Wet Scanning Developed Film

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon5 Comments

What Is Wet Scanning For Digitizing Film?

Wet scanning is a process not for the faint of heart, but if you want the very best image quality digitizing film this may be your best option. Wet scanning is a technique for digitizing film that involves liquids (one is kerosene, so toxic and dangerous) on a flatbed scanner.

Why Do Wet Scanning For Digitizing Film?

Wait, so the technique is both difficult and dangerous? Why would anyone want to do this? In a word – quality. If you are going to use a flatbed scanner to digitize your film, dry scan techniques have a problem called “Newton rings” that negatively impact the quality of the resulting digital image.

These Newton rings happen when film directly contacts the glass of a flat bed scanner. They are really hard to remove using post-processing software and they happen with all dry flat bed scanning techniques.

Newton rings aren’t such a bad problem you would want to do wet scanning for all of the developed film you have. For most uses, dry scanning will be just fine – especially if you are going to be digitizing a large amount of developed film. Wet scanning is something you would do if you have a single frame of developed film you need to digitize with the best possible quality.

What Do You Need For Wet Scanning?

Guaranteed you don’t have what you need to do wet scanning as you read this article:

  • Scanner
  • Dust blower
  • Mylar
  • Gloves
  • Liquid chemicals
  • Fluid Mount Holder (optional)
  • Patience (gonna take some practice)
Scanner For Wet Scanning Film

Scanners were once a very popular desktop peripheral. They aren’t nearly as popular today as a stand-alone device. Most households have opted for a multi-function printer these days, which have some basic scanning capabilities.

You can’t use that multi-function printer for wet scanning film. Nor can you use any of the inexpensive options (like the Epson Perfection 600 that runs about $200 ) to make this work. Remember, this technique is used to get the very best quality digital image out of your single frame of film, and that means you need a really good scanner.

We recommend the Epson Perfection 800 that runs about $900. Yep, $700 more money than the baby brother from Epson. Do you really need to spend that extra $700? You do.

Even though the DPI capabilities on the two scanners look the same, there are two lenses in the Perfection 800. One is used for dry scanning, the other is used for wet scanning. It is built for this. The Perfection 600 doesn’t offer that. If you can find one, the Epson Perfection 700 would work too, but Epson discontinued that model so you will only find it used.

Dust Blower For Wet Scanning Film

Hey, this might be something you already have! You are going to need a dust blower to get rid of dust from both sides of the film you are scanning and the acetate sheet (the next item). Yeah, if you want the ultimate quality digital image from your developed film even dust particles are something you have to get rid of.

If you don’t already have a dust blower, get the Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large ($17).

Mylar For Wet Scanning Film

You are going to make a liquid sandwich with your developed film. The glass on the flatbed scanner is the bottom of the sandwich and this mylar is the top.

The quality of the mylar is important. You need optical quality mylar or you will end up with color casting and scratches that lower the quality of your digital image. Remember that you are wet scanning to get the very best quality, so don’t skimp on this.

Get the AZ42 4mil Optical Grade Mylar sheets ($90) from Aztek.

Gloves For Wet Scanning Film

The second thing that isn’t a specialty item for your wet scanning of developed film. You want to wear gloves to make sure you don’t put fingerprints on the film or the mylar but also because the liquid chemical you are going to use is toxic. Any plastic gloves will do here.

Liquid Chemicals For Wet Scanning Film

As with all electronics, liquids aren’t great for them. You need to make sure to use the liquid pretty sparingly here, keeping it in the middle of the flatbed scanner so that it doesn’t go down the edges inside the device. You also want something that is going to evaporate pretty quickly.

You want the Kami SMF2001 Scanner Mounting Fluid ($45) from Aztek. You will also want some glass cleaner to clean the glass on the flatbed scanner at the start of every image capture. You want the Foaming Anti Static Glass Cleaner ($6) from Aztek for that.

Fluid Mount Holder For Wet Scanning Film

A fluid mount holder for the scanner is optional. If you think you can be careful and put the liquid down on the scanner, place the film down, add more liquid, and then place the mylar then you can give that a go. The downside of doing this without the holder is not having your film be truly square in the scanner.

The holder gives you a nice place to put the liquid without having it run all over the scanner and it fits to the scanner so that you can do a better job of getting the film in there square.

If you get the Epson printer then you want the Epson Fluid Mount ($60).

Wet Scanning Film Process

With all of the materials mentioned above, you are ready to do a wet scan of developed film:

  1. Put on your gloves.
  2. Clean off the glass of the flatbed scanner with glass cleaner.
  3. Apply a small amount of the scanning mounting fluid to the glass of the flatbed scanner
  4. Place the developed film on the scanner. Curve it with your hand so that the middle of the film touches down to the scanner first and the let go over the edges. This should limit the bubbles in the liquid under the film
  5. Apply a small amount of scanning mounting fluid to back of the film
  6. Lay the mylar down on top of the film with the scanning liquid on top using the same technique you did with the film
  7. Use a cloth to apply a little pressure to press out the bubbles.
  8. Use the scanner software to scan the film

Scanning Film vs Using Your Camera?

As was mentioned at the top of this post, you don’t want to do this when you have a large quantity of developed film to digitize. It is slow, tedious, and a little bit dangerous. Wet scanning is for when you want to get the very highest image quality from a scan for a small amount of developed film.

If you just found a shoe box full of developed film and have a bigger digitization project on your hands you will want to use dry scanning methods with a flatbed scanner, or if you are a photographer who has an interchangeable lens camera (DSLR or mirrorless) you could use that to get some pretty high quality digitals from your developed film.

For tips on how to use your camera check out the Photo Taco episode with Chris Marquardt of the Tips at the Top Floor podcast back in October 2018 called Ultimate Guide to Digitizing Prints and Negatives.  In that episode we talked about the way to use your camera to scan film and prints, which our listeners would be able to do without much expense as well.  Is wet bed scanning going to produce better results?

You could also consider these very expensive devices that could help you get a massive job done:

  • Slidesnap Strip: $3,795.00 – 30 images a minute
  • Slidesnap Slide Scan Pro: $3,495.00 – 30 images a minute

Doodads

Jeff: Slidesnap products above.

Brent:  Defender Lens Cap https://www.polarprofilters.com/products/defender-lens-cover

Reminders:

Comments

  1. Jeff, an alternative to Scanning Film or using your camera is a company called Southtree (Southtree.com). I have used them to digitize old negatives and prints. I was very happy with their service and plan on using them in the future. I imported the jpegs into Lightroom and was able to make minor adjustments. I highly recommend this company.

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