Mar. 24, 2015 | By Alec

While our age of digital technology creates new possibilities and interactive opportunities every day, its rather depressing to remember that old data is being lost at about the same rate. How many people still have VCR tapes or floppy disks laying around at the back of some drawer somewhere, but don’t have the hardware to use them anymore? It won’t be long before many early forms of data storage will become inaccessible, thereby destroying lots of data and even family archives, photos and other meaningful things.

Fortunately, there are a few options for salvaging those outdated sources of information, as Dutch 3D printing hobbyist Luc Volders from Rotterdam shows us. Luc is an avid 3D printer who keeps a blog of his exploits, and he recently completed a very remarkable project to salvage family history for another generation: a 3D printed slide scanner that links up to your smartphone.

As Luc explains, he and his wife recently discovered tons of old family slides when going through his late mother-in-law’s things. ‘For us, the slides had invaluable pictures of people and kids we know. Now we do own a slide projector but setting it up and putting up a screen is a lot of work. Then I noticed that if I took a slide in my hand and held it against a white background I could easily make a picture from it with a reasonable quality,’ he says. Luc therefore embarked on a 3D printing project inspired by another slide scanner he once saw on Instructables. His new and improved version is somewhat easier to make and more functional, and could be a very useful tool for people who don’t have an old-fashioned scanner at home.

And it was a remarkably easy device to construct. As Luc explains, the first and most crucial step is finding the optimum distance between the camera on your phone and the slide. ‘I was looking for the distance that gave me the best filled screen and focus without zooming,’ he says as the digital zoom decreases in quality. To do so, Luc cleverly decided to use a used toilet roll. ‘Put your phone lens at one end of the roll, a slide at the other end and look at it against a daylight source. If [the quality is okay] cut a piece of the roll and test again. This way you will find the optimum distance between the slide and the lens of your phone,’ Luc writes. He himself used his own Alcatel Pop C7 phone, but the perfect settings will depend on your own phone and camera.

The box that holds the slide.

Using Tinkercad, that optimal distance could be used to design a slide holder and an open box to keep the slides at the desired distance. For optimal comfort, Luc also designed a phone holder and a base to hold everything in place, but the sizes for those strictly depend on your own phone. He subsequently 3D printed everything in PLA using his own Prusa l3 3D printer. Luc advises using white PLA, as colored alternatives (he initially used green himself) can affect the quality of the scanner. Luc has also graciously shared all of his stl files on his blog here, but please note that the Prusa’s print bed is too small for 3D printing the complete holder, so Luc had to cut it in half. All of these parts were subsequently glued together with a glue gun.

Now this setup is already perfect for viewing and even digitizing those old slides – Luc even incorporated a small opening on the bottom to enable him to plug in his phone while digitizing large numbers of slides. The foot also stabilizes the entire build for optimum comfort. While optional, Luc went one step further and glued loads of white LEDs on the foot of the scanner to ensure excellent lighting at all times. These are simply inexpensive Christmas LEDs from a local dollar store, but they work perfectly for scanning too.

The LEDs in place.

And how does it work? The results speak for themselves, as the photo below was the first digitized version Luc made, by simply photographing the scan with his phone and minimally enhancing it using Gimp software. While a bit of work to create (printing alone takes 7 hours or so), it’s a perfect and inexpensive method for rescuing old photos from slides and save them for posterity. Luc has already digitized dozens of photos this way, and invites everyone to use and enhance his designs for your own setup. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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