Are you staring down at boxes in your attic filled with old photos? The memories are priceless, but the practical aspects of keeping, maintaining, and sorting through old photo albums can be daunting.
Thankfully there are a number of great solutions out there for digitizing prints. But what’s the best way to scan old photos? Well that depends on the number of old photos you have, your budget, what you intend to do with the photos, and how much free time you have.
Why You Should Scan Old 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 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 kickstart the process, 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 re-live old memories.
If you use a Mac, check out how you can use the Image Capture app to scan old photos.
What Kind of Scanner to Use When Scanning Old Photos
There are a lot of different scanners 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 and Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII both offer these features as well as some additional perks like automatic color correction and zero warm-up time.
Willing to pay top dollar? Some scanners, like the Epson FastFoto FF-640 are designed specifically to scan stacks of 4×6 photos at high speeds with good quality. While this printer isn’t a flatbed scanner, the mechanism for its automatic feed is designed to be gentle on older prints.
A more portable and less expensive automatic feed photo scanner is the Kodak 4×6 P461, which scans photos and negatives directly to an SD card.
Strategies for Scanning Old 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. Go into this process with a plan of attack. 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 300dpi (but consider going as high as 600dpi 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 an addictive show like Black Mirror 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 Scan Old 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 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 you already know and love.
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-Scanning Services
Financial Investment: High
Time Investment: Low
Of course, the easiest way to tackle this project is to simply hire a photo-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.
Some options for companies that offer this service include:
Cost per photo: 33 cents per printed photo up to 8×10″. 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″ 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: 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.
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 Next After Your Photos Are Scanned
No matter how you choose to digitize old 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 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 that you can display without risking damage to precious originals.