How to Scan 35MM Negatives

photo, curtesy of Nikon

Things You'll Need

  • Film scanner
  • Computer
  • Storage media
  • Graphics program (optional)

You switched to a digital camera years ago but there are boxes of old 35MM film negatives stored away from decades of film shoots. Transferring these images to your computer for archiving or editing is easy once you have the right equipment. You can even print images from the scanned copy with good results.

Choose the right scanner. The reason many attempts to scan negatives fail is because a regular flatbed scanner doesn’t create the intensity of light necessary to penetrate the negative and copy the details. A film scanner records the image with a much higher DPI (dots per inch) resolution, resulting in a high quality rendition of your negative.

Connect the scanner to your computer using the manufacturer's software. You will be creating some big files when scanning negatives and your computer may run slowly when transferring the images.

Scan a strip of negatives and open up the images on your screen. Your scanner allows you to choose different resolutions during the scan process and now is the time to adjust those settings. If you want to print large pictures from the negatives, you’ll need to use a high DPI scanning resolution. A mid-range resolution is fine for archiving smaller images.

Consider scanning directly to a high-storage removable drive. Since graphic images take up large amounts of memory, a removable drive allows you to store the images in one place without using up your entire computer’s storage space.

Feed old or curled negatives very carefully into the film scanner. Film scanners use a mechanism to pull the strip through the scanner and it flattens out as it goes. In rare cases, a curled negative may crack or break. If you can’t flatten out the strip easily with your hand, don’t put it in the scanner. Take those strips to a professional who can soften them before scanning.

Label your images as you go. After each strip is scanned and loaded, you will have the option of giving it a name. A quick descriptive word or two will make it easier to locate the images later when your removable drive contains a few hundred photos.

Use a graphics program to restore the original color of the images. Negatives can fade after years of storage but most graphics programs allow you to adjust the hue, saturation and contrast to bring the photo back to life.


  • You can transfer scanned negative files to a CD for professional printing.