Sharing a prized picture
I have this super-cool photo of Dad. Too tall and thin to play football, my father (far right) was captain of the cheerleading squad at his all male high school in 1946.
He died just 25 years later, and this photo hasn’t been seen for years. I have the only copy – and I know it would be a totally surprising and valued gift for each of my nine brothers and sisters. How do I make high quality copies?
Nearly everyone has old family pictures. And each photo has a story. That’s why copies of your old time photos are such extraordinary gifts for family and friends. You’ll need to convert photos to digital files either using a photo scanning service or a good photo scanner app. And, you might need to get your photograph restored.
Photo restoration services work from a high-quality digital scan – another reason to ensure that you have the highest scan possible.
In this article, we’ll:
- Identify the best way to scan old photos
- Tell you when to consider expert photo restoration
- Describe online photo restoration services
- Explain why there are significant price differences between services.
Once you have a high-quality digital file of your old photo, you are ready to make your gift. You can print through a photo restoration service or at your favorite photo center. If you are looking for a great online photo printing service, check out this review. A recommended source for prints, Nation’s Photo Lab makes great custom presentation boxes – and you can have them print your photo and assemble it in super gift-worthy packaging. Very cool!
How to make a good quality copy of old time photos
The good news is that reproducing older photos is easier than ever before. Digital scanning technology has gotten better and there are more photo restoration online services available, many of them overseas at a low cost. However, these same benefits – advanced scanning technology and more restoration services to choose from – can also create some issues that undermine image integrity and quality reproduction. This review will help you avoid these pitfalls.
It’s important to know that a good reprint of your old photo will be determined by the quality and resolution of your original scan. Both your scanning method and image resolution settings are very important.
How you scan should be determined based upon the condition of your photo.
If you have an older photo in good condition, there are 4 ways to create a scan.
Consider all your choices. You can:
1. Scan the photo at home if you own a good quality flatbed scanner.
2. Use a self-service scanner at a photo center like Walgreens, CVS, or Walmart but there are limitations.
3. Use one of the new high-quality mobile phone scanning apps.
4. Visit a local specialty photo retailer and have a professional do it for you.
If the photo is cracked, scratched, torn, or otherwise damaged, you may wish to have your image professionally restored. In this case, you need a very high-quality scan – at least 600 DPI to ensure that the restorer can see the detail in the paper and cloth fibers that might not be visible to the naked eye. A word of caution: scanned file quality can vary based on the scanning process you use. You may not even be aware of the impact. For example, the auto-correction features and filters in scanning software such as sharpening, scratch removal, and dust removal will affect the scan output.
These modestly improve the look of a photo that is already in good condition—but, they are the enemy of a photo restorer. This is because they remove good pixel information that a photo restorer needs to do their job.
Alternatively, you can send the photo directly to the restorer—packaged in a box, with insurance, and delivery signature required—so that you can be sure that your photo has been received. The restorer will create a very high-quality scan to do their work.
Photos printed on textured paper
If you are planning to restore pictures printed on textured paper (very popular in the 1970’s), do not scan them as the texture interferes with the pixel data. It is better to take a quick photo (using you phone is OK) and send it to the photo restoration service for a cost estimate. If you wish to proceed with restoration, you should take your textured photograph to a specialty photo retailer where the photo can be put on a copy stand and flooded with light to eliminate glare. They will create a high-resolution file you can send to the photo restoration service.
Preparing your photo for scanning
Regardless of the method you choose to scan your photo, you will need to prepare it for scanning. Here are important tips:
- Take your photo out of the album or remove it from behind glass to eliminate reflection UNLESS the photo is stuck to the glass.
- If the photo is stuck to glass, scan through the glass. It is easier to remove glare than reconstruct the photo, if it tears when you remove the glass.
- Remove any dust particles from the image. Wiping the photo with a dust-free lens cloth works well.
- Don’t use a paper towel or tissue because they can leave more particles on your photo.
- Never use water or a cleaning solvent.
to scan old photographs
We’ve also listed 5 tips for each method to help you capture
a good quality scan.
