Everything You Need To Know About Microfiche and Microfilm Scanning

In the last decade or so, we’ve been all about making what we have smaller, more compact and easier to store though, surprisingly to some, we have been doing this for a lot longer.

These days when we store documents we typically do this digitally and store them either on our computer hard drive or on an external device which offers more room. These are typically the size of your hand. Long before this however documents were being stored on microfiche / microfilm which are also about the size of your hand.

A brief history of microfiche / microfilm

What’s more impressive is that this has been going on since the mid-19th century, since the birth of photography itself, though it came to more prominence in the 1920s and 1930s when the Library of Congress micrographed around 3 million pages from books in the British Library. Though microfiche and microfilm are still used spuriously, they are now all but obsolete thanks to digital microfiche conversion and a lack of support for the machines that view them.

Differences between microfiche and microfilm

Though both microfiche and microfilm contain negative films, microfiche contain them in a sleeve of either 16mm, 35mm or a combination of both. Microfilm are contained in a film reel which can store considerably more images.

Choosing the right type of Microfiche / Microfilm

The above guides are fairly typical of the different varieties of microfiche and microfilm that are out there but if you’re interested in having them digitised it’s important to know which type you have. Converting a COM fiche can make a difference in cost compared to converting a 16mm microfilm or an aperture card.

Types of Microfiche and Microfilm

Though there are only a few varieties of microfiche and microfilm it can be fairly easy to get them mixed up. Below is a brief explanation of each of the microfiche varieties so you can see which type(s), you have:

16mm Microfiche

The 16mm microfiche is one of the more common microfiche. They can hold upwards of around 60 images, all captured on small negative film. They typically have details of what is on the microfiche itself on the upper part of the jacket usually with a reference number. What is contained on 16mm microfiche? 16mm microfiche can hold general documents between the paper sizes of A5 and A3. These can be financial files, manuals or anything of that paper size.

35mm microfiche35mm Microfiche

35mm microfiche is more specific in its uses than 16mm microfiche. They only usually contain a maximum of 6 images per sleeve, all containing larger format images used by the likes of architects. What is contained on 35mm microfiche? 35mm microfiche is known to primarily hold architects drawings but also broadsheet newspapers and anything above A3 in size.

combi microficheCombi Microfiche

Though rarer, combi microfiche, as their title suggests, hold a mixture of 16mm and 35mm microfiche. Typically they hold 3 35mm microfiche and 2-3 rows of 16mm. They are the same size as 16mm and 35mm microfiche. What is contained on combi microfiche? A mixture of both large format things like drawings and plans plus A4 documentation to go with them.

com microficheCOM Microfiche

Considerably rarer than 16mm, 35mm and combi microfiche, COM microfiche contain considerably more images. Sleeves contain around 270 images, all smaller than 16mm. What is contained on COM microfiche? COMs are typically used in a corporate environment to store and archive mainframe or computer generated reports and data.

16mm microfilm

16mm Microfilm

16mm microfilm are the more common of microfilm. They hold upwards of 2,400 images of around A4 in size and upwards of 10,000 images of A5 and under documents. This makes them ideal for archiving and storing a considerable amount of paper documents. What is contained on 16mm microfilm? Typically A4 documents but also smaller documents.

35mm microfilm35mm Microfilm

35mm microfilm are used to home large amounts of large format images and are ideal for archiving as much as viewing. They typically hold upwards of 600 large format drawings / plans and upwards of 800 broadsheet newspaper pages. What is contained on 35mm microfilm? Usually large format drawings but anything above A3 in size typically.


Aperture Cards

Though aperture cards are not technically part of either the microfiche nor microfilm family, they are very similar in that they store a large image in a small enclosure. They contain one large format 35mm image in a card or sometimes plastic enclosure. What is contained on an aperture card? They are almost exclusively large format drawings and plans.

What to expect from having your fiche / film scanned

The point of microfiche /microfilm in the first place was to get an exact copy of the original document which can be viewed at any time and yet stored in a smaller, more compact and convenient fashion. This is exactly what having them scanned and digitised will do only with further advantages. When the microfiche or microfilm are scanned they will be duplicated digitally before being converted into a popular digital format of your choice such as PDF, JPEG or TIFF but before this full microfiche conversion takes place there are a number of other options which can be applied to the digital image itself.


Documents can be indexed by their reference number on the microfiche sleeve, the name on the sleeve or the name / reference number on the film reel. This makes searching for and finding the documents all the more convenient.


OCR, or optical character recognition, means that you can make all documents with computer / typewriter generated text fully searchable. This is especially useful if you want to search for things within the documents themselves rather than just relying on the indexing. The quality of this can come down to the quality of the original filming. More details on OCR for microfilm and microfiche.

microfiche microfilm scanning guideDownload our guide

We have a downloadable guide to microfiche and microfilm scanning for you to read through, keep and share with colleagues which may help to reduce the confusion that surrounds scanning films. In the meantime, if you’re interested in getting your microfiche or microfilm scanned, explore ourĀ dedicated page for microfiche scanning, or contact us for a free quote.