Introduction: 16mm Film Etched Animation

Learn how to create short etched animations on film by first designing them in Adobe Illustrator and finally etching them using a laser printer. Prior knowledge of Adobe Illustrator is strongly recommended as this instruction won't cover how to use the program in great detail.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Materials and Tools


· 16mm film

· Masking tape

· Ziploc bags

· Flat 1-yard wooden board

· Ruler/yardstick

· Pencil/pen


· Laser Printer

· Scissors

· Laser Printer Focus Tool

· 16mm film projector

Step 2: Uploading Template and Creating Designs in Adobe Illustrator

Open Adobe Illustrator and load 16mm film strip template. Keep in mind that the parameters for each frame extend from the middle of the top film sprocket to the middle of the next film sprocket. If your animation overlaps frames, it’ll be cut between those frames. The most effective way to create a uniform design is by copying the base elements of the first frame and pasting them to the next frames. Then you can make small tweaks to each frame, while maintaining the core design. Even some of the simpler designs can work well for this type of projection (such as a flower sprouting, raindrops falling or geometric shapes moving around the frame.

Always remember to make sure that your animations fit within the following frames. It also helps to fill in your objects black so the entire object is etched out instead of just the outline. This will help your objects stand out on the film strip and will look more visually appealing on screen. Avoid using other colors than black in Illustrator since you have to match your cuts in the printer software to the corresponding color (this will just make things more complicated).

Step 3: Review Illustrator Files

Make to review your Illustrator file before you get ready to print. All stroke lines should be .001 in diameter, each individual design should fit within the given frame space, and both the film sprocket and sound strip layers should be deselected. Otherwise the laser printer will not correctly etch your design on the film strip. Also, be sure that the stroke sizes of your design are not so intricate that the laser printer has a difficult time etching them. Larger blocks of texts or images work better for this format.

Step 4: Navigating Printer Functions

Some of the most common errors that I’ve personally encountered are forgetting to change the speed and power settings in the laser printer software, as well as remembering to change the default printer material. Since we want to avoid completely cutting through the 16mm film material, make sure the power intensity is low and the speed is high. I would recommend using 15 power and 100 speed in order to successfully etch the film strip. Make sure that you have the black text layer option selected to change the print settings of your design. In addition, another important step to remember is to change the default printer material to plastic polymer film. This can be found under advanced printer settings, specifically preferences.

Step 5: Aligning and Laying the Film Strip in the Printer Bed

Using a yardstick measure the width of the scrap wooden block and mark the center of the material. Then using this center point draw a straight line through the middle of the wood. This will now serve as a guide to properly align the film strip on the laser bed. Once this is done, place the 16mm film strip on the wooden block, flush against the line running down the center. Use masking tape on each end of the film strip to hold it down against the wood. Also, make sure that the film sprockets are facing towards you in the printer bed. After this place the film strip (attached to the wooden board) in the top left hand corner of the printer bed.

Step 6: Final Laser Printer Settings

Once you’ve placed your film strip in the laser printer bed, use the focus icon (in the printer software) and the (physical) focus tool to focus the laser on the material. After you’ve completed this task, ensure that the design in the printer is aligned with the film in the printer bed. Adjusting the X and Y values according to the printer bed rulers will ensure your design is correctly setup. Depending on the size of your laser printer bed, you may have to repeat this process more than once to etch your entire film strip.

Step 7: The Print

Keep an eye on your laser print after you’ve initialized the software, so that any unexpected occurrences with the machinery can be controlled. If you have excess film strip that doesn’t not fit on the wooden board, you can place it underneath the board or away from the right-hand corner of the laser printer bed.

Step 8: Reviewing the Final Cut

After you’ve made the print review the quality of the laser cuts, and finally (if possible) view the film using an appropriate film projector. If parts of the design are not as visible as others trying scaling them up in Illustrator, simplifying your animations or expanding your animation over more frames.