Introduction: DIY Viewmaster Reels

Picture of DIY Viewmaster Reels

Perhaps you remember the virtual reality glasses from the previous century? Well we've found a viewmaster viewer in a box with old discarded toys. Because there where no reels with the viewer, we came to the idea to make our own.

We ended up with our own, analog, old school, 3D pictures.

We've learned a lot and we are blown away by the great results.

Step 1: You Will Need

Picture of You Will Need

Photo stuff

Shooting day

  • Bright weather
  • Little or no wind
  • Places with depth and without people or animals

For the reels

  • Cardboard
  • Lasercutter (or a makerspace with one)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Pray glue
  • Sharpy
  • If you have it a light table

To see the result

  • A viewmaster

Step 2: The Pictures

Picture of The Pictures

No step was really easy with this project. It was harder than I thought to get an old analog SLR camera that still works. It was also hard to get the right batteries for this camera. And it was also hard to get the 35 mm dia (slide) film.

But finally we managed to get all the camera stuff. We already made a slider for the tripod with a ruler on it and it was a bright day.

There are a couple of things to think about when you make your pictures.

The settings on the camera

  • You want everything in focus, so you need to use the A-setting (aperture priority) on your camera and use the smallest diaphragm. We used 22.
  • Because of this small diaphragm, you will get long shutter times. So you will need to use a tripod. To get the shutter times a little bit down, we used ASA 200 film.
  • In the end you will cut only a very small piece out of your slide, so you will want to take your pictures with a wide angle lens. We used 28 mm.

The weather

  • Because you will have to take two pictures that needs to be (almost) the same, you need weather without wind.
  • The slow shutter speeds will demand a bright day.

The scenery

  • When you choose what to shoot, you want to choose something with a lot of depth. So something close by, something far away and something in the distance.
  • You also need a scene that doesn't move. So no people or animals. Trees and clouds are ok as long as there is no wind.
  • You also need to take in account that you will use only a very small part of your picture, so zoom in in your imagination to imagine what the result will look like.

Shooting the picture

  • When everything is set, it is time to shoot the picture(s). You will need to shoot two pictures for every 3D image you want to make. These pictures need to be taken from a position just a little bit next to each other. We took most of our pictures 10 - 12 cm (4 - 5 inch) from each other. If your image is farther away, the distance between the two pictures needs to be bigger.
  • To not get confused, we always first took the left shot and then the right.
  • Take your time to frame the first shot and then swiftly move the camera and take the second. (You don't need to frame this second shot, just move the camera and shoot) The faster you do this, the less change that something moved in your scene.

(because it was a learning experience for us, we kept notes of all the settings)


  • When all the (36) pictures are taken, you need to bring the roll to a shop where they can develop it and wait for a couple of days for it to return. I had forgotten how great the feeling is to open the envelope and see how the pictures came out.

Step 3: The Reels

Picture of The Reels

While waiting for the film to develop, it is a good moment to get the reel cards made.

  • I first designed the viewmaster reel in Adobe Illustrator. (if you don't have Illustrator you can open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader by simply changing the .ai at the end in .pdf)
  • I don't have a lasercutter (yet) so I went to a fablab (Waag society in Amsterdam) to get the reels cut out of card stock that I brought with me from home. I used two colors so that it would be easy to see what the front of the reel is on the final result.

The reels came out great and they did fit perfectly in the viewmaster.

Step 4: How the Reels Work

Picture of How the Reels Work

We have learned this the hard way, but there are some things you might need to know before you start putting the pictures in.

  • A reel can show 7 3D pictures, so it will need 7 left and 7 right frames, 14 in total.
  • Every time push the lever on the viewmaster the reel will turn two! frames clockwise.
  • The frames always have to be pasted in the holes above the small rectangular holes.
  • The pictures will endup, when you go around, straight, upside down, straight, upside down...
  • Every finished reel is two cardboard reels with the pictures sandwiched in between.

Step 5: Choose Your Pictures

Picture of Choose Your Pictures

The great moment when the pictures come back from developing!

We used a bathroom lamp from Ikea as a lightbox. You could also use a window during the day.

  • First we choose and sorted the pictures.
  • Make sure what frame is the left and what is the right. (it won't work when you get them mixed up)
  • Use an empty reel to choose witch part of the slide you are going to use.

Step 6: Montage the Frames

Picture of Montage the Frames

  • Spray one empty reel board with spray glue.
  • Use the other cardboard part of the reel to decide on your cutout and mark this with a sharpy.
  • Cut on the marking.
  • Push the picture on the glue in place. (you might want to add a small piece of tape, to be sure)
    Make sure you use a spot above a small rectangular hole.
  • Now take the other picture with the same image and frame it on exactly the same height. Take a point as far in the distance on the scene as you can find, to align it sideways. Glue this frame also in place.
  • Now turn the reel two frames clockwise and put in the next picture.
  • Keep on doing this until all 7 pictures (14 frames) are in place.

