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Best Tips to Scan your Photos

When looking for the best way to convert photos to digital files, there are three good do-it-yourself scanning options, and professional services:

If you prefer to do-it-yourself, you can use a:

  • Home flatbed scanner
  • Retail photo kiosk
  • Mobile phone with photo scanner app

You can also contact a

  • Photo scanning service
  • Specialty photo retailer

Your choice may depend upon how you plan to use the image, your access to a scanning device, and how comfortable you are sending your photos away to a service.

To help you get a good quality scan, we’ve identified  important tips for each method.

Preparing your photo for scanning:

Preparing your photo is just as important as scanning. Take a moment to read these tips to avoid glare, stray bits of dust, and other imperfections that will affect the quality of your scan.

If you have a slide or a negative and print of the same image, scan the slide or negative because it is the original image.  Prints are a second generation of the image and do not contain as much detail. If, like most people, you only have the  photo print, follow these important tips:

  1. Take your photo out of its photo album or remove it from behind glass to remove reflection UNLESS  the photo is stuck to the glass.
  2. If the photo is stuck to glass, scan with the glass. It is easier to remove glare than reconstruct the  photo where it is torn when you remove the glass.
  3. Remove any dust particles from the image. Wiping the photo with a dust-free lens cloth works well.
  4. Don’t use a paper towel or tissue because they can leave more particles on your photo.
  5. Never use water or a cleaning solvent.
Scanning Tips

JPEG vs. TIFF: Understanding the difference between these two file formats.

JPEG is the standard used by most of today’s digital cameras, phones, and imaging software. JPEG uses compression to create a smaller file size, which makes it great for sharing or screen use. It is also fine for standard photo printing. The amount of compression can vary: the smaller the file, the more image data is lost. Be aware that if you plan to edit a file and then save it, you will lose some image quality each time.

TIFF Is the standard format used for professional and commercial printing. TIFF files are very large compared to JPEGs because no compression is used. It is a great choice for archiving your image when all the detail must be preserved, and file size is not a consideration. This is the better format if you plan to edit an image.

Home scanning tips:

  1. Set scan to 24bit RGB color, even if the photo is black and white
  2. Turn off all auto-correct options and filters
  3. Be sure to a photo scan at 600 DPI; scan slides at 2000 DPI.
  4. Preview your scan and crop to remove any unwanted background
  5. Save the file as a TIFF to avoid any image comprehension

Retail photo kiosk scanning tips:

  1. Scan prints up to 8×10 size (you can go slightly larger at Walgreens).
  2. File output is a jpeg at 300 DPI.
  3. Preview your image before finalizing the scan and crop to remove unwanted background.
  4. The auto-correct features and filters may be turned on; use the editing mode to  double check that all filters are turned off.
  5. The kiosk workflow assumes that you are ordering prints; be sure to order a USB, CD, or DVD to get a copy of the scan file.

Mobile phone with photo scanner app tips:

  1. Place your photo on a flat surface with a contrasting, even-colored background.
  2. Position your camera directly over the photos. Don’t tilt your phone while scanning.
  3. Get the smartphone lens close enough to the image with as little margin as possible–  but you should still be able to see all four corners.
  4. Take the photo in a well-lit space. Natural morning light from a nearby window works best.
  5. Avoid direct sunlight as it can change the look and color of your photographs.
  6. Do not use a flash.


Using a Photo Scanning Service or Specialty Photo Retailer:

  1. Professionals can scan film, negatives, slides, and prints of any size.
  2. Identify your intended use of the image so that the photo retailer can determine the file size and format  you need for your project.
  3. Ask for both a TIFF and JPEG for your archives. Each has unique benefits. See explanation in the marginal notes.
  4. Ask for the file in different sizes so that you can use the digital image in different ways. For example, 72 DPI is great for screen use like facebook or Instagram, 300 DPI for a print up to 8”x10”,  and 600 DPI or higher for larger prints.
  5. Identify how you would like to receive the digital file: USB, CD, email, or posted into your online photo account, if the retailer or scanning service hosts one.
What’s DPI

, technically “printer dots per inch”, is the number of pixels that can fit onto a printed one-inch square.  The more dots the higher the sharpness and detail – but bigger is not always better. High DPI files may  result in wasted ink if printing at home and large file sizes that may not be accepted in traditional photo  retailer software.

The DPI you select for your scanner setting is important. Photo prints scanned at:

  • 72 DPI will be blurry when printed but will be fine for screen use and will upload quickly;
  • 300 DPI will print well up to 8”x12”
  • 600 DPI will have good resolution when printed in large sizes.

For slides, 2000 DPI is recommended to capture the high level of detail captured in the image