How to Scan Black and White Negatives

By Caroline Thompson

Updated September 22, 2017

Items you will need

  • Scanner

  • Canned air

  • Cotton gloves

  • Scanner glass cleaner

  • Lens cleaning cloth

  • CD burner

  • Blank CDs and covers

i Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images

Black and white negatives will deteriorate over time. To preserve the images, it is best to scan the negatives and seal them in archival negative sleeves. This preserves the negatives. All the images are then burned to CDs for use later. With the proper preparation, the scanning process will be completed in no time.


Determine the file size for scanning the negatives. A good resolution for printing or archiving is 2400 dpi (dots per inch). HP (Hewlett Packard) recommends a “Resolution: 75-100 dpi Used for: Sharing via email or posting to the Web.” Calculate how much memory will be needed for scanning all the negatives. Make sure to have enough CDs on hand to record all the images. Nothing is worse than running out of CDs in the middle of the project.

Separate the negatives into types. (i.e. 35 mm negatives, etc.) Each negative type (with flatbed scanners) requires a specific film carrier. Grouping negatives saves time.

Dust off the negatives with a soft cloth and the canned air. Any dust on the negative will be scanned onto the image and need removing later in the editing process.

Clean the scanner glass with a specific cleaner made for scanners and computers.

Put on the cotton gloves. This keeps fingerprints off the negatives and glass.

Remove the back plate on the scanner. This is necessary to get back light for scanning transparencies. This is for flatbed scanners only. Slide scanners will not need this step.


Place the negative strip into the film carrier and use the canned air to blow off any dust.

Create a folder on the computer for the scanned images.

Open the scanner software. Under Original, set the Document Type to Film and the Film Type to Negative. Some software will give a choice between black and white and color. Set the Resolution to the desired size. The Document and Target sizes should be set to original.

Click the Preview button. This will scan a low-resolution preview image. This allows the photographer to evaluate the image and determine if any edits are needed before scanning the image.

Open the adjustments panel and set the desired adjustments. All cropping, sharpening and color corrections are made from this panel.

Click the Scan button. A dialog window will open. Choose the file on the computer for the Destination of the scanned images. Next, name the files and set the file Format. Click OK.

Repeat the scanning process for all negatives.

Burn CDs of all the scanned images.


Since scanning software is designed more for reproduction than for editing, it is best to do all editing with an application (Adobe Photoshop) that is designed for more detailed editing.

Opening the scanner cover to change negatives allows dust and particles to deposit on the surface of the scanner glass. Use the canned air often. Editing out dust and dirt is time consuming.