The Wonderful World of Aperture Card Scanning

Twenty-five percent of businesses file for bankruptcy after data loss. Smaller businesses have it worse. Sixty percent will close shop after a single breach, so there's tension surrounding data storage, organization, and security in our current security-driven ecosystem. In response, the cybersecurity industry, which is littered with interesting and unique solutions, has grown into a staggering 150-billion-dollar behemoth. Yet, some companies aren't turning towards next-gen cybersecurity solutions to solve their data woes; they're looking back.

Originally developed in 1963, aperture cards have been an industry-standard in engineering, construction, and government for decades. Even in the digital landscape filled with amazing cloud servers, AI, machine learning, and SaaS systems, aperture cards present themselves as a valuable way to store and backup data, especially for archival or long-term storage purposes.

So, what are aperture cards? What does it cost to create an aperture archive? And how can you create an aperture archive without sinking your budget or focus?


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What Are Aperture Cards?

Aperture cards are a type of cardstock that has a hole (or "aperture") that fits a microfilm image. Like other forms of microform (e.g., film reels, flat sheets of microfiche, etc.), aperture cards utilize microfilm technology to reduce the size of data and information while still supplying mechanical and physical properties that data systems lack. Typically, the actual data of the card is stored on the microfilm image. However, certain types of aperture cardstock can also be used in conjunction with punched card equipment to dictate additional information about the data — such as reference numbers.

Even in today's digitally-soaked landscape, there are plenty of tangible benefits to aperture cards. For starters, aperture cards last for centuries, which is why the Library of Congress and the National Archive utilize microfilm as an archiving and preservation technique. Additionally, many engineering documents and plans still leverage aperture cards as a secure and size-forward way to analyze, preserve, and utilize plans during day-to-day operations.

Aperture cards exist in a strange space in today's business world. Some companies are desperate to scan data off of their existing hordes of past aperture cards, while others are turning toward aperture cards as a means of archival storage, especially as security concerns and deletion disasters continue to rise. In fact, aperture cards present themselves as a unique solution to many of today's regulatory burdens surrounding information storage. 

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The Various Types and Configurations of Aperture Cards

Traditional aperture cards are made out of 82.5mm x 187mm standard card stock, and they have a 50mm x 40mm cut-out hole that houses a 35mm microfilm image. While there are small variations in these standardized sizes, the vast majority of aperture cards printed today have those specifications. But these aren't the only types of aperture cards. And, even within these sizing parameters, there are plenty of unique features that your aperture card can contain to differentiate it.

Let's look at a few aperture card types and configurations.

Film Variations

Aperture cards can be made to utilize two types of microfilm images: 35mm and 16mm. Most aperture cards use 35mm, since its larger format can account for large diagrams and engineering plans. However, aperture cards can also be custom-fitted with 16mm microfilm, or you can use a 35mm microfilm to house multiple 16mm images. The latter is almost always used, and the vast majority (99.9%) of aperture cards are sold with 35mm microfilm.

Corner Cut Location

In the past, the cut-out location of the microfilm was used to indicate specific details about the card. The U.S. Government Publishing Office, the Department of Defense, and the National Archives all have different standards concerning the location of the corner cut. In many circles, corner cuts are used to identify whether a card is a master, backup, or simply a reference card.

Today, most companies choose a cut-out location based on function and aesthetics, though some archives and engineers still choose to leverage the corner cut as a simple and immediately-noticeable classification system.


Let's say that you want to create a master version and a backup version of an aperture card. Instead of spending time, energy, and resources on having a new card printed or created, some companies choose to use "duplicards." These are aperture cards that are pre-fitted with diazo emulsion microfilm. The idea is to place the master aperture over the duplicard and use ammonia and UV lights to transfer the image from the top card directly onto the bottom duplicard.

Camera Cards

In the past, many companies (particularly in engineering) used a specific type of camera that printed directly onto an aperture card. Camera cards were made to accommodate these devices. Unlike traditional aperture cards, camera cards have unexposed microfilm that should be kept away from direct sunlight. These cards are popped into a specialized camera, which immediately prints the card post-snap.

Color Variations

Since aperture cards are printed on cardstock, you can get any variety of colors, logos, or patterns printed. Due to modern printing technology, this process is relatively cheap, and it can be a fantastic way to differentiate, categorize, and brand your aperture cards.

Hollerith Aperture Cards

Named after the creator of punched cards — Herman Hollerith — these are aperture cards with computerized punch holes in them. In the past, the majority of aperture cards were Hollerith cards. Today, due to modern digitally-driven solutions, many aperture cards are sold without punch holes. However, traditional Hollerith aperture cards can be fantastic for archival, since they add another layer of data for classification.

How Much Does Aperture Card Scanning Cost?

The costs associated with aperture cards vary based on needs. For starters, the microfilm type, branding, and configuration all have an impact on the overall cost of the card itself. The number of cards you need is also important, since batch scanning is more cost-efficient on a per-card basis than individual orders. But the cost of the card is often the smallest cost associated with aperture cards. Scanning and uploading documents to aperture cards requires manual intervention, which drags employees away from critical business objectives. Alternatively, you can hire archivists, but the average salary for this position is over $45,000 — and that doesn't include onboarding costs, training, or benefits.

In addition, you may need specialized equipment to copy, repair, and maintain aperture cards. Plus, there's a tangible labor and storage cost that goes into managing an aperture card archive. As with any scanning project, aperture card costs can rack up quickly, so it's crucial to calculate these costs into your overall budget.

How DRS Can Help You Manage Aperture Cards

Aperture cards remain a valuable solution for businesses looking to build physical archives of critical documents. But creating an aperture archive is costly, and it requires specific expertise that sits comfortably outside the domain of most companies. We can help. At DRS, we provide industry-leading microfilm services. Our team of archival writers, engineers, and data experts can help you build a comprehensive aperture archive without sinking money into expensive overhauls and labor needs. Contact us to learn more.