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Do you 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 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.
Here are three different options for how to digitize your photos.
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 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.
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.
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.
See our guide to the best photo scanners for more options.
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.
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 PhotoScan app. The free 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 you already know and love.
Not sure you want to go with Google? Consider these alternatives:
Download: Photo Scanner Plus by Photomyne for iOS ($1.99)
Download: Photo Scan App by Photomyne for Android (Subscription required)
Download: Memories by IdeaSolutions for iOS (Free)
Download: Pic Scanner by AppInitio Ltd. for iOS ($3.99)
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 as well.
Some options for companies that offer this service include:
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.
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.
Cost per photo: $25 flat fee plus 8 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 between $145 and $299 (depending on resolution) for a prepaid photo scanning box, international shipping, rush services.
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 consider buying one of these portable photo printers to make copies quickly and easily.