Number Your Tapes

Number Your Tapes

How you number your tapes can have long-term effects.

Just as you want continuous, nonrepeating timecode [Hack #4] on each of your tapes, you also want a unique number assigned to each tape. Although tape numbering is an easy task to accomplish, more often than not, I hear about people who have duplicate tape numbers or no tape numbers at all!

Sticking with Your Choice

You should choose a numbering scheme that makes sense to you and the people you work with. Your numbering scheme should be easy to understand and allow you to glance at a tape and understand what the number represents. In order to make any of the following numbering schemes work, you should have a spreadsheet or database to track additional information, including the date shot and a brief synopsis of the footage.

Imagine trying to physically look through 100 MiniDV tapes, while trying to read what you printed on a small 1"x2" label. I can guarantee you will not be able to put all of the information you would like in such a small space. A spreadsheet or database can become an invaluable resource, especially when you are trying to locate footage.

Tracking information in a system that can be searched and sorted will help you manage your library over time. It is not uncommon for an independent project to amass one hundred or more hours of raw footage. Some professional projects can amass tens of thousands! Save your sanity and take an extra few minutes to enter the information in a central location.

If you are working on a project with more than just a few people, I recommend using a centralized system. Whether you create a method of checking in/out a tracking spreadsheet, use WebDAV to lock/unlock a set of files, or even design a database and place it on a server, you need to create a central location for tracking. This is because you need to take extra precautions to make sure people don't change other people's information, or enter conflicting information. If you do not take such precautions, you could find yourself completely confused by your own project.

Numbering Safely

Numbering schemes are a personal endeavor. Based on my background, I still cringe when I see a tape number longer than six characters. Although nonlinear editing systems are making progress in the realm of cross-compatibility, through Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) and Media Exchange Format (MXF) files, the Edit Decision List (EDL) is still the default and most common method of moving a project from one system to another.

In order to keep peace of mind when using an EDL, a tape number should not exceed six alphanumeric characters (or eight if you don't mind taking a very small risk). A tape number should also not use any special characters—such as an underscore (_) or ampersand (&)—nor should it end in a B. It is safest to simply stick with the basic set of A–Z and 0–9.

If you would like to know the reasons behind these rules, point your favorite browser at and keep in mind that many systems export or import GVG EDLs.

If you know that you will never produce an EDL, you can be more flexible in your numbering scheme. However, you should still attempt to keep the numbers as simple as possible.

Okay…on to the numbering! The following are simply suggestions, but they have all been used successfully on professional projects.

Numbering Based on Project

One choice for tape-tracking is to number your tapes by project, then camera number, and then a sequential number. Using such a design results in a number like PWA032, which represents the Peter's Wedding (PW) project, camera A, tape number 32. You should take notice of the 032, as opposed to only 32. The prepending of the 0 allows up to 1,000 tapes (000–999). If you expect to exceed 1,000 tapes, you can easily prepend two 0s to your load number and reduce the project indicator to one letter (e.g., PA0032).

Numbering Based on Date

To number your tapes based on date, and still maintain the six-character limit, requires you to track only the load count, camera, and date in your number. For example, the fourth tape shot on March 15 in camera A would read as 4A0315. If you use this scheme, you will probably want to place supplementary information somewhere on your tape's label or within your tracking system.

If you choose to expand your numbering scheme to eight characters, you can gain a little more flexibility using the date numbering option.

One approach to adding information to your labels, without compromising your tape number is to simply write information, like the project's name, on the label. This information would be in addition to the tracking number. It is easy to tell that a tape with the label of "Going Home 4A0315" does not belong to the same project as "Sunset 3B0322." This is an effective solution, especially if you are producing multiple projects.

When logging and/or digitizing using this scheme, you should enter only the tracking number as the tape number. Do not include the project name as a part of the tape number. Otherwise, you will have problems when creating an EDL.

Using Barcodes

A third choice is to buy or print out a series of barcode labels along with a human-readable number. I especially recommend this solution if you will be dealing with large amounts of footage. An additional advantage to this solution is you can then use a barcode scanner to help track your tapes as they move from person to person.

Purchasing barcodes.

If you are looking to purchase a series of preprinted barcodes, I can recommend Barcode Discounters ( I have used their products in the past and usually purchase the 2" x 1" Poly/Permanent style label. I also have the project's name printed above the barcode and a human-readable number printed below it, as shown in Figure.

If you order your labels, you will probably discover that a label of the 2" x 1" size fits onto the face of MiniDV tapes. Depending on your preference, you may want to order the barcodes in duplicate, so you can attach a barcode to both the physical tape and its plastic case.

Generating your own.

If you would like to print your own labels, and you own Microsoft Office, you can link an Excel spreadsheet to a Word document and generate a series of labels:

  1. Create a new Excel document.

  2. Enter Barcode into cell A1.

  3. Enter the formula =sum(A2+1) into cell A3.

    A barcoded tape label

  4. Select cell A3 and copy it.

  5. Paste the formula in as many cells under column A as you require:

    • There are 2,000 labels in an Avery 5267 package.

    • You can paste to cell A1002, if you want to label both tape and case.

  6. Enter 10000 (or whatever number you desire) into cell A2.

  7. Save your document.

I like to start my series at 10000, because some editing systems will trim your tape numbers from 00001 to simply 1; I prefer consistency.

A nice bonus with this method is you can set up your spreadsheet to track additional information about the tapes, such as the date shot and a brief description of its content. To do this, simply add your criteria to the first row of your spreadsheet. So, to the right of barcode could come Project Name, Date Shot, Description, Format, and so on.

Okay, now to pull your information into Word and print the labels. You are going to print out labels using the Avery 5267 template. These labels are technically Return Address labels, but they measure 0.5 x 1.75 inches and fit nicely on MiniDV tapes. If you are shooting on a larger format tape, feel free to substitute an appropriate template.

If you have chosen to add a Project Name, you should enter it before printing your labels. Otherwise, you will have only the tape number printed.

  1. Create a new Word document.

  2. Choose Tools Labels….

  3. Change the Label type to Avery 5267.

  4. Click the Data Merge button.

  5. Using the Data Merge Manager, choose Data Source Get Data Open Data Source….

  6. Locate the saved Excel document.

  7. Accept the default import method.

  8. Add the barcode to your label. If you have added a Project Name column, add it as well.

  9. Choose Edit Select All.

  10. Choose Format Paragraph….

  11. Choose Alignment Center.

  12. Save your document.

After you have completed all of these steps, you can print out your labels from your Word document. Because there is only one entry per tape in your spreadsheet, only one label will be printed per tape. If you would like to label both your tape and your case, you can simply print two copies of your labels.

Keeping Everything Up-to-Date

Over time, your tracking system will become the central location for an overview of your projects. Make sure you enter information for each tape you shoot on, as soon as possible. The more diligent you are about keeping up-to-date, the fewer problems you will have during the editing process.

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