How to Make Working View Master Reels

How to Make Working View Master Reels

Do you remember how the old virtual reality glasses from the 1970s were enjoyable and lively? Well, I have found some old discarded toys with the same glasses forgotten for several decades, and I want to restore them! This toy sparked my childhood memory; that is why I vowed to restore it to its original form. After restoring the original toy, I tried searching for its vintage view master reels, but I could find the exact match! After a little research and creativity, I came up with the idea of making old, analog 3D pictures for the reels. Let me share with you what I did in this simple process.

What do you need to create 3D pictures for your reels from scratch?

As I said earlier, we are not going to buy anything from the internet that is marked with the 21st-century logo; everything we are using is from the past! Here is what you need;

Photo shooting stuff 

  • An old functioning 35mm vintage camera 
  • wide-angle lenses 
  • film slide 
  • tripod stand 
  • a perfect place to develop your photo shooting ideas 

Choosing a shooting day 

If you want to come up with stunning photos that will impress everyone who looks at your homemade reels, carefully select a glamorous shooting site. Also, when choosing a site, consider your equipment – old school cameras are quite complicated, and they require a steady-handed expert as well as a perfect scene; otherwise, note the following.

  • Take pictures on a bright day.
  • Select a beautiful site without people – If you are planning to take photos of city squares or parks, wake up early in the morning when people are still slumbering, and the park isn’t contaminated with people. Do the same for other busy places. Unless you want to photograph people while on streets or city squares, sticking to odd hours will help you come up with beautiful undisturbed pictures.
  • Consider the weather, especially wind. On a windy day, wide lens cameras take burred pictures hence avoid these days.


  • Though you can use any other flat surface or bench, a light table is the best 
  • Cardboard 
  • Laser cutter 
  • Tape 
  • Glue 
  • Scissors 

. taking photos

Taking photos with old cameras is the most daunting task, especially when assembling required components. For an old analog SLR camera, you will need to do some research on several websites or vintage collectors before you find one that is working. Also, the required 35mm film strips were difficult locating together with batteries. If you too encounter the same problem, don’t give up; try on major e-commerce stores, you will find one.

With a full set of the vintage camera working, the weather is perfect, no people on the site, don’t take photos before you understand the following;

. camera setting 

  • If you want everything to focus, use A setting 22. It works very well with small diaphragms, which I used in my case.
  • The small-diaphragm is often associated with long shutters, so using a tripod stand reduces blurriness caused by unsteady hands.

. Shooting the pictures 

  • When everything is set, it is time to shoot a picture for your view master reels. For every single 3D image, you will need to take two photos, just next to each other. The distance between your camera and the actual object determines how you will slide your camera from left to right or vise versa. But in my case, I moved the camera 4 inches from the original position. Don’t delay for long before you take the second picture since the environment might change. 
  • To avoid confusion, take the first photo on the left side, then slide the camera 5 inches to the right and take another shot. 
  • Always frame the first photo before swiftly moving the camera to take the second one.
  • Take as many pictures as possible using the pairing technique we have explained. 
  • Lastly, take the roll to a studio and wait for them to be developed, though; it might take several days, but the results will be great.

. Making the reels 

The easiest way to make reels is by designing them on Adobe Illustrator. If you don’t have a laser cutter or you are unsure how to cut the reels, take the illustration to a fab lab where they will cut the reels out of card stock. It is better to use fab labs because the reels come out uniformly cut and fit perfectly in your view masters.

. Understand how the reel works 

View master reels are the life-giving components in picture viewer toys; without them, the toy will be useless. Since we are making a reel and only a few people have bothered to understand how they work, I feel I am obligated to show you how they work as part of their building process.

  • A standard reel shows seven 3D pictures, so when assembling it, you will need a total of 14 frames- seven right and seven left.
  • Pushing the lever on the picture viewer activates the reel, and it rotates
  • A finished reel has two cardboards sandwiching the pictures

.Choose the pictures

Here, you will need to work in a well-lit area, either near the window on a bright day or using a light table. Begin by carefully sorting the pictures to avoid confusion.

Make sure the right and left frames are placed in the right manner since the toy won’t work when you mix the pictures. Take an empty reel and place it on top of the slide to choose which part of the picture you are going to use.

. Assemble the reels

You will find other websites calling assembling of reels montage; in either case, don’t be confused by the terms used. Assembling the reel is easy.

  • Spray the glue on one empty reel board, then use the other reel board to mark the cutout with a sharpie.
  • Carefully cut on the marking and gently push the picture to stick on the glue.
  • Adjust the picture and the frame to be of the same height before the glue dries out.
  • Cut, adjust, and stick the other pictures.
  • Repeat the process for the second reel until all the 14 frames are over

. Finish the job

The moment of truth is finally home! After meticulously cutting, adjusting the pictures, and confirming the frames are perfectly aligned, let us wrap up the job and see the results.

Put the reel in the view master toy and check if it is working. Mine worked, so I believe yours will work too. I was amazed by the 3D pictures in my view master reels, and from today onwards, I have created several of them to keep that creative flame burning and also to explore new possibilities.

We have created a vintage view master reel from our own creativity, but during the process, I noted some difficulties;

. Finding an 

  • old camera’s battery is difficult
  • The 32mm films used in the reel making are rare
  • Unless you find a developer who has developed a film for reels; most of them don’t understand what you need; hence they develop a normal film that is not used in reels
  • Cutting a picture out of a slide is a common cause

“It is always hard until you get started” this is a milestone we have just completed in restoring view master. The process of creating view master reels is simple, exciting, and satisfying; all you need to do is to get started.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.