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Q: 16mm Film Care ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: 16mm Film Care
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Movies and Film
Asked by: detlev409-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 27 May 2003 15:43 PDT
Expires: 26 Jun 2003 15:43 PDT
Question ID: 209556
I have recently been entrusted with a number of 16mm reels that I have
been asked to transfer to a digital format. As far as hardware is
concerned, I am currently in the process of obtaining an ELMO TRV-16H
capture device, and will most likely be patching that directly into a
Power Mac G-4 by way of a Dazzle Media Converter. I do not anticipate
any hardware issues, but if anyone knows of a specific issue with this
setup, I'd appreciate being made aware of it before the ELMO arrives
in a few days.

My main concern is the film itself. I've never dealt with actual tape
before, though I am accustomed to dealing with VHS and other more
modern cassette media. I am looking for information regarding the care
and feeding of film. I need to know what to do when it breaks, how
best to store it, how I can handle old, brittle film, etc. Any
pertinent information along these lines will be appreciated, the more
detailed, the better. I am looking for both online and offline

Request for Question Clarification by leep-ga on 27 May 2003 17:06 PDT
What is the approximate age of the 16mm film?  Is this archival or recent stuff?

Clarification of Question by detlev409-ga on 27 May 2003 18:33 PDT
The reels currently in my possession are approximately 34/35 years
old, but these are only the first of a large archive, possibly dating
back as old as 1920 (I'm working with a old university). I am not as
yet certain how far I'm going to have to go back, so information on
all age groups is necessary.

It occurs to me that I may have exceeded the difficulty that one would
expect from a $5 question. If a researcher will go the extra mile for
me, I will tip accordingly, if I feel it is deserved.
Subject: Re: 16mm Film Care
Answered By: kriswrite-ga on 27 May 2003 23:16 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello detlev409~

It sounds like you're undertaking a fascinating (and fun, though a lot
of work!) project :)  I'm glad to help out a little.

If, looking at the films in question, they are obviously dirty, you’ll
want to clean them for best transfer results. However, don’t
*overclean* old films. (Serious collectors are fond of saying that if
you’re in a cleaning mood, head for the film projector, not the film!
Too much cleaning can cause serious problems to film. On the other
hand, oil on the projector can easily end up on your film.)

Pros often use Perchloroethylene (a.k.a. tetrachloroethylene) as their
film cleaner. If you can’t find it in a film supply store, try a dry
cleaning supply shop, since this is one of the major chemicals used in
that industry. Be sure to wear rubber gloves when handling the
chemical, and work in an area that is well ventilated. Not quite as
good, but more readily available, is rubbing alcohol. It doesn’t clean
grease or sticky spots as easily, but can be bought at any drug store
very cheaply.

To clean film, find a soft, lint free cloth. Keep it moist with
cleaner throughout the entire process, or you will scratch the film.
Fold it several times and place it on a table. Nearby, set your
projector up and use its rewind function. Run the film through the
cloth (between a fold) slowly. Press down lightly with one hand as the
film goes through the cloth. Make sure that the projector and the
cloth are far enough away that the film is dry before it gets wound up
on the reel. Do NOT wind the film up if it is wet! As the cloth
dirties, refold or replace it.

Next, use some film lubricate, found at a film supply shop. (If the
film is not terribly dirty, don’t use the alcohol or Perchloroethylene
at all. Just apply a coat of lubrication, as described above.)

If you need to splice the film, you can use a standard splicing block.
Cement is typically the preferred method of adhering slices, but
splicing tape works, too (though it’s not as lasting). While splicing,
always wear white cotton gloves that are lint-free.

To make the splice, “cut the film with it firmly in the sprocket pegs
[of the splicer]. Keep the emulsion (dull) side of the film up and
scrap off emulsion from the film on the left side of the splicer. All
the emulsion should be removed leaving white celluloid base exposed.
Wet it with cement and quickly press the other (non scrapped) right
side end over the left. Heat is not necessary. A chemical bond occurs
rather rapidly.” You can buy film cement (which is really more of a
chemical bond than a glue) at film shops, or you can buy “acetone” at
your local hardware store. Make your cement this way: “Chop up small
chips of clear cellulose film leader into pieces as small as you can
get them... put them into a small bottle with Acetone and shake it up.
Let the brew age a couple of days and it's ready.”  For complete
splicing instructions, visit The Film Center: and

It’s vital that your work area be clean, so that you don’t cause
scratches or other damage. For a very thorough and helpful guide to
splicing and caring for old films, don’t miss “The Home Film
Preservation Guide:”  For very detailed
instructions on handling films, check out Kodak’s site:

