Converting Microfilm and Microfiche Documents into Shareable Formats

Micrographic formats, such as microfilm and microfiche, were invented in the mid 1800’s as a means to document and archive information.  The format sources didn’t gain widespread adoption by organizations and agencies until the mid 1950’s.  In the 80’s, however, we began to see more solid advances in technology as digital mediums took over. Instead of using micro format sources that required a reader to be accessed, digital files such as PDF, JPEG and TIF gained prominence over physical hard copies on film and fiche. Microfilm and microfiche formats have been on a steady decline ever since.

Many of our clients in Richmond, VA and Washington, DC have tasked us with the job of digitizing their microfilm and microfiche into usable digital files such as JPEG and PDF.  Student records, patient files, financial documents, and historical articles are just a few examples of information that businesses and government agencies have archived to microfilm and microfiche. Although microfilm and microfiche are still very relevant and useful archive mediums, the sources do lack many of the advantages of a digital file. In addition, the age and condition of the source oftentimes affects its ability to be accessed and accurately read.

The most common format is 16mm microfilm.  These sometimes have “blip” marks between documents to aid in retrieval. A 16mm microfilm usually holds between 1,800-2,000 images. A 35mm microfilm can hold around 900 to 1,000 images. Jacketed microfiche is used to hold similar documents together, making search and retrieval much easier. A jacketed 16mm microfiche would typically hold 50 images, while 35mm could hold 5 to 10 images.

You may also hear the term “step and repeat” and COM (Computer Output Microfiche) which are processes used to create the micrographics. A step and repeat 16mm microfiche would hold approximately 100 images whereas a COM microfiche could hold as much as 256 images. Much of this may sound confusing, but these numbers may help you better estimate an image count by simply counting the rows and columns of a representative sample then averaging them together.

Lastly, aperture cards also known as Hollerith cards have a piece of 35mm film embedded into a punch card. This was typically used in the engineering industry to hold drawings.   A 16mm microfiche can hold around 100 images.  The microfilm 16mm holds up to 2,000 images.  A 35mm microfilm will hold approximately 1,000 images.

Leave a Reply