Slide, Film Scanning Tip: Which Side Do You Scan To Make Sure Your Digital Images Aren’t Backwards

Slide, Film Scanning Tip: Which Side Do You Scan To Make Sure Your Digital Images Aren’t Backwards

If you don’t know how to properly load your slides or negatives into your scanner, you are going to waste time. Here’s three simple tips to quickly determine what side is what:

1. Slides and Negatives Have Two Sides

Did you know that a 35mm slide or 35 negative film strip has a positive and negative side? When your film was developed, one side was coated with was is called “emulsion matte”. This side with the emulsion matte is the negative side, the other side is positive. I know, a negative strip also has a negative side. But don’t worry about the terminology– just know that slides and negatives have two side. What you need to determine is which side is the positive side.

2. How To Determine The “Positive” Side Of A Slide Or Negative

I want you to take out a slide, and bring it to a light source, such as a lamp or window. Flip the slide back and forth, and you’ll notice a subtle difference. One side will be have small groves, you’ll see lines making out a shape, and it will be a bit dull or opaque. The other side will be shiny, smooth, and there will be no lines.

The smooth and shiny side is the positive side. The other other side, the rough side, is where the emulsion matte was coated on. This side is the negative. If your Dad, back in the day, cheapened out and bought lesser quality slides, you’ll have a hard time determining what side is positive or negative. But keep flipping the slide back and forth, and you’ll eventually see a smooth side versus a rough side. Remember, smooth equals positive, rough equals negative.

Finding the positive / negative side of negative film is a lot easier. You can use the same technique, or you can look closely at the numbers and letters printed right on the negative. If the letters and numbers are backwards, then that’s the negative side. If the letters and numbers are facing you correctly, that is the positive side.

One more quick tip: After scanning over 500,000 slides and negatives, I know in a instant which side is which. The negative side of a slide or negative film will be concave– meaning it will scoop in like bowl. The positive side will be convex– meaning it will bubble out. But be careful with this method, sometimes cheaper film will be the other way around. And you’ll see, maybe after 100 scans, you’ll get the hang of it.

3. How To Load Your Slides And Negatives Properly Into Your Scanner

Now that you know a bit more about the positive and negative side of film, I can now tell you what side goes where.

If you have a flat-bed scanner, you want the positive side DOWN, facing the window. So when you load your slides, you want to make sure the rough side is facing you, and the clear side is facing toward the glass. It’s the same with with your negatives– make sure the letters/numbers on the negative are backwards when you face them. Just think, “shiny down, dirty up”.

For film scanners, like the Nikon Coolscan, the method is backwards. Load your slides with the smooth side up, while the rough side facing down. With negative film, make sure the letters/numbers are backwards, facing down.

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