How to Turn Old 35mm Negatives Into Custom Canvas Prints

by Valerie Johnston | August 1, 2013

If you're like me you have a pile of old 35mm negatives stashed somewhere in your home. Maybe you keep them neatly organized with the actual photos that they created or maybe like many others (let's not name names!) you just have them in some big box. Regardless of where and how you keep those negatives, chances are that you may want to make prints from a few of them. I want to tell you a few steps that are involved in turning your old negatives into custom canvas prints.

negatives printed as custom canvas prints

After all, negatives often have photos from when we ourselves were little kids, when our parents or friends were very young, and so many other precious memories. The problem is finding a way to get even a regular print made. For instance, go to your local pharmacy or department store's photo service desk and you might be shocked to discover how difficult it has become to get plain old prints from your negatives.

"So what," you might shrug and say, "they make scanners that can do this now...right?"

You're right, they do...but have you tried to use one of those little electronic marvels? Let me tell you about my experience with one, and then give you the better solution.

Technology 101

Okay, the scanning. I had my piles of negatives, and those of my in-laws. Everyone wanted specific prints made from specific negatives so that saved me the time of scanning them all and allowing everyone to find the shots they wanted.

They had all turned to me to do this because I was bragging about the new printer/scanner/miracle machine I had just purchased for this task. The sales jargon boasted that the device could easily scan a negative and help me to convert it into a positive image. "Easily" is the operative word here because I am not all that enthusiastic about technology.

So, there I was "inserting tab B into slot A" in order to assemble the device that the machine needed to safely scan the strip of negative film. After an hour of getting error messages and failing to succeed at a single scan I gave up and called their customer service for advice. They walked me through the process and eventually a scan appeared. Did the heavens part and golden rays shine down on my success? No...the images on the screen still looked like a negative.

"Oh, "said the nice guy on the other end of the line, "that's because you have to invert the image with photo editing software."

"Huh," said I, breaking into a sweat.

The Next Step

As I hung up the phone, I realized that a major "uh oh" had occurred. I had not realized that the scanning software could give me a great scan of the negative, but that I would still have to use additional software to get that positive print. So, it was on to Photoshop and the different steps needed to invert all of the colors while still keeping mid-tones and accurate shadows, etc.

I still had to print the pictures, and I had purchased some printable photo canvas pages to see if I could whip up a few gifts for my friends and family from the many negatives I had processed. Let's just skip that part of the saga and say that I was a bit disappointed by the results in general.

The Solution

Because I really wanted to enjoy optimal images and to present them as custom canvas prints, I decided to begin scouting around for an all-in-one service. I looked for firms offering up photos on canvas AND the scanning of negatives. I was overjoyed to find Canvas Press because they were more than happy to work with me and my, now manageable, dilemma.

They made images directly from the negatives, sized them perfectly, ensured that colors were optimized, and then created gorgeous custom canvas prints that I gave as gifts and kept for myself!

Sadly, I still have to figure out how to organize all of those negatives!

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Tips-n-Tricks #137

Squeeze from the bottom...This applies to so many things in life.


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