Step 7: To Finish

Picture of To Finish

  • Spray the other reel board also with spray glue and glue it on the reel with the pictures on it.
  • Put the reel in the viewmaster.
  • Be amazed with the result!

We where very amazed. The result was amazing.

What did we learn the hard way?

  • It is difficult to get 35 mm dia (slide) films.
  • Old camera's have death batteries.
  • You will need a wide angle lens.
  • You will only use a really, really, really small part of your slide. (remember this when you frame your scene)
  • Not every developer still knows that there is a different between developing normal film and dia (slide) film.
  • You'll need to turn the reel two frames for every next picture.
  • Sometimes you can cut two pictures out of one slide.
  • People and animals will not stand still.


Stan1y (author)2016-10-17

I've just found some old view master reel and was looking for how to build a viewer. Ive also got a book of old stereoscope photos but no idea of the dimesions forthe viewer to make them work or even if it needs lenses

stechi (author)Stan1y2016-10-17

Hi Stan,

For your book of stereo photos, it is possible to train your eyes to view them with no equipment. They are often printed about the same distance apart as your average eyes (PD). If you hold up the page and look at the world beyond, your eyes will more or less look straight forward and with practice you can look down and see the images without your eyes re-adjusting. Each eye has to see the same thing in the other image so that the automatic tracking system you have keeps the feature in alignment. Once you have learned this is becomes very easy to do spot-the-difference puzzles. It is easier if you have lenses (like the viewer) to fool your eyes into adjusting to the infinity setting, you could try using a couple of identical magnifying glasses, maybe take apart some cheap opera glasses or binoculars... Method 2: copy the pictures and separate them so that you can put the left on the right and the right on the left. Put them down on the table. Hold your finger in front of them and look at that, move it up and down until the pictures seem to align and transfer your attention to the pictures. This way your eyes are pointing together like for close work so it is a bit more natural but each eye sees the picture on the opposite side, which is why you have to swop them over. This is all much easier to do than to describe! Have fun!

Stan1y (author)stechi2016-10-19

thanks as I already have mild double vision problems I think I'll go the lens route

kenyer (author)Stan1y2016-10-17

if you figure it out, please make an instructable. I'm curious what is inside a viewmaster.

Nicholas C.E (author)2016-10-17 has been selling everything needed for making DIY View-Master reels for years! Here is a link DIY prepunched reels you will also find actual View-Master cameras and chip cutters for sale too!

kenyer (author)Nicholas C.E2016-10-18

They have got really cool stuff, but it will get expensive to ship it to the Netherlands.

stechi (author)2016-10-17

You can still get analog photo film, film cameras and processing, but nowadays people are calling it lomography....

kenyer (author)stechi2016-10-18

Yes, I did find it, but is was hard to get. Normal film was easy, but dia film was much harder to get.

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2016-10-16

This is awesome. My son loves his view master. He would completely flip if he was able to make his own reels.

We also completely flipped when we saw the final result! It looked so much better than we anticipated. We still have one roll of film left, so our next project will be to try to make a story in 7 3D-pictures. Out of one roll with 36 exposures we can make two stories with some spares.

dr.mbogo (author)2016-10-16

If you really get into this, you might want to consider getting yourself a small piece of photographic ephemera from Pentax. It enables the camera to expose both pictures at the same time in the same frame. Obviously it needs a wideangle, but it works amazingly well. From the resulting frame you would be able to cut out the correct slides for the View Master.

Pentax also made their own viewer to go with the adapter. They can still be found on the net and occasionally even at used camera dealers (if you find a good one and know what to look for).

Of course, for the real die hard, there is the View Master Camera.

For slide work the MG can be a bit temperamental with its auto exposure, it would be better to get something with manual exposure, like the ME super, MX, LX or for the cheap mechanical way, a KM, KX,or K1000. All those can be found for peanuts these days.

Personally I would go for the MX or LX as they are full-on pro models that even accept 5fps motor drives. Get yourself an incident light meter while you're at it, helps getting the exposure spot on.

Excellent work, keep on amazing the kiddies who think nothing happens without blinking blue LEDs.

kenyer (author)dr.mbogo2016-10-16

Hi dr.Mbogo,
Thank you for your in dept reply.
We actually tried the first method. First we wanted to make our own, but than we found one really cheap on the interweb. That thing only worked with the lens all the way open and because we wanted the scene to be sharp from front to back, that wouldn't work for us.

The first pictures that we made with the MG where ruined with developing, but we could see on it that we needed a wider angle than the 50mm lens I have on that, so the pictures for our final result are made on a borrowed Minolta with a 28 mm lens. That camera had full manual mode, but the A mode worked just fine for us. (it was only impossible to get the right battery for that camera in our village)

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a social-worker, working with 12 - 23 year-olds. I used to be a printer and I worked voluntarily in Romania for a couple of ... More »
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