The 3 Best Ways to Digitize Old Photos (And Why You Should)
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Want to digitize photos? You can easily back up and preserve old photos by turning them into digital copies with many different methods.

But what is the best way to digitize photos? It depends on how many you have, your budget, what you intend to do with the photos, and how much free time you have.

Why You Should Digitize Photos

Taking the time to turn your treasured physical photographs into digital copies isn’t as easy as leaving them in a photo album or box. Even if you love to shoot with film, or hold physical memories in your hands, there are a number of reasons why you may want to consider this option.

It’s easy to damage physical photos. Water damage, discoloration, and accidental tears are all legitimate concerns that could ruin your treasured photos forever. Making digital copies allows you to make as many backups as needed—so you never have to worry about losing your entire family history in the event of a flood or fire.

Photo albums, frames, and storage boxes can take up a lot of space in your home. On the other hand, you can store hundreds of thousands of digital copies on a single external hard drive the size of a deck of cards.

Family photos are meant for sharing. Having digital copies ensures that no one has to go without favorite childhood memories—every family member can have access to every photo ever taken.

Digital photos allow you to correct blemishes, adjust white balance A Beginner's Guide to Understanding White Balance A Beginner's Guide to Understanding White Balance We explain everything you need to know for understanding white balance and the difference it can make to your photos. Read More or lighting, or crop out ex-boyfriends or girlfriends as needed. These adjustments simply can’t be made to the same extent on physical photos, and you want your treasured photos to look their best.

In all honesty, everyone should consider scanning in at least some of their old photos. It may take some time or money to get started, but the benefits of having old photos protected, shared, and edited completely outweigh the costs.

And you can always start small with your most treasured photos; you don’t need to scan in your entire collection at once.

Option 1: Scanning Old Photos at Home

Financial Investment: Low-to-Moderate
Time Investment: High

Settle in for a couple of long afternoons. Scanning in your photos at home on a scanner is time-consuming, but also gives you complete control over how your photos are organized, scanned, and stored. Plus it can be a lot of fun to relive old memories.

If you use a Mac, check out how you can use the Image Capture app 4 Practical Ways to Use Your Mac's Image Capture App 4 Practical Ways to Use Your Mac's Image Capture App Your Mac's Image Capture app is a quiet but useful tool. Here are some practical uses for Image Capture you must check out. Read More to scan old photos.

The Best Picture Scanner to Digitize Photos

There are a lot of different brands of picture scanner out there, with a wide range of prices and features.

As a rule, it’s generally best to consider a flatbed scanner, as they are least likely to damage your delicate photos. Basic options like the Canon CanoScan LiDE220 or the Epson Perfection V39 are a great way to scan photos up to 8×10 in size without breaking the bank.

Canon Office Products LiDE120 Color Image Scanner Canon Office Products LiDE120 Color Image Scanner Buy Now On Amazon $279.00

If your budget is a little higher, you may prefer purchasing a scanner that can scan your old negatives and slides as well as printed photos. The Epson Perfection V600 has these features as well as some additional perks like automatic color correction and zero warm-up time. The Kodak Scanza is a great portable option if you need a film scanner.

Epson Perfection V600 Color Photo, Image, Film, Negative & Document Scanner - Corded Epson Perfection V600 Color Photo, Image, Film, Negative & Document Scanner - Corded Buy Now On Amazon $199.99

Willing to pay top dollar? Some scanners are designed specifically to scan stacks of 4×6 photos at high speeds with good quality. The Epson FastFoto FF-680W claims to be the fastest picture scanner of all, and will digitize batches of 36 prints at a rate of one-per-second. It’s wireless too, so you can save directly to cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox.

A more portable and less expensive photo scanner is the Doxie Go SE. It scans your photos to an SD card, is the size of a rolled up magazine, and runs on battery power.

Epson FastFoto FF-680W Wireless High-Speed Photo and Document Scanning System Epson FastFoto FF-680W Wireless High-Speed Photo and Document Scanning System Buy Now On Amazon $529.99

Strategies for Digitizing Photos at Home

If you’ve never undertaken a large-scale scanning project like this, there are some important guidelines to keep in mind.

