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Best practices

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The 21st century projectionist's guiding principle: every print borrowed for exhibition, regardless of gauge or source, should be handled with a maximum of care and a minimum of shortcuts.

...exactly what this means is a matter of debate, of course. Below we will try to collectively come up with some general best practices. Always follow any specific instructions provided by the lender. Unless you own the print, it's their property and should be returned in the same (or better!) condition as it arrived.

Though some are addressed on this page, best practices specifically related to archival prints can be found here: Archival Prints

General Best Practices

Print Arrival

  • Open film cans as soon as print arrives (even if you don't have time to inspect it until later).
  • Check to make sure it’s the right film, that all the reels are accounted for.
  • Check shipping reel condition etc, taking note of in transit damage (let the lender know immediately if print has been damaged in transit).
  • Check for things like DTS discs or special instructions from the archive.
  • Leader not taped down, tangled leader? Check to make sure there’s no damage to the first few feet of film.
  • Take special care when handling prints on cores. Always support the entire reel when moving them, loosely wound film on a core can be disastrous if not handled properly

Before the show

  • Make sure your film inspection surface is clean.
  • Have a thorough inspection procedure for assessing print condition.
  • Carefully inspect the countdown leader and the cues at the end of each reel to ensure that your changeovers go smoothly.
  • Have an inspection form to facilitate communication about print condition.
  • Cleaning the projectors and checking all parts (including reels) for damage and wear routinely is a must.
  • Make sure your lamp is correctly aligned and you are not seeing hot spots or shadows on screen
  • Run test film to check frame and focus before the show, or run a test reel of the film (if possible).
  • Make sure tension is set correctly for the gauge and film stock you will be running
  • Make sure your lamp is correctly aligned and you are not seeing hot spots or shadows on screen

During projection

  • If possible, use 2000 ft. reels and a dual-projector changeover system. NEVER use platters or build archival prints onto reels larger than 2000ft.
  • If using a platters system to screen non-archival prints, routine maintenance and calibration of system is a must.
  • If you're running small gauge film, do not have a changeover system, and have received permission from the archive to build onto larger reels, do not remove the heads and tails when you build the print. You'll have to close the dowser during the show as the heads and tails run through.
  • Show the film in its proper aspect ratio using the appropriate lens and aperture plate.
  • Make sure a projectionist is present and attentive during the screening.
  • Check focus routinely. During changeover shows focus should be checked after every changeover.
  • Check volume from the auditorium (if possible)

After the show

  • If possible, do a post-screening inspection of the print to make sure no damage was incurred during projection.
  • Wind the film with care, making sure the edges of the film are flush.
  • Secure the end of each reel with at least 6" of acid-free artist's tape.
  • When packing for shipping, be sure that the film is packed in material that will not harm the film (no packing peanuts or fibrous materials.


  • Upon receipt, prints should immediately be moved to the booth or another secure storage location.
  • Film should never be stored in inappropriate areas where damage could occur, such as concession areas or kitchens.
  • Film should be stored in a climate-controlled room. A relative humidity of 50-60% is ideal. Dry conditions can cause spoking and exacerbate issues with static, while damp conditions can contribute to film degeneration, particularly when dealing with acetate and nitrate stock. For acetate film, damp storage conditions can accelerate vinegar syndrome or naphthalene syndrome. Even polyester can be damaged by moisture. When polyester is stored in damp conditions for an extended period, the layers of film can stick together, resulting in emulsion damage when rewinding. In extreme conditions, the film may tear when attempting to separate the layers.
  • After inspection, film should be stored in an enclosed reel cabinet. The reels should NOT be stored with the heads hanging out of the cabinet.
  • Reel cabinets should be cleaned on a regular basis.

Practices to avoid

  • Using plastic shipping reels as take-up reels. Using damaged or bent reels.
  • Using automation systems and attaching adhesive automation cues to prints.
  • Projecting and rewinding prints on poorly maintained or damaged equipment.
  • Letting inexperienced or untrained people handle or project prints without supervision.
  • Making unnecessary marks on or adding unnecessary labels to prints.
  • Adding cue marks when usable cue marks are already present.
  • Cutting frames from a print or doing shoddy repair work.
  • Building or plattering archival prints.
  • Screening films in the incorrect aspect ratio or sound format.


Recommended Equipment

Equipment to avoid

See Also

External References