project, the first factor to consider is the type of microform that you’re planning to digitize. The three base types are:

  • Microfilm
    • comes in rolls that are either 100- or 215-feet long
    • frame sizes are either 16mm or 35mm
  • Microfiche
    • standard types are jacket fiche (either 16mm or 35mm) and COM fiche
  • Aperture Cards
    • the most common have one 35mm frame per card, but some have 16mm images with multiple images per frame

To understand which type of microfilm you have, please visit our page that describes the various types.

Amount of Microfilm Rolls, Microfiche Sheets, and Aperture Cards

Another factor in determining the cost of a microfilm conversion project is the number units that will be converted and the number of images that will be scanned. The distinction between “rolls to be converted” and “images to be scanned” may seem trivial, but when you are getting quotes on microfilm conversion you need to determine whether the vendor charges per roll or per image. BMI, for example, normally charges per microfilm roll / microfilm sheet while some of our friendly competitors charge a per-image fee. In either case, most microfilm companies offer volume pricing (the price per roll/image goes down the bigger the project is), so if you are considering digitizing in stages with the idea of saving money, it may actually cost less overall to convert your entire collection as a single project.

If you’re not sure how many rolls of film you have, or how many sheets or cards, we put together an article that gives you some tips to get an estimated volume. Visit our “How Much Microfilm And Microfiche Do I Have?” page to learn how to estimate your collection!

Condition of Original Material

Microfilm is a (potentially) delicate medium and susceptible to damage from poor handling, improper storage, and natural disasters. The impermanence of microfilm* is one of the biggest reasons to create digital backups in the first place, as well as being a factor in determining the total cost of a digitization project. Dirty or damaged microfilm will need to be repaired prior to scanning, and the extra care and attention may result in a slightly higher cost per scan for the project overall. If your microfilm smells like vinegar, you should have two thoughts: 1) “my film smells like vinegar. This can’t be good.” and 2) “It might be a little more costly since my film smells like a salad dressing.” 

Wondering how to tell if your microfilm is decaying? We’ve got you covered with our post about microfilm deterioration.

*Side note: granted, microfilm has an expected lifespan of around 500 years, so we’ll all be dead by the time it goes bad if it’s handled properly, but it’s still a limited timeline in the grand scheme of things.

Indexing Requirements

Adding descriptive metadata to each scan makes them easier to search and discover, but the extra steps involved with indexing digitized microfilm may also increase the cost of the project. Depending on the project, the index creation process may include time spent researching and creating standard tags and vocabulary, data entry and re-use of existing metadata.

Index information can include:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Date created
  • Date digitized
  • Disposition date
  • Format
  • File size
  • Pages
  • Description
  • Location
  • Access restriction
  • Keyword

Just because you can indexing a field doesn’t mean you should. It’s usually best to start simply and go from there. Our article about indexing describes a few scenarios to help you get a sense of the potential benefits and detriments that come with various levels of indexing.

Storage and Delivery

The final cost factor is the output, or delivery, of the images once they are converted. Document image delivery options include USB drive (thumb drive or hard drive) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol, which currently may enable tax advantages). You can also choose to have your digitized microfilm stored in a secure, cloud-hosted portal (think SaaS application with online web-based access) that centralizes important records in one simplified and protected location. Whatever you decide, make sure you know what the output will be whenever you get a quote on microfilm conversion.  

Is In-House Digitization Cheaper Than Outsourced Microfilm Conversion?

If you’re overseeing the planning and execution of a microfilm digitization project for your organization or business, you’ve probably considered saving money by bringing the project in-house. However, when you add up all the direct and indirect costs of an in-house digitization project, the cost to outsource can be a lot more attractive. Outsourcing a microfilm conversion project can typically save money in the following areas:

    • Staffing – Expenses related to staff training and turnover are incurred by the vendor, which means no need to reallocate internal staff to the project or hire new/temporary employees.
    • Equipment – Outsourcing a digitization project can also save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment costs, including scanning equipment and image processing software.
    • Volume – Vendors can typically perform a higher volume of scanning then can be done in-house thanks to highly-trained staff and top-of-the-line equipment, so your organization can start enjoying the benefits of a digital microfilm collection sooner rather than later.
  • Space – Do you have the physical capacity to put multiple scanning units, processing equipment, and employees to convert your microfilm? This is an often overlooked part of taking a project in-house.

To be redunant, we suggest you take a look at an article we put together specifically about the idea of hiring a vendor to provide microfilm scanning services. Check out our “Why Should I Hire A Scanning Expert?” article if you’re considering working with a company that specializes in digitization.

Interested in learning more about digital conversion and pricing?

Reach out to us and see if microfilm digitization fits in your budget and is right for you!