Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access

This page has been superseded. The information below is no longer accurate. For NARA's current guidance please visit Digitization of Federal Records. Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.


For the Following Record Types - Textual, Graphic Illustrations/Artwork/Originals, Maps, Plans, Oversized, Photographs, Aerial Photographs, and Objects/Artifacts

June 2004

The NARA Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access define approaches for creating digital surrogates for facilitating access and reproduction; they are not considered appropriate for preservation reformatting to create digital surrogates that will replace original records.

These Technical Guidelines provide technical benchmarks for the creation of "production master" raster image (pixel-based) files. Production masters are files used for the creation of additional derivative files for distribution and/or display via a monitor and for reproduction purposes via hardcopy output at a range of sizes using a variety of printing devices. The intent is to use the production master files in an automated fashion to facilitate affordable reprocessing.

The Technical Guidelines presented here are based on the procedures used by NARA laboratories for digitizing archival records and the creation of production master image files, and are a revision of the 1998 NARA Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access.

There is one part to the 2004 Technical Guidelines:

  1. Guidelines (1.6MB). Available in portable document format (PDF) only. The bookmarks and table of contents in this PDF file include active links to facilitate navigation through the document.


NARA Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access
January 1998

These guidelines were used for National Archives and Records Administration's pilot Electronic Access Project (EAP) to produce an online catalog that would provide information about NARA holdings and a core collection of digital copies of selected high-interest documents.

The requirements for access and thumbnail files cited in the 1998 Guidelines are to be followed when creating derivative images for use in ARC.

There are two parts to the 1998 Guidelines:

  1. Guidelines (287KB). Available in portable document format (PDF) only
  2. Accompanying matrix (15KB) summarizing the specifications. Available in portable document format (PDF) only.

For questions, comments, or additional information about the Electronic Access Project, please contact the National Archives Catalog staff at

Note: Both of the above cited NARA Guidelines presented here were developed solely for internal NARA use. We are posting the Guidelines on this site in response to requests. We welcome your comments and suggestions. In reviewing this document, please keep in mind the following:

  • The Guidelines are not to be promulgated as a standard for digital imaging. The Guidelines have been developed for internal NARA use, and for use by NARA with digitizing projects involving NARA holdings and other partner organizations. The 2004 Technical Guidelines support internal policy directive NARA 816 - Digitization Activities for Enhanced Access; for digitization projects involving NARA holdings, all requirements in NARA 816 must be met or followed.
  • The Guidelines cover only the process of digitizing NARA's archival materials for online access. Other issues that must be considered in conducting digital imaging projects, including preservation, are not addressed here.
  • The Guidelines do not constitute, in any way, guidance to Federal agencies on records creation and management, or on the transfer of permanent records to the National Archives of the United States. For information on these topics, please see:
  • As stated above, Federal agencies dealing with the transfer of scanned images of textual documents, of scanned images of photographs, and of digital photography image files as permanent records to NARA shall follow specific transfer guidance: