I am digitizing all of my old family photos and was curious if anyone knew how to interpret this code and figure out the date the photo was taken or printed. Either would be fine:

Sample Code #1:

032 12+00 NNNNN+15AU 0110

Sample Code #2:

046 12+00 NNNNN+16AU 0110

My guess was that 15AU and 16AU represent 15th and 16th of august but I could be off about that. I also don't know where to find the year. Thanks for your help! And please let me know if there is a more accurate title for this question. Thanks!

  • Really interesting question hopefully someone can help you! Are these on the negatives or the actual prints? Are you able to provide anymore information on who the printer was? Sadly this could be specific to the printer/developer so you may not get an answer. – Crazy Dino Nov 23 '17 at 22:40
  • Hi @CrazyDino, I'm glad you found it interesting! I do too ;) These are prints, not negatives. I will ask my parents about the printer and get back to you. My guess is that it was a chain photo store. Judging by the thorough answers below it seems you were right that these codes can't give me any date information. – herteladrian Nov 24 '17 at 4:52
  • Well now my curiosity is peaked - care to post the image along with where/how it was stored so that we can take a guess at deducing when it was taken/printed? – Hueco Nov 24 '17 at 18:47
  • @Corey your curiosity is piqued. From the French piquer, to prick or sting – osullic Nov 24 '17 at 19:24
  • @osullic I guess you could say that my piqued curiosity has reached the peak of it's interest. +1 to you exposing me to a new word. Cheers, – Hueco Nov 24 '17 at 19:50
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Those appear to be codes from a Fuji Frontier automatic film processing lab machine or one of its older predecessors. Such machines were/are popular at mass retailers who did/do one hour photo processing and printing.

Users have some leeway in assigning what information is printed using the codes on the back of the print, so there is some variation depending on the specific user's preferences. Some mass retailers used a standardized format across all machines in all of their stores, other chains seem to have used whatever the individual tech who set up the machine selected and can vary significantly from one location to the next. Here's what your first sample code probably means:

032 12+00 NNNNN+15AU 0110

032 - Identifies the specific machine among other machines the same operator may own. Mass retailers with less than 999 locations could assign a different code to every machine they owned in all of their locations using this field. This could also be used to represent the roll number, job number, or even the sequential negative/print number.

12+00 - Two codes representing the film maker and film speed along with film density. Used by the machine to apply a specific profile that had been previously entered for that particular film. Each machine could have different numbers assigned for the same film maker. Film maker '1' might be Kodak for one machine and Fuji for another. Film speed '2' might be for ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, etc. depending on the numbers assigned for that machine. The two numbers after the '+' symbol usually related to film density. If the film was processed "straight" (i.e. ISO 400 film was developed as ISO 400) and the resulting density of the negatives were "average" (kind of like our modern expectation of the average brightness of a digital photo being 18% gray) it was usually +00. If the negatives were darker or lighter than normal then a '+' or '-' number would be applied to bring them back to an expected "average". This is where an operator paying attention could notice that the shots were supposed to be brighter or darker than "average" and use a more appropriate number.

NNNNN - represents the amount of correction manually entered by the operator for cyan/magenta/yellow (some machines reversed the order to yellow/cyan/magenta) and two user assignable parameters. If the letter 'N' is used, it means the default setting for that particular machine (at the time the print was made) was used and no additional manually entered correction was done. Since the user of each machine could assign their own default profiles and custom changes for particular films (identified using the XX+XX code) the amount of correction in this field is pretty much meaningless unless the machine's software version and profile loaded into the machine at the time the print was made is known.

+16AU - Identifies auto-correction applied by the machine's automatic routines. AU is for 'Auto', not 'August'.

0110 - Another user assignable sequence number. It could be the job, roll, or print number for that day.

I've also seen prints from Fuji machines that use the following format. When the < xxxx> brackets are used, the number inside is almost always a sequence number corresponding to the negative number on the roll of film.

< No. 02 > 003 22-02 NNNNN-32AU 0032

When dates were included in the codes they were usually fairly obvious, such as:

APR96 001 0111 NNNN

Some stores chose to print the date on a separate line from the developing/printing information.

  • 1
    Thanks for your thorough response, Michael. I can't upvote you unfortunately because I have too little reputation, but I wish I could. I'll just accept that I can't date these pictures then. Was worth a shot and I hope this helps someone else in the future! Also please let me know if you think of a better title for this question that would make it easier to find. – herteladrian Nov 24 '17 at 4:56

Codes like this on the rear of photo prints had a different intended purpose to Exif data in your digital photos. When prints were made, oftentimes there were "corrections" applied, to adjust colours, exposure, etc. The point of the code on the rear of the print was so that if the customer returned for a reprint, the corrections could be replicated so that the reprint matched the initial print.

Codes are not standardised and could be customised on the machine that made the print. Often the lab/machine is identified, and as I said, colour/exposure corrections, etc that have been applied. The brand and ISO of the film can be recorded. In your example, I think the "12" actually means "film brand 1" and "ISO value 2". Of course, "film brand 1", etc depends on local convention.

NNNNN indicates no changes from the machine defaults for each of the following (not necessarily in order):

  • +/- Cyan
  • +/- Magenta
  • +/- Yellow
  • +/- Density
  • +/- Contrast

I believe the 15AU and 16AU are not related to the date, but relate somehow to scan settings on a digital minilab machine. AU refers to AUTO.

Bear in mind that these codes were not meant to be helpful for consumers, but rather for the lab.

  • Thanks for your response osulic! A bummer I can't get the dates but good to know! – herteladrian Nov 24 '17 at 5:04

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