The Complete Guide to Scanning & Digitizing Old Photos


Do you have boxes of Polaroids collecting dust? Preserve those memories by scanning and digitizing your old photos. Our ultimate guide will show you how.

photo editing on computer


Do you have faded black and white photos of ancestors? Or do you want to organize shoeboxes of family vacation pictures? Digitizing and scanning those old photos allow you to repair, save and share those memories. Whether you decide to do it yourself or use a service, here is the ultimate guide.

Why Scan & Digitize Old Photos?

The biggest reason is that pictures fade over time. You can preserve photos by scanning them before they are destroyed. Photo editing tools allow photos to be cropped and touched, restoring original quality. Scanning photos provide backup if they are lost or destroyed. Digitizing photos also allow you to save and organize them into folders. That makes it easy to find what you are looking for in minutes. Having digitized photos makes it easier to print and share pictures as well.

Photo Sharing Service versus Do-It-Yourself

If you are looking to scan and digitize photos, you can either use a photo sharing service or do-it-yourself with a scanner. The advantage of using a photo sharing service is the time savings. However, there is a cost involved and you lose a bit of control over the process. By getting, a scanner and doing it yourself, you will save money and being able to assure quality. However, becoming proficient with the scanner, software and photo editing tools takes time and patience.

Best Photo Scanning Services

Walmart – If you have many photos to scan, Walmart offers the best value, charging $25 to transfer 165 photos and slides to a DVD. Additional pictures are 15 cents per image. Add personalized themes and music to create a slideshow

Walgreens – Transfer 30 images onto a DVD or USB drive for $30. Additional images are 59 cents each. In addition, Walmart also transfers old videos and film in a variety of formats to a DVD or Blu-Ray disc starting at $30. Edit the videos or transfer as is.

Costco – Costco charges $20 to scan 62 images and then 32 cents per each additional photo. Although they are a bit pricier than Walmart, they offer the advantage of either storing 500 photos on one DVD or on a free Google Photos account with unlimited back up and storage. Like Walgreens, Costco can also transfer old videotapes and film to DVD.

Mail Services – There are several mail services available for scanning old photos. Package the photos, drop in the mail and the company will turn them into digital images and mail you a DVD along with the original photos. Although more convenient, it can take months to get the DVD and original photos back. The most popular services are iMemories, ScanMyPhotos, Go Photo and ScanCafé. If you have many photos, ScanMyPhotos offers the best deal – prices start at one cent per image with a package deal of 1800 photos for $145. For those faded, torn or folded black and white pictures, both GoPhoto and ScanCafe can digitally repair and restore damaged images.

Best At-Home Photo Scanning

If you have numerous photos to preserve and time, scanning at home can save you money. You will need:

  • A scanner
  • A microfiber cloth or handkerchief
  • Compressed air
  • Photo editing software
  • A DVD or cloud service for sharing scanned photos

Best Value Scanner – Canon CanoScan LiDE 120
If you are looking for a basic scanner, there are several models to recommend. The Canon CanoScan LiDE 120 Color Image Scanner and the Epso Perfection V39 are both under $100. While neither one offers photo editing features or the ability to scan film, they both do the trick for scanning black and white images.

Best High End Scanner – Epson Perfection V550 Color Photo, Image, Film, Negative & Document Scanner
The Epson Perfection V550 can handle black and white and color photos, 35 millimeter and camera film, negatives and slides. The built-in transparency unit makes digitizing camera film a breeze and the Digital ICE feature is perfect for negatives. If you need to “clean up” any images, the Epson Perfection V550 offers an easy photo-fix feature. The Epson offers high speed scanning and allows for scanning multiple images at once. With Auto-Edge detection, it senses multiple scans, crops each one and saves each as a separate file. With all the features, the Epson Perfection V550 is the best choice for DIY scanning.

Best App for Scanning – Google Photos
Google Photos scans photos with quality as good as the original. In addition to Photoshop editing, the app has a feature that reduce glare as you scan from frames or albums. The smart rotation and edge detection allows for automatic cropping. Google Photos is available for both iPhones and Androids.

