A How-To Guide for Scanning View-Master Reels

Recently a visitor to my View-Master gallery wrote in and asked how I scan my reels and get them ready for publication. So as a public service I’ll go through the steps I take to get an image from a reel to you. Note that I don’t profess to be an expert in this area, and by no means do I claim to have the best technique. I also tend to make things much more complicated than necessary, so keep that in mind.

So here is my humble guide to scanning View-Master reels and getting them cleaned up.

The Hardware

For my reel scanning I use an Epson Perfection 1660 Photo Scanner. It’s a rather old model — at least a decade — but does the job. If memory serves it came with plastic photo scan adapters, but they have long since been lost.

Epson Perfection 1660 Photo Scanner

See that opaque strip in the middle of the lid’s underside? That’s the reflective section that enables scanning of the View-Master reel images. I’m sure there are dozens of models that have the same thing and that don’t cost a lot of money.

The Software

I use Photoshop for scanning and post-processing, just because that’s what I’ve used for years and that’s what I’m comfortable with. But as with the scanner itself, there are a ton of choices out there. For this how-to I’m using screenshots of Photoshop CS4.

Let’s go through a scan using one of my New York City reels, a project that’s still in progress as of this posting.

The Steps

1. Place the reel on the scanner bed, so that some of the pictures are lined up under the opaque filmstrip adapter. Unless you have a larger adapter you won’t be able to fit all of them. It shouldn’t matter if the reel is facing up or down, but I always have mine print side down out of habit.

2. In Photoshop initiate a scan/import process. Here’s what it looks like in CS4 (selecting the installed Epson software):

A How-To Guide for Scanning View-Master Reels

3. From the Epson scanner interface, I use the following settings:

  • Document source: TPU: Pos. Film
  • Image Type: Color Photo
  • Destination: Screen/Web
  • Resolution: 1200 dpi

A How-To Guide for Scanning View-Master Reels

Remember that View-Master images are not film negatives, but transparent film prints. As for the resolution, I find that 1200 dpi allows me to get a large enough image to be useful. Anything more and the file size becomes a bit unwieldy. But if you want to blow up an image you’ll want to go higher.

Note in this preview window that I only got three distinct pictures (remember that a View-Master picture is made up of two separate pieces of film). So to capture all seven on a reel you’ll need to repeat this process.

4. Now into post-processing! Align and crop the scanned images to your liking. I’m not going to tell you how to use your image processing software, but I will note that you may want to apply some curve leveling to account for your scanner. Also watch out for proper alignment. It’s easy to work on a slide only to discover it’s backwards — this can happen in slides without lettering in the picture — so remember to compare to the original reel as seen through a viewer.

Here are two scans from a New York slide (Coney Island beach). The first has no processing applied, and the second had adjustments made in the levels and shadow/highlights. I also added a sharpening filter. Remember that this is half-century old picture less than an inch wide, so don’t expect to be wowed.

View-Master reel scan example


View-Master reel scan example


And that’s pretty much it!