Tag Archives: Microfiche

How a Microfilm Reader Works

The mysteries of technology are endless. Well, okay, maybe they’re not so much “mysteries” as “things I don’t know about (yet),” but still. I’m around microfilm readers every single day at Imaging Systems, yet they have always been a bit foreign to me. I’ve certainly never actually used one, only ever looked at its parts in the warehouse or rolled one back to one of our technicians so they could work on it. It seemed about time I learn more about the thing I’m constantly blogging and tweeting about. With the magic of Google and a few pertinent questions to the experts, I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding now! Allow me to elaborate.

Microfilm readers are basically glorified overhead projectors. Ya know, those things from elementary school?
Overhead ProjectorRinging a bell, now? Basically if you made a hybrid between an inexpensive overhead projector and a top-of-the-line movie projector, you’d end up with a microfilm reader. But how, exactly, do they work? I’m going to do my best to explain.

The must-have components of any microfilm reader is a (powerful) light source, mirrors, and a projection screen. And, of course, the microfilm itself.
Like an overhead projector, the film is illuminated as its image is sent through a series of mirrors to then project a larger version of itself onto a white screen.

Overhead projector 2

However, a microfilm reader uses film (or fiche) instead of a plastic laminate. In this, it’s like a movie projector that also uses film. A movie projector works in a very similar way to an overhead projector, in that it uses mirrors and a light source to project the image onto a white screen. A movie projector, though, is constantly flashing through the images on its film reel to give the illusion of movement. A microfilm reader does the same thing, except without automatically going through the microfilm. It allows whoever is using the machine to look at each image at his or her own pace, and then to wind the reel to look at the next image (usually by pressing a button on the machine).
microfilm reader 2The microfilm reel is loaded into the machine, and then pulled along the feeder until you get to the image you want. You can go backward and forward through the microfilm reel, making your research run a little bit smoother. Some readers are equipped with printers that allow you to print the image that you have projected onto your screen, too!

Hopefully my expert sleuthing of the internet has provided you with enough information to be an absolute expert in microfilm readers. Or, ya know, just not sound completely moronic when talking about them. Anywho, happy microfilming!


Microfilm vs Microfiche

Microfilm and microfiche…maybe it’s the digital age we find ourselves living in, maybe it’s the fact that the English language is crazy and has no rhyme or reason (they both start with micro so they must be the same), or maybe it’s just that microform is a subject in which not many are well-versed, but these two are always getting mixed up.

I’m here to set the record straight.

Though microfilm and microfiche are often thought of as interchangeable terms, the two are actually very different. From formatting to storage to reading the images, microfilm and microfiche are not the same.

Format                                                                                                                                         Microfilm: Comes on a long strip of film that is wound into a reel. This makes it a bit harder to update images on microfilm because it requires you to cut into your microfilm and then tape the new section you want. Not impossible, but definitely time-consuming.                                                                                                       Microfiche: Comes on flat sheets of photographic film paper. Each sheet can store multiple images. Microfiche is much easier to work with when it comes to updating images, as you can just place whatever sheet with images you want to the collection and move on.

Storage                                                                                                                                                     Microfilm: Normally stored on spools (either plastic or metal) that are then placed in boxes that protect the material from dust or other external factors.         Microfiche: Come on sheets of thin film material. Usually microfiche is  put in protective sleeves and then cataloged within a file box to again protect from dust and such.

Reading                                                                                                                                             Microfilm: Microfilm readers usually have a spooler mechanism that allows you to thread the spool into it. This allows for potentially quicker and more efficient reading.                                                                                                                                 Microfiche: Microfiche readers are similar to microfilm readers, in that it will magnify the image onto a larger screen for viewing. It just differs in the fact that there won’t be an automatic feeder or spooler mechanism for the microfiche.

Consider the record set straight!

Troubleshooting Microfilm Machines

office-space-fax-machineMicrofilm readers and printers can be finicky. Sometimes they just need to be cleaned, other times you need a new lens or roller, and worst of all, occasionally you need to buy a new machine altogether. Fortunately, many times a reader/printer’s problem has a simple, cost-free solution. So, before you go Office Space on your machine, see if these easy trouble-shooting tips can help you.

These tips come from a Minolta RP 605Z machine, but many of the solutions can be used for most microform readers and printers.

Problem: My machine won’t turn on.                                                                                       Solution: Make sure the side door that gives you access to the printer/toner is closed all the way.

Problem: Paper jam.                                                                                                               Solution: When you loaded the paper in the printer, did you put the metal spring clip above the newly loaded paper? If not, go try that. If that didn’t work, are you sure you’re using the right size of paper? Check with your machine’s manual to ensure you have the right size for your machine.