Tips & Tricks for Do-It-Yourself Scanning

These tips and tricks from PC Magazine will make the scanning process easier:

  • Prioritize – Take inventory of the photos that you want scanned and then prioritize the order. One suggestion is to scan older black and white photos first as they are in most danger of being destroyed by time. Next scan videos and old color photos, especially of friends and family that may be gone or young kids or family members. Finally, scan more recent pictures where you may have images of the same individual or event saved to a computer or ones where you don’t know who is in the photo.
  • Clean the Scanner & Photos First – For best results, clean the scanner bed with a micro fiber cloth or handkerchief. Don’t use a paper towel or tissue as that may leave behind debris or cause scratches. Dust photos before scanning using compressed air rather than a tissue or paper towel.
  • Don’t Flatten Creases! – Lay out the image flat on the scanner as best you can and worry about editing creases latter.
  • Digital ICE – Look for a scanner with Digital Image Correction (Digital ICE) to remove dust, scratches and creases from scanned images.
  • Save Time – Scanning multiple images with about a quarter inch separation on all sides will save time. You can crop them into individual files later.
  • Use Photo Editing Software – Use Photoshop and other photo editing apps and software to crop and straighten images, correct for red eye or eliminate creases. Good photo editing tools can correct a majority of issues.
  • Scan in Color – Sepia images need the full color setting. Black and white pictures are fine to scan as color unless there is damage. Use grayscale on damaged pictures to edit images and remove marks later.
  • Be Patient – There is an art to scanning. The first few batches will take longer. Keep notes on what works best for your equipment and software and the process will become easier.

Tips for Saving Digitized Photos

Once you have the photos scanned, you will want to save them, either to your computer or to the cloud. Here are the best tips for saving the photos.

Tips for Resolution & File Format

It is best to save scanned photos as .jpeg files. The best resolution depends on what you plan to do with the digitized photo. M. David Stone, author of the “Underground Guide to Color Printers,” recommends scanning at the highest resolution offered. If you are printing a photo at the same size as the original image without cropping, 300dpi is sufficient. However, if you plan to enlarge the photo, say print a 4 x 6 picture as an 8 x 10 or crop out part of the photo and enlarge what remains, you will want that higher resolution, generally 600-800 dpi, depending on the ratio of original to final image size. It is easier to reduce the resolution than the other way around. If you need to save disk space, you can then save at 300dpi. For photo sharing, 200 dpi will work. For faster transmission as you send, you want to reduce the image to the smallest size possible. Stone also recommends “staying away from interpolated resolutions for photos. When you are ready to use them, you can using an image editor to resample the image to a lower resolution. Don’t use the original high-resolution image, and let the printer or display decide which pixels to throw out.”

Best Cloud Sharing Photo Services

Once you have the photos scanned, you can upload them to an online achieve. This allows you to group and organize the pictures and have a backup. Depending on the amount of storage you want, you can go with a free service or pay for extra space.

Best Free Photo Sharing Services

Google PhotosAvailable as an app on most iPhones or for download at Google Play for Androids, Google Photos is the best free photo sharing service. It securely uploads and backs up every photo and video taken on a smartphone with access from any device. Photos are automatically organized to make searching easy. Feature like automatic tagging, animation and interface with social media platforms and Apple’s Air Drop make it easy to share pictures with family and friends. Although you cannot control image quality, Google Photos does include basic editing tools. Google Photos provides unlimited free storage for photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution.

DropboxDropbox is a downloadable software program offering up to 2GB of free storage. It automatically uploads and stores photos to the cloud from a computer or phone and synchronizes files across many devices. Once in the cloud, it is easy to make slideshows or share files with other Dropbox users. Although tagging or editing isn’t available, Dropbox does offer 30 days of version history and file recovery. Additional storage is available for up to $120/year for two terabytes.

Best Paid Photo Sharing Services

Best High End Photo Sharing – IDrive
With its simple interface, IDrive is fast and easy-to-use. It offers 5GB of free storage with up to
5TB for $69.50 per year. IDrive can synchronize photo files stored on your computer as well as support internal, external and NAS drives. One of its best features is the ability to retain 30 previous versions of one image. Like the free services, IDrive interfaces with social media platforms, making it simple to share photos.

Best Paid Photo Sharing for iPhone Users – Apple iCloud
Apple’s iCloud allows iPhone owners to upload, tag and view pictures in an online photo stream through Apple Photos or as a web page – great for multiple people to share photos from an event. Although Apple offers up to 5GB of photo space on its iPhones for free, iCloud makes it affordable to add additional storage for only 99 cents per month for up to 50GB and $2.99 per month for up to 200GB.

Best Paid Photo Sharing for Android Users – Google Drive
Although used with iPhones, Google Drive works best for Android users. It saves and uploads up to 100GB for only $1.99 per month. Along with the tagging and photo sharing capabilities of IDrive and iCloud, Google Drive provides the ability to crop photos, colorize pictures and create albums.

With many people taking “staycations” this year and these tips, now is the perfect time to scan and digitize those old photos. For further help, visit the resources below: