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Film damage

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Film damage can be divided into three main categories: Damage incurred in shipping, inspection, and projection. In ALL cases, film damage is AVOIDABLE. The idea that scratches and splices are normal and part of the "look" of film is false, and a modern polyester print on well maintained projectors should be able to make several hundred runs through a projector without any significant signs of wear. That said, a well worn print deserves just as much love, care, and attention as a brand new one, from both the audience and the projectionist.

Damage to a print in shipping is caused by ends of reels not being adequately taped down (film will wrap itself around adjacent reels and get the first several feet of each reel scratched and dirty), film not being rewound smoothly so that a few feet of film "spoke" out of the edge of the reel and are crushed, film on cores not being secured in their cans (on cans with textured or ribbed edges and bases, the edge of the reel will get scraped by the can - note that archives discourage the use of newspaper to pack film into cans, it is strongly advisable to use bubble wrap or some other non-acidic material). If a print is damaged in inbound shipping, it is your responsibility to notify the distributor/archive.

Damage to a print in inspection is caused by careless handling of film on cores (film is loosely wound and film "telescopes" out).

"Damage to a print in Projection" is caused by careless handling (film is dropped on the floor during threading).

For each type:

  • Description
  • Photograph
  • Recommended treatment


  • Scratching (emulsion vs. base, soundtrack scratches)
  • Broken perfs
  • Edge damage
  • Warping
  • Shrinkage
  • Brittleness
  • Creasing
  • Dirt, oil, residue (see also "cleaning film")
  • Bad splices
  • Burned frames and blistering
  • Emulsion deterioration
  • Color fading
  • Vinegar syndrome
  • Printed-in damage

See also:

  • Disasters category? (stuff like busted shipping reels, telescoping or missing cores, film spills...)
  • Causes of film damage

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