Problem: It won’t load the microfilm or microfiche.                                                         Solution: Your machine needs to be turned on in order to load the microfilm. It’s on? Okay, well are you sure that your machine is compatible with your microform? Some only read microfilm, some only read microfiche, and some read both. Consult your handy manual…or the internet.

Problem: I’m pressing the load button, but it won’t work.                                       Solution: Try loading the film manually. Here’s a video of how to load the film. Instead of pushing the load button in the film, try and work the film through yourself.

Problem: I can’t focus or zoom.                                                                                       Solution: Try taking out the lens then putting it back in to make sure it’s installed correctly.

Problem: The screen’s brightness is uneven or too dark.                                               Solution: Check the lens to make sure it is clean and properly installed. Not sure how to clean your lens? Here’s a how-to. 

Hopefully your problem was one of the “simple solution” variety. If not, give us a call at (608) 276-5559 and we’ll see if we can help you get your machine running like new!

Caring for a Microfilm Reader

As we’ve already talked about how to clean your scanner, we figured we’d also give you some pointers on how to care for your microfilm or microfiche reader. Just like with scanners, and probably even more so, microfilm readers can be incredibly expensive to fix. Many are older, and finding the right parts you need can be a hassle. Luckily Imaging Systems has a huge warehouse full of used and new microfilm parts to help you out. I digress. Doing routine maintenance and upkeep of your microfilm reader can save you serious cash in the long run.

You will need: 

  • Soft Cloth
  • Glass Cleaner
  • Small Screwdriver
  • Mineral Oil
  • New Light Bulb (optional)

Again, we know, it can be easy to look at a machine and feel overwhelmed. For reference, you should be looking at a machine resembling this. You are? Okay good.Microfilm-ReaderDon’t be scared. We’re in this together. Deep breaths, here we go!

  1. Position yourself in front of the reader.
  2. Lift the viewing glasses–the two plates of glass that are below the magnifying glass. Just move the lever attached to them and then you should be able to easily open ’em up.
  3. Using your soft cloth and glass cleaner, gently clean the plates. Let them air-dry before you close them back into place.
  4. Remove the reels that hold the microform (this is where your screwdriver comes in). Just remove the screws on either side of the spindle, which will expose the gearing. Put a small drop of the mineral oil on the gears, reattach the spindle, and slowly turn it. This helps to avoid rust. Do the same thing on the other reel. Close them back up and put the screws back in.
  5. Find the small door with the handle. This is where the light bulb is. If you need a new one, replace it. If not, use the soft cloth and some more of the glass cleaner to gently clean the bulb. Again, let it air dry. Close the door.

You’re done! You can exhale now. If you’re someone who didn’t know to be doing this routine with your microfilm reader, check our online store or give us a call at 608-276-5559 and we’ll see if one of our technicians can help you get your machine working like new again!

How to Clean your Scanner

Scanners can be so expensive; depressingly, infuriatingly expensive. Just as you get regular oil changes to keep your car running like new, routine cleaning of your scanner can help it continue to perform at high levels as well as save your wallet from unnecessary scanner-related expenses.

That being said, it can be incredibly intimidating to mess around with technology that you don’t have any experience with. I have absolutely zero car knowledge, and thus even when I’m in need of the smallest, easiest repair, I’m off to the mechanic. Similarly, many people would prefer to just pay a fee for a new part here or there instead of risking messing up the entire scanner.

Luckily, I’m here to empower you! Scanners are nothing to be afraid of, and simple upkeep and cleaning is easy as pie. Here’s a step-by-step on how to quickly and safely clean your scanner:

  1. Unplug the power cord. No-brainer, obviously, but it’s a step easy to forget. Not that you’re going to do anything to get you electrocuted (hopefully), but better safe than sorry.
  2. Open the lid so you can see the glass. See? This is easy.
  3. Use a soft towel or wipe (something that won’t leave debris when cleaning the glass) and some rubbing alcohol to clean the glass surface, making sure any dust or grime is loosened and set free. Our certified technicians almost exclusively use rubbing alcohol when cleaning scanners here at Imaging Systems. It works. But, be sure not to have the towel dripping with the rubbing alcohol–just put enough on there to make it damp but not sopping. You don’t want the liquid to seep into the inside of the scanner (see step 1).
  4. Do the same on the inside of the lid (the part that touches the glass when it’s closed).
  5. Does your scanner have a transparency lamp? It could llampook something like this—————————————–>                 If it does, just rub that down with your towel and rubbing alcohol too.  This will help ensure your scans don’t have streaks. No transparency lamp? No problem, moving right along.
  6. Last but not least, use a dry (and again, debris-free) towel to wipe up any moisture remaining on the scanner. Close the lid, plug ‘er back in, and you’re set!

