Microfiche Scanning: 6 Common Questions Answered

As technology advances by leaps and bounds, organizations must change how they store and manage their legacy data and documents from both a compliance and cost perspective. 

Are you losing out by continuing to store valuable legacy documents on outdated data storage media such as microfiche, aperture cards or microfilm?

Microfiche, the thin transparent photographic film used for storing documents in a miniaturized form, was previously an efficient medium to store large volumes of information but has now proved inadequate. 

Microfiche is essentially a series of microimages—each transparent film sheet stores images or pages in a grid or matrix. The content is filmed at various reduction ratios ranging from 20:1 (20x) to 24x, 48x or even 90x. 

The images are 1/25th the size of the original, a significant space-saving medium compared to paper.

The most common size is the jacket-type microfiche, which is 105mm x 148mm and stores 60 to 70 pages per fiche. An older format called instant imaging fiche cards stored 98 images per fiche. The COM fiche can store 208–270 images per fiche.

Microfiche filmed at very high reduction ratios (90x plus) is called ultrafiche, which accommodates more images per sheet than those filmed at conventional reduction ratios for the same size fiche.

Many organizations still store legacy information on old microfiche created decades ago. Are they endangering valuable legacy information by continuing to store it on microfiche when more efficient and secure digital storage is now available?


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Why digitize microfiche when it's already a micro storage format?

Some businesses have held microfiche aperture cards and microfilm in their archives for so long that their current teams don't know how to read microfiche or how to scan microfiche! 

Though microfiche is already a micro storage format, there are many downsides to storing data on microfiche. 

  • Most importantly, they need special equipment (microfiche reader scanners) to read the data. 
  • These microfiche readers are not particularly user-friendly when it comes to search and retrieval. 
  • You need to know how to use the equipment, and the device should also be maintained in prime working condition. 
  • In addition, the microfiche is inherently prone to environmental damage from moisture, light and frequent handling or exposure to fiche readers.

As businesses prepare to meet the digital era head-on, they are assessing their readiness for improved data storage technologies. 

In one survey (State of Digital Document Transformation), more than 8 out of 10 companies said that digitizing documents is key to unlocking competitive advantage, achieving company goals, and keeping employees happy.

Most of the companies said they had experienced at least one significant benefit of digitization: cost savings (45%), customer satisfaction improvement (43%) and workforce efficiency increases (42%).

If you have made the decision to convert microfiche to PDF or other digital formats (such as JPGs, TIFFs, etc.), there are a few steps you can take to better prepare for your project and have realistic expectations of budget, timelines, and process.

In this article, we answer some of the common questions businesses ask about microfiche scanning and some factors you need to consider before you sign up with a scanning services provider.


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Microfiche Scanning: 6 common questions answered


#1 What is the type of microfiche I have in my archives?

One of the most common questions we encounter from clients is, 'what kind of microfiche do I have?' Their microfiche collection has been around for ages, handled by different teams over the years, and finally, the current staff is completely at sea about the type of microfiche stored in their archives!

  • The most common type of microfiche used for storing legacy information is a thin, transparent film, usually kept in a jacket or sleeve (which is why it is called the jacket type microfiche). The size and number of images in each sleeve or jacket may vary. 
  • If you store general documents such as financial files or product manuals, you likely use a 16mm microfiche that is ideal for paper sizes between A5 and A3. If your archives mostly contain larger format images such as architects' drawings or broadsheet newspapers, these are likely stored on 35mm microfiche. 
  • Some of your documents may be stored on COM (Computer Output Microfilm) fiche, in which a series of images are produced from a mainframe data stream or print file at a 24X or a 48X reduction ratio. 

Have you identified the type of microfiche you have in your archives?

#2 How do I calculate the total quantity of microfiche in my archives?

Estimating the total quantity of microfiche sheets you have and the number of documents contained in them is essential to assessing the volume of your microfiche scanning project. Getting a grip on the quantity will help you accurately cost your scanning project.

Counting each sheet of microfiche is not the most efficient way of estimating the volume as you may have thousands of sheets, and each sheet may hold a varied number of images.