As you can imagine, as films become older, they may get brittle, and
break easily. Therefore, it pays to check out your projector before
you place an irreplaceable reel in it. If you have a blank piece of
film to use, thread it and run it through the projector, just to make
sure all is well. According to The University Center For Instructional
Media and Technology
( ), “most
damage occurs in the first two feet of film from improper loading,” so
be sure you know how to load the projector correctly. If the film
jumps or makes unusual noises, turn the projector off right away. The
same goes if the film breaks: turn off the projector immediately. The
University suggests: “Remove film from threading paths and rethread.
For autoload projectors, clip end of film and reload. For manual
projectors, rethread machine winding broken end on to take up reel. Do
not use scotch tape on film; it leaves a residue, which damages the

Make sure that the take up reels are in good condition, and not bent
or otherwise damaged. Dirty or damaged leaders should be replaced
(preferably with acetate or polyester leader, available at film supply
shops, such as ). Always
handle film by its edges. Use white, lint free cotton gloves. Take
care not to wind the film tightly. If you have very brittle film, you
could try using a product like Filmrenew, in which you soak the film.
I would only use this if the film is otherwise unusable, or if you
have already made a copy of the original. Here is one source for
Filmrenew (as well as cleaners, lubricants, leaders, archival
canisters, and more):

As for storage, it is generally agreed that it’s better to store 16mm
film on 3 inch “cores” instead of on reels. (Reels have a tendency to
rust, bend, etc.) According to Forever Film, “You will need a
split-reel and a rewind bench in order to use cores. The wind should
be of an even tension--not too loose or too tight and should be
consistent and flat so that edges don't stick out where they could be
broken. A roll of film on a core should be wound tight enough so that
it forms a solid disc. Be careful not to ‘pop’ the core (detach the
inner core from the outer roll of film), as this will result in a
spiral mess of film. It is preferable to not handle the film at all,
but instead to use either cans or split reels as platters to hold the
disk of film. Before you put your important film on a core, practice a
number of times with some junk film. Film on cores can be tough to
handle, and you don’t want to find out the hard way that you needed
more practice.” ( )

The preferred storage canister is archival plastic, since metal rusts
and can therefore damage the film. The canister should allow air to
flow. (Don’t tape a canister shut, since this will make it airtight,
or nearly so. Film needs air to breathe if it is to stay "healthy.")
Store the canisters flat, but without heavy items on them. Store the
film in a place with low humidity and a low temperature. Serious
collectors store their film in their home freezer. (You’ll have to use
sealed containers in this case, but as long as they are frozen, it is
considered “safe”…more on that in a moment.)

Before you freeze the film, make sure it (and all the packaging) is at
room temperature. According to Film Forever, “if the film was
previously stored in a humid environment it may take two to three
weeks to equilibrate to a drier climate. This may be done by keeping
the film in a can with the lid off in a room where the RH does not
exceed 50-60% at room temperature.” Don’t prepare your film for
freezing on a hot or humid day.

Once your film and packaging are ready, seal the canisters with
archival tape to make them as airtight as possible. Using heavy-duty
zip-lock freezer bags (3 mil or thicker), seal several canisters in
each bag. Seal the bag with tape, making sure to squeeze out as much
air as possible. Place this bag in another heavy-duty zip-lock freezer
bag, and seal. Place your sealed bags in the freezer, taking care not
to puncture them. Use pieces of cardboard between bags, to help
prevent tears and ripping.

When you’re ready to thaw the film, avoid condensation by placing the
film (in it’s sealed bags) in the refrigerator. Film Forever suggests
that 400 ft. rolls of 16mm film will thaw in about three hours or so.
Always leave films out for at least an hour before using them. Do not
open even the outer bag until the package has come to room

If you simply can’t store your film in a freezer, be sure to NOT store
it anywhere where humidity, moisture, or direct sun may lie. That
includes the attic or basement, or near windows or sinks.

I hope this helps! If you need further clarification, don't hesitate
to ask for it.

Good luck!

Keywords Used:
16mm film care

16mm home movies care

"Polyester leader" 18mm
detlev409-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Wonderful answer. I'm very pleased with the amount of specifics and
surprised at the speed of service. I still have a lot to learn, but
Kriswrite was extremely helpful.

Subject: Re: 16mm Film Care
From: pinkfreud-ga on 27 May 2003 18:37 PDT
This article may be helpful:
Subject: Re: 16mm Film Care
From: detlev409-ga on 28 May 2003 11:14 PDT
Many thanks, I'll be surfing over there for answers now too...

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