We present a general approach to thin bulk samples to transparency for experiments in the soft x-ray and extreme ultraviolet spectral range. The method relies on mechanical grinding followed by focused-ion-beam milling. It results in a uniformly thin area of high surface quality, suitable for nanoscale imaging in transmission. In a proof-of-principle experiment, nanoscale magnetic bits on a commercial hard drive glass disk are imaged with a spatial resolution below 30 nm by soft x-ray spectro-holography. Furthermore, we demonstrate imaging of a lithographically patterned test object via absorption contrast. Our approach is suitable for both amorphous and crystalline substrates and has been tested for a variety of common epitaxy growth substrates. Lateral thinning areas in excess of 100 μm2 and a remaining substrate thickness as thin as 150 nm are easily achievable. Our approach allows preserving a previously grown thin film, and from nanofocus electron diffraction, we find no evidence for morphological changes induced by the process, in agreement with numerical simulations of the ion implantation depth distributon. We expect our method to be widely applicable and especially useful for nanoscale imaging of epitaxial thin films. © 2017 Author(s).