We'll let you in on some commonly used methods of estimating microfiche volume:

  • One way is to estimate how many microfiche sheets fill one drawer of your storage cabinet. A standard microfiche cabinet (the Russ Bassett cabinet being most commonly used to store microfiche) is around 36 inches wide and holds about 178,00 microfiche in each drawer. Once you know the number each drawer holds, all you have to do is multiply it by the number of drawers you have filled with microfiche.
  • A more accurate way is to measure your microfiche stack. Count how many sheets fit in one inch of the stack. Then check how many inches your entire stack measures. Multiply this by the number of sheets per inch. Sounds too tedious? You can safely assume that 90-110 fiche sheets fit in every inch of your stack and just measure your stack height in inches and multiply!

Remember, all you want is a ballpark figure to estimate the costs of microfiche scanning—not the exact number of microfiche!

#3 What options can I consider to digitize my microfiche collection?

There are several ways you can digitize your microfiche collection. Depending on the volume and scope of the project, your budget, and the available staff, you can choose the right approach for your project.

If you already have a fiche scanner, you can use an in-house team to gather and sort the microfiche to be scanned and execute the scanning. It is better to split the collection into small batches, scan the sheets, check the output files, and then route the digital files into an existing content server or document management system

DRS Imaging offers a complete line of microfiche and microfilm scanners for image capture from virtually any type of microformat. These are state-of-the-art, archival quality scanners for microfilm, microfiche & aperture cards. 

ScanPro is the leading microfiche and microfilm scanner on the market today. DRS resells ScanPro in specific regions of the US. Reach out to our consultants to learn more. The ScanPro product line delivers superior image quality with an exclusive 1-click image adjust, live image editing tools, and an easy 1-click scan button as well as print and save buttons.

Once scanned, you can save the digital images on a hard drive, a portable USB drive, or a CD or DVD—but the preferred storage medium today is cloud-based storage as it can hold large volumes of digitized files affordably and securely.

If the microfiche volume in your archives is too large to handle with a single scanner or you don't have a way to store and manage the digital files, it's best to partner with a scanning services provider.

You can decide to scan only the microfiche you need to use, also sometimes known as Scan on Demand. This means you will call in a scanning vendor whenever you have a batch of microfiche to be scanned. 

However, not all scanning vendors have specialized equipment to handle all types of microfiche or microfilm scanning. Even if your neighborhood scanning shop can do the job, it may seem convenient at first but will turn out to be expensive in the long run. 

The final option you can leverage is to partner with a specialized microfiche scanning company and hand over the project to them. 

Even if you work with a professional company, it is not always feasible to complete large scanning projects in one shot. If you have limited budgets, you can opt for a monthly service that tackles a set number of microfiche per month to control the costs and spread the scanning project over an extended period—a good option for organizations with extensive libraries of microfiche to be converted. You can prioritize which documents are to be scanned first—some organizations prefer to first scan documents that are in active use and then move on to older archives—and some do it the other way around.

DRS Imaging is a reputed scanning services provider, having successfully completed thousands of scanning projects across virtually every business application. 

We can convert any document to a digital file, including paper, microfilm, microfiche or mixed digital media. Connect with us to get a quote for our scan-on-demand service to convert your microfiche archives today.

After the microfiche scanning is complete, we can index the scanned documents manually or by other automated methods. Indexing the digitized files is vital because you want to be able to easily search out the file you need. 

You will need to use data capture technology to make your digitized images searchable using commonly used keywords. Our advanced OCR technology generates text-searchable PDF files from scanned images which you can import directly into your existing document management system. If you don't currently use a DMS, we recommend you use Mercury, our industry-leading DMS. 

Mercury automatically captures data and extracts critical information from digitized documents, creating a searchable repository of your archival information. It is the ideal content management system to optimize IT storage costs, reduce compliance risks, store valuable information securely and make it accessible.

#4 How much will it cost me to digitize my microfiche collection?

The cost of scanning is one of the most pressing concerns companies have. Several factors will determine the total cost of your scanning project. The most important factor is the volume of microfiche you want to scan, so make sure you estimate the quantity accurately using one of the methods we discussed above. 

