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Preparing bitmap images for 35mm slides

Executive Summary

Images for output to 35mm film should be:

The Details

For starters, get into the habit of thinking in pixels. Dots, if you prefer. DPI is meaningless unless you know the number of inches, and inches are meaningless unless you know the number of dots. If you know both, multiply them to get the total number of pixels.

For example, if you scan a 4 x 5" photo at 300dpi, your image will be

4" x 300dpi by 5" x 300dpi or 1200 x 1500 pixels.

Tip: Most scanner software and virtually all bitmap editing programs can be set to read in pixels rather than inches and dpi. For slidemaking purposes, it's far easier to do that than to keep a calculator by your side at all times.

Now 4096 x 2732 is a big image. Really, really big. Like 33 megabytes uncompressed. In most cases, there's no reason to create images that big since our film recorder software will scale smaller images up automatically.

However, there are a few things you must do to prepare images for 35mm slides or other film output:

Create your images in RGB color. If your images are already done in CMYK or PMS colors, convert them to RGB before sending them to us. Film recorders are strictly RGB, so your images will be converted at some point no matter what. Here are the questions you should consider:

Use 24-bit color. The files will be larger, but the quality is worth it. 8-bit (or "paletted") images contain only 256 colors. The film recorder can produce millions of colors so why not take advantage of them? The only exception to this rule is screen captures. If they were 8-bit color in the first place, it's best to leave them that way.

"Right-size" your images. The more pixels (the higher the resolution), the sharper and smoother your images will look on film. How far you want to take it is your call, up to a maximum of 4096 x 2732 pixels (that's for 35mm slides check with us for specs on other size output). The more detail you need to convey, the higher the resolution you should use.

Allow a safety margin.Our film recorders will put the entire image on film, but the slide mount or negative holder may crop the image slightly. If you want to project or print the entire image, leave a margin of safety. Create images at 3800 x 2533 pixels or an even fraction of that resolution. When we shoot these slightly undersized images, we center them on the final slide with a black surround. Here are some typical image sizes:

Full-frame 35mm With safety margin Approx. file size
4096 x 2732 3800 x 2533 33 mb
2048 x 1366 1900 x 1266 8.5 mb
1024 x 683 950 x 633 2 mb

Consider getting a few test slides made before you create your final images. Film and film recorders reproduce color differently from your screen or printer. Some colors simply don't reproduce the same. Avoid using Pantone or CMYK to specify your colors, as these often translate to RGB in surprising ways and there's little or nothing we can do to correct for it.

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Preparing bitmap images for 35mm slides
Last update 07 June, 2011