Beginners Guide to Scanning Old Photographs for Preservation and Restoration

We’ve just made it even easier for you to restore your old photographs!

Many of us have old photographs from our college days stashed away in boxes, or family photo albums full of memories. These treasured pictures can never be replaced if they’re lost or destroyed. Thankfully, modern technology offers a way to digitally preserve and restore them.

If you’re wondering how best to scan your old photographs, here’s our step by step beginners guide to scanning for photo preservation and restoration.

Step 1. Buy the Best Type of Scanner for Photographs

Buy the Best Type of Scanner for Photographs Do your research before making a purchase. Cheap document scanners are unlikely to take a high enough quality scan to preserve your old photographs effectively. A good quality flatbed scanner is the best choice to invest in for scanning printed copies of old photographs. You must check it includes settings that allow you to scan at an optical resolution of at least 600 DPI.

On the other hand, if you’ve got 35mm film, photo negatives or slides, it’s worth investing in a specialist scanner to do the job. Again, these are available at a variety of prices and the key is to ensure it allows for high-resolution scanning.  This buying guide to film scanners will help you make the decision of which model is right for you.

Step 2. Prepare Your Old Photograph for Scanning

Prepare Your Old Photograph for ScanningWear clean cotton gloves while handling your photographs to avoid leaving any skin oils or grease on the picture. We particularly like these lightweight cotton gloves available from Archival Methods. Carefully remove the picture from its frame or album and gently remove any dust or dirt with a lint-free photo wipe.

Step 3. Prepare the Scanner

Prepare the ScannerEven if your scanner is new, take time to check for any dust, hairs, fingerprints or smudges. If necessary, you can clean the scanning surface with a camera lens cleaning product and a lint-free wipe. Remember to allow it to completely dry before putting your photograph on it.

Step 4. Choose the Best Scanner Settings

Choose the Best Scanner SettingsYour scanner and scanning software will allow you to choose a variety of settings. They may look a little different to the one pictured, but each option will be available somewhere. It’s important to get these right so you can restore and reprint your old photographs in the future:

  • Make sure it’s set to scan a photograph and not a document
  • Set to scan in color, even if the original photograph is black and white.  24bit RGB color is usually enough, but if your photograph is very faded set it to 48bit RGB color to be sure
  • Turn off all auto-correct options or automatic filters including sharpening, color correction, scratch or dust removal. Although these seem like cool ways to make your scanned image look good, they’re actually really unhelpful when it comes to preserving and restoring your old photographs
  • Set to save the scan as a TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) file to avoid any image compression
  • Set to scan at a resolution of at least 600 DPI

Resolution Settings for Scanning Old Photographs

Zoom in for more detail!

Scanning at a resolution of at least 600 DPI is vital to include enough detail to restore and reprint your old photographs at a later date. If you want to enlarge the photograph, you will need to scan at an even higher DPI setting. Our resolution calculator will do the math for you.

If you’re new to scanning and resolution, check out our post on DPI made simple to get the basics.

Step 5. Take a Preview Scan

Lay the old photograph flat onto the scanner and as straight as possible. If there’s a lot of white in the image – say, for example, it has a snowy setting – put a piece of black card behind the photo. This will help the scanner pick up all the detail.

Most scanners allow you to do a preview scan. Click ‘preview’ or ‘pre-scan’ and the scanner will take a quick picture of the photograph. Check this on your computer screen to see that the image is straight and that no part of the photograph has been missed off.

Step 6. Crop the Preview Image

Choose the Best Scanner SettingsUse the software provided with the scanner to crop the preview scan and remove any wasted background space. If your image is straight, this should be easy to do. Crop it as close to the edges as possible without cutting off any of the main image.

Step 7. Take the Full Scan

Take the Full ScanYou’re now ready to take the full scan of your old photograph. Double check your scanner settings are as described above and hit ‘scan’. It’ll take a few minutes to complete, so this is the perfect moment to grab a drink and take a short break.

Step 8. Name and Save Your Photo Files

Name and Save Your Photo FilesBe sure to rename the image file with something that describes the photograph. You could create folders with categories based on the type of photograph, people in it or on the era it was taken in. We also recommend creating a second version of the file saved on a separate hard drive to ensure you have backups of your photos.

Step 9. Archive Your Images

Archive Your ImagesIf you’re scanning lots of old photographs for preservation, it’s worth investing in an external hard drive. High resolution TIFF files are large files and you probably don’t want to fill up the memory on your computer. Organize your photographs into folders and copy them onto the hard drive to keep them safe.

Step 10: Have Your Old Photographs Restored by a Professional

Congratulations! You now have a digital collection of your most precious old photographs. If any of them are faded or torn, send them to us at The Photo Restoration Center. We’ll happily restore the damage so your photos and memories are kept in the best possible condition.  Get in touch for more details and a complimentary quote.

No time for scanning? Don’t worry – contact us and we’ll do it for you. We can provide a quote for photo restoration from just a simple snapshot taken with your smartphone. You can then send the original old photograph to us and we’ll scan it at the correct resolution for restoration.