Shining Light On Film Scanning

December 10, 2020 | by Hannah Storch

Shining Light On Film Scanning Banner

Preservation grade film scanning is no simple task, and it becomes considerably more complex in mass digitization projects with large collections. Transmissive materials (a catch-all term used to collectively refer to film, glass plates, and any other media designed to be viewed in front of a light source) present many obstacles in handling and imaging not found with reflective media, and there are other considerations in terms of digitization method and final image rendering. Pixel Acuity has spent the better part of a decade perfecting film scanning workflows that optimize efficiency, fulfill each client’s unique goals, and conform to the highest image quality standards.

Film Scanning Hardware


Film collections are often in a delicate physical state and are susceptible to many types of physical deterioration. Film can degrade in many ways: delaminating, becoming brittle, distorting, and fading to name just a few. All of these factors result in the need for conservation-grade handling and extra attentive care during imaging, especially during rapid capture in mass digitization efforts. 

Because film must be handled with the utmost care, digitization workflows frequently require additional staff beyond an imaging technician/photographer, and once the film has been imaged, there are still many decisions to make regarding the presentation of the film, all of which require in-depth knowledge of software settings, workflows, and processing steps. Clients may want film presented as it appears to the eye, or want negative items converted into positive images and positive images color corrected. 

At Pixel Acuity, our team of experts uses their extensive knowledge and experience to resolve these issues and create the highest-quality preservation-grade digital surrogates.

Pixel Acuity Film Scanning
Pixel Acuity staff digitizes a negative.


In order to provide the best care possible for the film during the digitization process, Pixel Acuity follows the same conservation principles that are used for in-person viewing. All working surfaces are cleaned on a regular basis and the trained object handlers handle the material with care and wear conservator-approved gloves.

In order to minimize potential damage or scratching of the emulsion of the film, Pixel Acuity uses film carriers, such as the Digital Transitions (DT) magnetic or glass carriers, that make minimal or no contact with the emulsion (pictured above). These carriers also help deal with physically distorted material, hand-cut film, and materials of differing thickness, such as glass plates and lantern slides.

Over years of working in the cultural heritage imaging space, Pixel Acuity has perfected imaging workflows for film, moving quickly, efficiently, and safely through the digitization process. By implementing these workflows, we are able to digitize transmissive material at an unparalleled rate, imaging approximately 2,500 35mm slides or 3,200 strips of film a day.

Pixel Acuity Film Scanning Quality Control

Using our extensive knowledge base, Pixel Acuity’s skilled imaging technicians are able to render film according to the client’s specifications and needs: either object reproduction, content reproduction, or speculative artist’s rendering.

Object reproduction imaging is a faithful reproduction of the entire physical object, as it would appear to the eye on a light table. 

Content reproduction involves producing a human-readable version of the image contained within the object, for example, a negative converted to a positive image, or a contrast adjusted version of a faded positive image. Color negative conversion is a particularly challenging task, with no one-size-fits-all solution. However, Pixel Acuity has developed several proprietary conversion methods born from extensive research and experience in the darkroom that provide excellent positive “print” image files from color negatives of all types.

A speculative artist’s rendering involves more creative license and agency on the part of the imaging technician as they attempt to recreate the image as they imagined the artist would have wanted their final product to look. This rendering method can produce final images that counteract the effect of years of age on the film itself and produce an image that is reminiscent of how the original film was most likely intended to look. For this type of bespoke imaging work, Pixel Acuity works with clients to research how the artist might have wanted the image represented to ensure accuracy in the alterations.

Glass Plate Digitized by Pixel Acuity

We Can Help With Your Collection

Pixel Acuity’s extensive experience in digitizing transmissive materials, our knowledgeable object handlers and photographers on staff, and our use of the latest imaging equipment and technological tools in the industry makes us one of the leading authorities on film scanning. 

Working with collections around the world, for institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution, The Getty, and so many others, Pixel Acuity has created digitization workflows that combat the challenges of such a potentially tricky material while optimizing efficiency, quality, and preservation.

To learn more about how Pixel Acuity and Digital Transitions can help you with digitization services, software, and consultations, please contact us.

Looking for more film scanning resources? Check out this new Film Scanning Knowledge Center by DT Cultural Heritage here.

Glass plate negative (right) picturing Abraham Lincoln was taken by Mathew Brady and was digitized by Pixel Acuity for the National Portrait Gallery.