Be organized. Are you going to scan photos chronologically? In order of importance? How are you going to organize them on your computer or external hard drive? Consider coming up with a system for naming and sorting files so that it’s easy to find the photos you are looking for. You may also want to consider strategies for keeping track of who is in each photo.

Be selective. Think about how many photos you take on your phone that you delete immediately. You don’t need to save every photo you’ve ever taken. Only scan the ones that are important to you.

Be careful. Wipe dust off of your photos and from your scanner using a non-abrasive cloth. This ensures that your picture is as clear as possible, without any annoying dust specks. And if you’re using a scanner that doesn’t show you a preview of your photos, check in on your scans every hour or so to ensure that they are scanning and saving properly.

Check your settings. All scans are not created equal. For scanning photos you’ll want to use a minimum quality setting of 300 dpi (but consider going as high as 600 dpi if you’re planning on enlarging any photos). As well, even if you are scanning in black and white or sepia photos, choosing to scan in color will give you the best opportunities to make edits and modifications to your digital photos.

Be prepared. You’re likely going to spend more than a few hours with these photos. Why not put a TV show on in the background, listen to your favorite music on Spotify, or surround yourself with friends and family for a photo scanning party and share memories as you dig through your photos.

Option 2: Using an App to Digitize Photos

Financial Investment: Low
Time Investment: Moderate

If you just need a way to quickly scan old photos to digital, you may not want to invest any money in a picture scanner. Or maybe you’re at a family member’s home and only have access to your phone.

Sure, you could always just take a photo using your phone’s camera app. But then you’re at risk of creating shadows, distortion, and glare. These apps help to remove these features and guide you through the scanning process.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the best app options out there is Google’s free PhotoScan app. The app takes multiple photos of each print to improve quality, remove glare, and correct any distortion. And better yet, the app can be completely integrated with all the great Google Photos features 12 Amazing Google Photos Features You Didn't Know About 12 Amazing Google Photos Features You Didn't Know About Google Photos is a well-known service, but it holds many little tricks. Here are 12 great features of Photos you might have missed. Read More you already know and love.

Download: PhotoScan for iOS | Android (Free)

Not sure you want to go with Google? Consider these alternatives:

Download: Photo Scanner Plus by Photomyne for iOS ($0.99)
Download: Photo Scanner Plus by Photomyne for Android (Subscription required)
Download: Memories by IdeaSolutions for iOS (Free)
Download: Pic Scanner by AppInitio Ltd. for iOS ($1.99)

Option 3: Photo-Digitizing Services

Financial Investment: High
Time Investment: Low

Of course, the easiest way to tackle this project is to simply hire a photo-digitizing (or scanning) service. While this is an amazing way to decrease the amount of time involved in this project, it does come with some downsides.

You will have to send away your family photos to a stranger, often trusting the mail system with some of your most precious memories. In addition, a stranger will be seeing every photo that you send to them (so you may want to do an initial sort first anyways). You will also lose some control over how your photos are organized How Should You Organize Your Photos? Try One of These 5 Methods How Should You Organize Your Photos? Try One of These 5 Methods How can you keep everything organized so you can actually find the photos you're looking for? Just use one of these five easy methods! Read More .

Some options for companies that offer this service include:

Scan Cafe

Cost per photo: 35 cents per printed photo up to 8×10 inches. Every photo receives color correction and editing by hand.

Formats Supported: Photos, negatives, slides, film/video.

Additional Services: If you have a lot of photos to scan, and don’t mind some extra wait time, the Value Kit pricing option may be right for you. Option to review your scans before purchasing, expedited services.

DigMyPics

Cost per photo: 39 cents per printed photo up to 8×10 inches plus shipping. Pricing for other formats may vary.

Formats Supported: Photos, slides, negatives, film, videotape.

Additional Services: Color correction, dust removal, rush services.

Scan My Photos

Cost per photo: 16 cents per photo, but additional services (e.g. image rotation, higher dpi, color correction) are extra.

Formats Supported: Printed photos, film, negatives.

Additional Services: Option to pay $145 for a prepaid photo scanning box, international shipping, rush services.