However, apart from quantity, you must decide if you want to split the scanning project into multiple phases or scan all the microfiche at once. Decide the timelines, what kind of output files you require, whether you require OCR, how you want to store or manage the digitized files and what you want to do with the originals after the scanning is complete. 

While it is difficult to get to the exact figure until you speak to one of our representatives who can assess the scope of your scanning project and provide an estimate, we can give you a general ballpark figure.

The price for scanning jacket-type microfiche may range anywhere between $0.75 to $1.25 per sheet, and for COM microfiche, it may range from $3.00 to $5.00 per sheet.

You can request a scanning quote from us with no obligations to help you estimate the cost for your project, and also ask us any questions about the process to help you make the best decision for your digitization and data storage needs.

#5 How long will it take to digitize my microfiche archives? 

Just like for pricing, all the details of your scanning project must be considered to estimate how long it will take to finish the scanning project.

While we use production-grade scanners that can scan high volumes of documents per minute, several other project details can affect the scanning project timelines:

Do you want the digital files indexed and routed into a document management system after scanning? What kind of data storage or archival system do you need? Do you want the originals to be securely shredded after scanning or returned to your premises?

Our expert consultants can work with you to scope the project, document all your requirements and prepare a schedule for the digitization project. 

#6 What does the process of microfiche scanning look like?

Now that you understand what kind of microfiche you have, their volume, how you can digitize them and how much it's likely to cost you, you may want to know the details of the scanning process itself.

When you partner with a specialized microfiche scanning services provider like DRS Imaging, we provide all the equipment needed for the conversion project. We use high-quality, efficient, and professional scanning machines that convert the microfiche to digital formats of your choice—whether in PDF, TIFF or JPG formats. Our experienced staff will handle fragile microfiche archives without damaging them and ensure no image is missed from the microfiche jackets. 

We provide a secure chain of custody from the time we pick up your microfiche to the moment we complete the scanning project. 

  • We use secure transportation to move your boxes of microfiche to one of our SOC 2 certified scanning bureaus
  • Our trained personnel will carefully tag each box of microfiche so it can be tracked through the project. 
  • They then prep the documents for scanning and do a thorough quality check to ensure that the scanned images are of the best possible quality.
  • Once we are sure that each document has been scanned correctly, we can either return your originals to your premises or safely destroy them, depending on your document retention policy.
  • We index the digital files using keywords from the microfilm content and title or identifiers such as roll and frame numbers to create metadata for each file to enhance its searchability.

If your microfiche or microfilm rolls cannot be transported outside your premises for scanning, you can opt for our onsite scanning service, where we send equipment and personnel to your premises and complete the scanning in your staff's presence. 


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Why choose DRS Imaging for your microfiche scanning project

Our microfiche conversion services take the risk out of storing valuable information on microfiche. Convert your microfiche archives into a secure, cost-effective digital repository without any infrastructure investment.

  • Fast turnaround times: Trust DRS Imaging to execute your scanning project at a quick pace while controlling costs and ensuring high quality of output.
  • Secure chain of custody: Our professional approach to secure transportation, our SOC 2 certified facilities and trained scanning personnel ensure that your valuable information is protected throughout the process.
  • Accurate results with high-resolution output: Get the most accurate results with our state-of-the-art scanning equipment, trained experts and best-in-class software for data capture, indexing and classification.


DRS Imaging: The ideal microfiche scanning partner 

Outsource your microfiche scanning to a reputed service provider like DRS Imaging for the best results.

We provide secure scanning services across the US to digitize paper, microfilm, and microfiche. 

Mercury, our industry-leading document management system, is the ideal way to manage and store your digitized documents securely. 

DRS offers you a range of cost-effective cloud-based data storage and archival solutions.

We have completed complex scanning projects for highly regulated and document-intensive industries such as finance, insurance, legal firms, government bodies and large educational institutions.

Connect with an expert at DRS to manage your microfiche scanning project. We help you leverage the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of modern digital storage methods, making your data compliant and future-ready.