What is Microfiche?

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  • Originally Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Revised By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Images By: Frédéric Bisson, Frédéric Bisson
  • Last Modified Date: 05 January 2020
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A microfiche is a card made of transparent film used to store printed information in miniaturized form. To read the card, a user places it under the lens of a reader machine, which magnifies it greatly. The thinness and small size of the film enables it to be stored very easily and efficiently, allowing libraries, museums and businesses to increase their resource collections without the need for additional storage space. While many organizations store records digitally, microfiche records are still created and used and, in fact, have some advantages over digital storage options, including their potentially longer lifespan.

Types of Microforms

Microfiche is a type of microform, a term used to describe several mediums that provide storage for exact, miniature copies of documents. This type is made of a flat sheet of film, usually with a polyester base, on which multiple pages of a document are printed in extremely small size. The standard size is 105 mm by 148 mm (about 4 by 5.8 inches). Other types of microforms include microfilm, a strip of film on which the miniaturized copies are printed, and aperture cards, which are punch cards with a window that holds a single micofilm image .


How They Are Read

Microforms usually cannot be read with the naked eye and must be magnified first. Specialized machines have been designed to make this task eaiser; the most common include a magnifier and a simple projector that allows the user to read the much larger image of the document on a screen. Microfiche machines are usually expensive and are found primarily in large institutions that store a lot of documents. Optical scanners can also be used to convert the film to a digital image that can be read on a computer.


Even a small storage cabinet can hold thousands of microfiche cards which, in turn, can contain tens of thousands of pages of material. In addition, the machines used to read them — although often expensive — are not very complicated and don't require specialized software or updates. Other storage media, like CD-ROMs, can only be read with computers or other sophisticated hardware. Some storage methods used in the past were based on technology that's no longer in common use, which makes accessing the data difficult.

The polyester material on which the images are printed is also very stable and, if kept in a temperature controlled environment, is estimated to last as long as 500 years. CD-ROMs are estimated to last for about 75 - 100 years, depending on the materials they are made of and how they are stored. Although both storage mediums can be damaged if not handled correctly, CDs are typically more delicate than microfiche. If a card becomes damaged, the organization that owns the document can have a new one created relatively cheaply from the original or a master negative.

Any organization that owns valuable or important documents can also take advantage of this data storage method as a way of providing researchers with access to important records with little risk of loss or damage to the original. Since it is more difficult to read without a special machine and has no aesthetic value of its own, this format is often of little interest to thieves.


Special equipment is usually needed to both read and duplicate microfiche cards, so they are not practical for every situation. The readers, which are the best and easiest way to retrieve the information, are bulky and are far less common than personal computers. Making a paper copy of a document stored this way also requires using a special printer integrated into the machine.

Color ink is rarely used in microform because it tends to fade or degrade when exposed to the bright light of the reader. The contrast on black and white images is very good, but half-tones and grays cannot be produced as clearly. This means that photographs and other pictures often do not look as good when stored in this format.

Microform documents are also more difficult to share than digital files; if a document is only available on microfiche, a researcher may have to travel to the physical location where that record is stored to view it. Data stored digitally, on the other hand, can be sent via email or a document sharing system and then read on a personal computer. The machines used to read microforms can also be difficult to use, sometimes requiring the user to scroll through the many document pages on one card in order to find needed information. Digital data, on the other hand, is often easily and quickly searched through the use of specialized software.


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Discuss this Article

Post 10

I don't understand why in this day and age, the NYC building department still uses mircofiche to store building plans and then acts like it's a normal system, costing us hundreds of dollars to reproduce drawings.

Post 5

You can view microfiche at the library or you can contact a service provider to convert the microfiche to a .pdf file.

Post 4

How can or could I view a 19 or 20 year old archive microfiche, which I have the case number; viewing and printing this old transcript and purchasing it.

Post 3

If you would like to see how microfiche can be converted to digital visit

They can scan, group, index and deliver your microfiche on CD so it can be accessed via your PC.

Post 2

How can microfiche be cleaned of fingerprints? Kleenex? Wet cloth? Alcohol pad?

Post 1

I remember spending hours in the library trying to use the microfiche machine - the blue background with white words, and trying to find the right files. It was a mess and always good for a headache! I'm glad we don't have to use that too often any more!

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