Scan Photo Negatives Using a Scanner




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Some high-end flatbed scanners include a transparency feature for scanning photos directly from film negatives, while for other scanners you need to purchase a separate transparency adapter to scan your negatives. However, if you have an older or less-expensive scanner, or you simply don’t want to spend the money on a transparency adapter, you can use a few simple materials and a graphics editing application to transform your device into a usable film negative scanner.

Step 1
Wipe away any dust from the negative strips with the lint-free cloth. Use the scissors to cut the strips into individual frame images. While you can scan an entire strip at once, creating and scanning individual slide images from the negatives provides much better images on the computer.

Step 2
Place one of the negative frames on the center of the scanner glass, so that it aligns with the edge of the scanner glass and is as straight as possible. Place a piece of regular white letter-sized paper on top of the negative while taking care not to move or nudge the frame piece. Leave the scanner lid open, or remove it completely if you can easily detach it from the scanner bed.

Step 3
Position a desk lamp or other small light so that the bulb sits about four to six inches above the top of the scanner bed and the white piece of paper. Turn on the lamp.

Step 4
Launch your computer's scanning application, and then click the “Preview” or "Scan" link in the program. Wait a few seconds for the scanner to warm up and begin scanning the negative. After the scanner performs the initial scan, use the "Crop" or arrow buttons in the scanning application to adjust the visible area of the scanned imaged in the preview window until only the inverse image of the negative appears.

Step 5
Click the “Scan” button again to scan the negative frame once more at full resolution. Wait a few seconds for the high-resolution image of the scanned negative frame to appear in the preview window. Crop or adjust the visible preview area again, as needed.

Step 6
Click the "Save" menu option or button in the scanning application, and then save the scanned image of the negative as a GIF or JPEG file. Note that the scanned image of the negative frame appears inside out or inverted in terms of color and depth.

Step 7
Open a graphics editor program such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, GIMP or Paint Shop Pro. Open the GIF or JPEG image file you saved in the scanning program. Click the "Invert Image" or "Positive Exposure" tool icon or menu option to invert the scanned image so that it displays normally as a black and white or color photo, depending on the color type of the original negative frame.

Step 8
Click "Save" on the graphics program's menu bar or toolbar, and then save the inverted image of the negative as a regular photo on your computer.

Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw and Paint Shop Pro are commercial programs you purchase. If you don’t already have a graphics program capable of inverting negative images, download and install GIMP, which is free, relatively easy to use and offers many of the features of a commercial application (link in Resources).

Required Items
Lint-free cloth
Scissors or utility knife
Sheet of letter-sized white paper
Light source
Photo editing application

HP Digital Photography Center: Scan 35mm Photo Slides and Negatives
All Graphic Design: Flatbed Scanners & Resolutions Tips - How to Scan
PCWorld: How to Scan Slides
Computer Darkroom: Scanning Colour Negatives

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16 Discussions


8 months ago

I use an IT Scanner to scan old negatives and slides. I have tried using the regular printer/scanner but the light also shines on the face of the negative or slide so I get a black and white image and not so great scan.

1 reply

Reply 8 months ago

This is how a scan turned out using a regular scanner and not the IT Scanner designed for the purpose. I have managed to photograph transparencies with them on a light table and using a digital camera.


9 months ago

I use Photoshop CC 2018 and an Epson scanner with up/down light sources. I made the mistake of volunteering to scan/enhance/print approximately 1000 color/B&W negatives & approximately 600 photos (color & BW); Wow what a job! The scanning of the negatives sort of followed your procedures - but I did take shortcuts.
First thing I did was use compressed air and blew it across the negatives . I was leary of using a cloth to wipe across the negatives. There is a special cleaner you can use on negatives and on slides to clean them - Google search for this cleaning fluid .
Because I was in a hurry, I did a rough job of aligning the strip of negatives on the flatbed scanner; I used Photoshop to align/square the image - crop tool in Photoshop. The downside of cropping is, (sometimes) you lose part of the photo's edge. I usually don't worry about losing part of the photo's edge; i.e., nobody recognizes that you did remove part of the edge. But, if you want to be true to archiving, you must make more effort to align the negative / photograph on the scanner.
After the scan is complete, I enlarge the photograph, in Photoshop, to 100%. I did this to remove any scratches or spots on the photograph before I printed it.
Bottom line, be careful of what you volunteer for and follow the above procedure; use my procedure if in a hurry.


3 years ago on Introduction

You can try this

1) Put the film on the scanner
2) Put a phone with white display(you may use a white wallpaper with no icon) over it
*Keep the scanner cover open
3) Scan it on max possible quality(res)
4) Invert the image(in terms of color)
5) Then open the image in GIMP
6) Go to Tools->Colors->Layers...
7) Select the dropper with white color and select a point in the image that according to you is 100% white
8) Now select the dropper with black color and select a point in the image that according to you is 100% black
*Don't choose a point in step 6 and 7 outside the image like film border etc
Now you are done.
(You may try the auto feature as well)
I tried with a pre-scanned films(steps 4 till end) and the results are pretty impressive.
(This is not my original content but rather a comprehension of 4-6 similar articles that I read on internet.)

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

This sounded like a great idea so I tried it. For some reason on both scanners I have, the image comes out b&w when it is backlit by anything. Even if I just lift the lid to let light in. As soon as I close the cover itès color again. Any ideas?


3 years ago on Introduction

You invert it in photoshop Ctrl+i

Then some color banlance and voilà!


5 years ago on Introduction

I get a bluish image instead of a colored one, and I used Photoshop and GIMP both. Any suggestions to get the perfect color back??? I am looking forward to digitize my childhood photo film, as I dont wanna fool around for printing charges.... and I wanna upload it on FB

4 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

A few of things I've found:
- The frame edge is a good place to start for removing the negative orangeness (or image blueness).
- I have found my iphone on blank white is a nice even light box and you can tweak the screen brightness to best utilise the scanner's dynamic range without oversaturating.
- Some scanners (including my Canon MG6100) use synchronised scanning of 3 colour pulsed LED for colour scanning using a b/w sensor, in which case using an external light loses the colour of the image as there isn't the pulsed RGB to synchronise with. Re-scanning 3 times using a red, green and blue screen as backlight is possible but recombining the 3 images is a pain.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

The author left out a step during the final editing portion on Photoshop or Gimp. After you invert the colors, you should see that everything is blue. You need to select white balance and click on a part of the image you know should be white, then go to black balance, and click on part of the image you know should be black. Then everything will turn to color. You may see that there is a lot of yellow spots as well, because instead of evenly distributing the light, the lamp just causes one big overpowering bright spot. I've tried so many things, but nothing gives very good quality other than a scanner that really has the capability for scanning transparencies and negatives, unfortunately.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Well, I heard about TMA (Transparent Material Adaptor) scanner attachment from HP. Is it similar to this method shown here? I guess HP has some other arrangement to scan negatives coz it gives an option "Scan negatives from TMA". Now this is totally confusing for a newbie like me......


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

TMA is just a lamp that you place over the negative, like this instructable, but it provides a much more even light


5 years ago

can we scan colour film with this guide ?


5 years ago on Introduction

A few pics for each step plus one of the result would have been nice …