Stay Local

When choosing a service to scan your photos for you, don’t forget about your local photography studio. While not all locations will offer this service (and their prices may be higher) this option may offer you some peace of mind. This can also be a more timely option if you only want a few scanned photos, and want them to be at a high quality.

What to Do After Your Photos Are Digitized

No matter how you choose to digitize photos, the end result will be more space in your home, memories that are safe from harm, and a sense of relief. Now that you have all of these fantastic digital images, your options are endless.

You can send copies of your photos to family and friends, create a slideshow for your next family event, and/or share any great awkward photos online for instant likes and comments. Or, if you really want to show them off, consider creating a digital photo book Make Your Digital Photos Stand Out with These 6 Unique Photo Books Make Your Digital Photos Stand Out with These 6 Unique Photo Books Photography is a great creative hobby, but when it comes to printing, everyone does the same thing. Here are six photo books that'll make your snaps unique. Read More that you can display without risking damage to those precious originals.

Explore more about: Data Backup, Photo Album, Photo Sharing, Photography, Scanner.

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  1. Rick
    April 27, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    We have literally half-a dozen 12x16x12 boxes of loose photos and numerous albums besides. We have found the best ways for us is to use a Cannon MX922 printrer/flatbed scanner, which gives us numerous options and delivers the scans to computers.

    A couple things we have learned:

    Flatbed scanners allow you to scan even photos that were originally glued to album pages without damage. Once the page is delivered to your computer, use Photoshop Elements, available for less that $100, to load the pages, crop the individual prints, rotate, etc.

    You probably should select the highest resolution on your scanner. This will make your files larger, but gets the clearest results for your original scans and photo editing , and the resolution can be reduced after editing if you need smaller files.

    As you learn more about Elements, you can develop skills in touching up, changing brightness, focus, contrast, color and all the things that restore the prints to better condition. And if you save your original scans, you can always go back and start again if you make a mistake. Elements even allows you to add a space above/below/beside for captioning your photos without covering part of them, by enlarging the 'canvas'.

    And if you are really serious about your project, many community colleges or software vendors offer classes in how to best use Elements and other Photoshop versions which will make your results even better.

    An added benefit is that once you have conquered your old b/w photos, you can move on to that collection of thousands of 35mm slides, probably adding a new slide scanner which will provide the same files for Photoshop editing.

    There are also devices called NAS (network attached storage), which will conveniently store you whole collection without taking space on your computer hard drive, and allow you to display all your pictures on your large screen TV using a 'screen save' software. These will plug into your cable router and be available to any and all digital devices on your network. They can also be configured to automatically spread copies of your photos across multiple hard disk drive to protect you against loss in the even of a hard disk failure. You might need a computer guru to help set that up correctly, but the safety is worth it.

    Now you can share copies of your family heritage with family instead of just having boxes of photos in the closet that no one ever sees. DVD disks will hold hundreds of your photos for sharing at very good price.

    In answer to Mark regarding format, you probably should use .jpg which is the defacto universal format that nearly all devices and software will support. There are also numerous free utilities that will read and convert to various file formats if other formats are needed.

    I use a free 'screen saver' package called ScreenPaver to serve my collection to a dispaly or TV. It has a lot of options to adjust directories, display time, etc to do your personal picture show. This allows you to select parts of your collection to view, such as family history, kids, grandkids, events, travel spots, depending on how you want to organize your photos.

    Microsoft sells a device called Wireless Display Adaptor that plugs into a USB port on your TV and will duplicate your computer screen on your large-screen TV.

    With my NAS storage device and a very small 11" screen laptop, I can put all my pictures on the TV with no directly-attached computer and no wiring. Any computer on on your network can do the 'cast' of it's screen to the Msft device.

    And one last piece of advice, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP. You don't want to lose all your hours of work due to a hard disk failure. Even with the pictures on our NAS device, I still burn copies to DVD or at least to offline USB drives that themselves have huge storage capacity.

    There is only one large problem with all of this. I may not live long enough to get the pictures all digitized.

  2. Mark Smerdon
    December 11, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for your expert information. I still am wondering what format to save each scan in to get the most out of each picture?

  3. infmom
    April 20, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks for this article! We have a ton of old photos and I despaired of ever having enough time and energy to scan them all.