Microfilm Vs. Microfiche

By Terri Deno

Updated September 26, 2017

Microfilm and microfiche are two types of archival products that can store documents and photographs. Libraries often use these products to archive newspapers. Microfilm and microfiche are viewable through microfilm machines that can turn the negative image on the film to a positive image. The machine also magnifies the document to make it readable..


Microfilm is a long strip of film wound onto a reel, just like film for a camera. The microfilm is then feed into a microfilm reader and the person viewing it can scroll through the images.

Microfiche provides the same storage of documents in a different format. Microfiche comes on flat sheets of photographic film. A single sheet can store numerous images.

Microfilm and microfiche are available as positive or negative images, but it is more common to see negatives. Both forms also provide images 25 times smaller than the original.


Microfilm has many advantages. Microfilm provides a low-cost way to preserve hundreds of documents on a single spool of film. Microfilm in a closed cartridge allows for microfilm readers to self-thread through the reader for quick use.

Microfiche also has its advantages. Microfiche provides an easy access to grouped documents. It is also easy to update microfiche files because a new sheet can be added to a file at any time, providing a better way to keep the documents organized.


The main disadvantage to using microfiche is that the sheets can be lost if not stored properly. Microfiche also costs more than microfilm to produce.

The disadvantage of microfilm is that it is difficult to update the reels with new images. It is better if all of the images are loaded onto a single reel at one time. Microfilm can also have a slower retrieval rate, depending on the filing system.


Microfilm and microfiche need to be stored properly in order to maintain viewing integrity. Microfilm should be stored on a reel and the reel should be stored in a reel box. The temperature for microfilm and microfiche storage areas should retain 30 to 40 percent humidity on a daily basis, with a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Handling of the material should be minimal to prevent fingerprints from getting on the film.


When choosing between microfilm and microfiche, the consumers of the media must be considered. Many microfilm viewers only allow one person at a time to see the image, while microfiche sheets can be projected onto a screen.

Cost is also another issue. Microfilm is less expensive to produce than microfiche, but reading machines for microfilm typically cost $1,000. Microfiche machines cost about $500. Machines that read both types of film are also available.