See how easy that was? Routine cleanings of your scanner can save you so much time, money, and stress in the future, and when it’s so simple you’d be crazy to not do it.

Have a microfilm scanner that you’re not sure how to clean? Stay tuned for another blog post on how to care for a microfilm or microfiche reader or scanner. Happy cleaning!

How to Clean Microfilm and Microfiche

main_1129Information on how to clean microfilm and microfiche can be hard to come by. There are some companies that are willing to clean your microfilm or microfiche for a fee, but are tight-lipped about their actual cleaning methods.

There are cleaning products available, though they can be hard to come by. One we know of is a slide cleaner that is safe for microfilm and microfiche, which can be found here! 

For some, though, this can be too pricey of an option. For that reason, we also have some basic steps you can use to remove grime, dust, and smudges from your microfilm or microfiche safely and cost-efficiently.

You will need:
-Any lens cleaning solution approved for glasses
-A microfiber or other soft, lint-free towel.
Instead of the two above, you can opt for the pre-moistened eyeglass towelettes (anti-scratch and lint-free).
-Clean paper
-Lens cleaning brush (optional)

First, use your lens cleaning brush on the film to remove any dust or grime that will come off freely.
Next, lay your freshly brushed film on the clean paper.
Moisten the towel but don’t over-saturate it (or use your pre-moistened towelettes), and gently stroke the area you would like to clean in one motion.
Rotate the towel/towelette to a clean portion and again gently stroke in one motion. Repeat this step until you’ve covered all the areas you would like to clean.
Allow the film to dry completely, and you should be set!

We suggest running a test on a small portion of the film to make sure this method works for you before you clean your entire collection only to find out something went wrong!

If you tried this method and are still seeing imperfections, it could be that your microfilm reader/scanner needs a thorough cleaning or possibly a few replacement parts.

Microfilm Scanners VS Microfilm Reader/Printers

We understand how difficult it can be, if not just plain confusing, to decide what kind of equipment to purchase when it comes to document storage. We also understand that it’s an expensive investment and Imaging Systems wants you to make the most informed decision before you take the plunge.  So the question remains—should you invest in a microfilm scanner or a microfilm reader/printer?

Below are some helpful pros and cons of both machines in order to point you in the right direction.          

 Microfilm Scanners


  • Microfilm scanners allow you to create digital images (i.e. digitization) of microfilm and microfiche giving you instant access to your documents via your computer. So instead of digging through filing cabinets and archival boxes, your documents are stored directly on your computer for immediate retrieval.
  • Digitization as a technological storage method is a huge space saver – you no longer have to worry about boxes upon boxes of archives taking over every square inch of your storage.
  • Digitization of documents also allows you to make your documents readily available to the public. For example, the Census Bureau recently digitized millions of the 1940 Census Records electronic distribution.
  • Data that was previously stored on film can now be converted to various formats including PDF, Adobe, TIFF, and others.


  • When stored properly, microfilm can have a life expectancy of up to 500+ years , whereas the life expectancy of a hard drive is unpredictable.
  • Because the life expectancy of a hard drive is unpredictable, you have to create digital forms of back-up to ensure the security of your documents.
  • If you store digital documents on an online database, they are susceptible to being compromised by hackers.
  • Keep in mind that most microfilm scanners do not support OS upgrades. For example, Bell and Howell Spectrum XF machines will no longer support Windows XP in 2014.  Fortunately one of our technicians found a solution, otherwise these particular machines would have become obsolete.

 Microfilm Reader/Printers


  • As stated above, microfilm has a longer life expectancy than computer hard drives.
  • Companies have been using these machines for years; its proven technology that people can rely on.
  • Because microfilm scanners are now in the forefront of document digitization, these analog machines are no longer manufactured which makes them much cheaper than their digital rivals.
  • They are often easier to operate because they require fewer programs to operate.


  • These machines generally take up more space – they’re heavy, large, and the hard copies of your documents need to be properly stored somewhere.
  •  Although microfilm has a longer life expectancy than digital documents, the drawback is that they are susceptible to natural damage such as fires, water, and general wear and tear.
  • They are analog machines so microfilm reader/printers cannot digitize information
            MS7000 Micro Scanner                                         ABR2600 Reader/Printer