Film Grains Meet Digital Pixels: A Complete Guide to Scanning Film

iPhones, and internets, and ion implanters! Oh my!

In this tech-savvy world we can return to 100%-analog-photog-goodness and transform them to digital with some simple scanner-wizardry.

This handy guide will show you how to scan your film, merging all of the sweetest parts of analog with the ease and shareability of digital.

The best part? You don’t have to know a thing about rocket science to follow along.

Learn How to Scan Film!

p.s. Our buddies at Printstagram make some of the bestest Instagram prints we’ve seen! You can make it happen right from your phone.

Why it’s Cool:

paint-smWe all know the benefits of analog photography: slower pace, limited number of frames, and those old cameras are just plain fun to use.

The only downside? Your inner tech maven is crying out for all of those lost shares on Facegram, instabook, and PinTube! Or something like that.

This guide will equip you with the tools to get started on making film grains best friends with digital pixels.



  • Film Scanner (We used a flatbed Epson V600.)
  • A computer
  • Developed 35mm film
  • Dust Blower, Microfiber Cloth, or Anti-Static Brush

Flatbed Scanners vs. Dedicated Film Scanners

paint-smThere are a few brands of scanners, but they mostly fit into two categories for consumers: flatbed scanners and dedicated film scanners.

This article will be dealing specifically with an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, but many of the techniques will still apply, especially to other flatbeds!

Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of a flatbed scanner.

  • Cost: For the most part, a flatbed is a very reasonable option in terms of price and quality.
  • Uses: In addition to being affordable, many flatbeds are able to do both 120 and 35mm, something usually reserved for very expensive dedicated scanners.
  • Ability: Flatbed scanners are certainly capable of great results, but a dedicated scanner is always better. After all, that’s what it’s built for!

Step 1: Prepping The Film

paint-smHere’s what we need to do to the film in order to ensure the best scan.

Dust bunnies sound cute, but for scanning, they are not your friend! Use a dust blower, a clean microfiber cloth (Extra emphasis on clean! There’s nothing worse than scratched film), or an anti-static brush to get rid of any dust that may have settled on the negative.

Tips for preventing dust:

  • Break Out The White Glove: make sure your working environment is as clean as possible. If there’s no dust in the are to begin with, there won’t be any to go on your film.
  • Pre and Post-Scan Storage: Store your negatives in sleeves or binders to keep exposure to open air as infrequent as possible.
  • Dust During Drying: If you develop your own film, try to limit either the air flow around your film as it dries or the dust in the environment. Wet film and dust stick better than glue!

Step 2:Insert Film Into The Negative Holder

paint-smOne of the greatest challenges with scanning is film flatness.

The scanner works a bit like your camera; it focuses on the film to take a “picture” of it. If your film isn’t flat, it’s harder for everything to be in focus. A little curl is manageable.

Place film under a book to flatten unruly negatives, but make sure they’re in a sleeve so they don’t get dusty or scratched.

Each negative holder is a bit different, but here’s how it’s inserted into ours.

Step 3: Place Negative Carrier Onto Scanner

paint-sm This one’s as easy as it sounds! Each scanner has a specific orientation for the negative carrier depending on the film type.

On the Epson V600, there’s an “A” on the negative carrier that should line up with the “A” on the side scanner bed.

If your scanner doesn’t have markings, make sure to place the negative carrier under the slot of glass in the top of the scanner.

Step 4: Scanning Software

paint-smThis step will also be specific to your scanner. We’re using the included Epson Scan software in Professional Mode.

Here are the main points:

  • Make sure to choose the “Film” setting and then the appropriate type: black and white, color negative, or positive
  • Choose the resolution: for files that are easy to work with and great for web use, we set ours to 1200 DPI. If you have plenty of space on your harddrive or want to print above an 8×10, scan at a higher resolution to get a larger image
  • Don’t forget to switch on Dust Removal to get any spots you missed earlier
  • First, hit the preview button and let the scanner generate a preview. At this point you can rotate the photo and mirror the image if the film isn’t oriented correctly.
  • Lastly, choose the file format for the scan and you’re good to go! We usually scan ours as jpeg. A TIFF can provide more information, but at the cost of much larger files. If you need to make corrections to a scan it’s a better option, but for many sharing purposes a jpeg is sufficient!

There are a few third party software options for scanning as well, and our favorites are VueScan and Silverfast.

The advantage to these programs is that they offer more customizability and control over the scanning process. Plus, they have some neat tricks such as setting the film stock to try to get the most faithful result. They’re both friends with PC’s and Macs!

Step 5: Final Touches

paint-sm Once the scan is completed, you have a few choices of where to go next. You can take the scan “as is” and go from there, or import into Photoshop, Lightroom, and other editing programs to make some slight changes.

Sometimes a few tweaks are needed after the fact so that the imagined picture lines up with the actual picture!

Some post-scan adjustments

  • Contrast: This is a big one for black and white. Adjust the contrast so that it’s more faithful to the look of the negative
  • Color: Sometimes a scan will have a shift in colors or have an overall color cast that’s undesirable. The curves adjustment will be your BFF. Utilize the separate color channels to get the look right.
  • Sharpness: Sharpness can be detrimentally affected by the scan. Apply a little unsharp mask or boost the sharpening slider in Lightroom to taste.
  • Dust and Scratch Removal: Despite our best efforts, dust can still remain on the negative and sometimes they get scratched as well. An easy way to fix this is to use the healing brush or clone brush in Photoshop.

This isn’t to change the look of the film, but sometimes this information gets skewed in the scan and needs to be returned to the appropriate value.

Taking it Further