Scan at home, using a quality flatbed scanner. If you have invested in a good quality flatbed scanner for your home, you have complete control over how you scan your images. If you are considering a purchase, there are lots of good reviews online for home use scanners. Epson and Canon, the makers of scanners for professional photographers and graphic artists, often make the lists.
Clean your scanner glass. Remove dust, hair, lint, and smudges using a lint free pad or household glass cleaner. Wait for it to thoroughly dry. Place your photo on the glass and then set up your scan.
Tip: Check out this cool Scan Resolution Calculator when determining the number of DPI’s or PPI’s needed for your scan. (DPI’s are dots per square inch. PPI’s are pixels per square inch. The more DPI or PPI the higher the image.
Here are five tips for a high-quality scan:
- Set scan to 24bit RGB color, even if the photo is black and white.
- Turn off all auto-correct options and filters.
- Be sure to scan at a minimum 600 DPI or higher based on Scan Resolution Calculator.
- Preview your scan and crop to remove any unwanted background.
- Save the file as a TIFF to avoid any image comprehension.
Once you have scanned the image, you can upload it to your favorite online photo service for printing or send to a photo restoration expert for a cost estimate.
Scan it yourself at CVS, Walgreens or Walmart - Many people don’t realize that the photo kiosks at these conveniently located stores have a scanner attached to the kiosk. Walgreens and Walmart have a flatbed scanner in the drawer below the kiosk; CVS photo kiosks share a desktop Rapid Print Scanner that feeds multiple prints. A retail photo kiosk scanner is a viable method if you have a photo in excellent condition that is 8"x10" or smaller. This is not a good scanning method if you have a larger size or a damaged print that you will want to retouch or restore. You have less control over setting options with a retail photo kiosk scanner, but the basic scan is good enough for most prints.
Here are five things you should know to ensure a good quality scan at a retail photo kiosk:
- Scan prints up to 8"x10" size (you can go slightly larger at Walgreens).
- File output is a jpeg at 300 DPI.
- Preview your image before finalizing the scan and crop to remove unwanted background.
- The auto-correct features and filters may be turned on; use the editing mode to double check that all filters are turned off.
- 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.
Sometimes the software workflow is a little tricky. While scanning multiple photos at Walgreens, I had no trouble scanning the images (though the scanner took a while to heat up) but could not easily add multiple images to the cart for purchase. The store clerk directed me through a slightly less intuitive process and the problem was solved.
Once the image is scanned, be sure to click the edit button so that you can confirm that you have captured the full image.
At this point, you can adjust the image file, if you wish, with editing tools such as cropping, brightness, color saturation – and add creative filters. Do NOT do this if you plan to have the photo restored.
Then place your order for your prints. Remember that the color you see on the monitor may not exactly match the color of the prints you receive. You may need a little trial and error to get the results you like.
Typically, the file resolution at the retail photo kiosk scanner is good enough for large prints. However, if the resolution is too poor for printing at a size larger than 8"x10", the software will give you a warning and you will need to select a smaller print size.
The whole process from the start of scanning to receiving a finished print in sizes 8"x10" and smaller should take less than an hour. Most retailers require 3-4 hours for a large size print (11”x14” and larger).
Scanning photos with your mobile phone or tablet.
Happily, you can easily scan photos with your mobile device to create a digital file instantly, wherever you are.
Here are five tips to ensure a high-quality scan using your phone or tablet:
- Place your photo on a flat surface with a contrasting, even-colored background.
- Position your camera directly over the photos. Don’t tilt your phone while scanning.
- 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.
- Take the photo in a well-lit space. Natural morning light from a nearby window works best. Avoid direct sunlight as it can change the look and color of your photographs.
- Do not use a flash.
Once you have scanned the image, you can upload it to your favorite online photo service for printing or send to a photo restoration expert for a cost estimate.
There are several picture scanning apps available. We have tried these three with very good results:
PhotoScan by Google Photos – Highly recommended by reviewers and users alike, this app guides you to take five images of your photo then stitches them together to create a high-quality scan – all within 25 seconds.
This process virtually eliminates glare. The app also automatically detects the corners of the image, corrects perspective, and rotates the image. Plus, the app integrates with Google Photos, so you can save your image in the cloud for free and use Google Photo’s robust organizing system for your photos.
Photomyne – This is a super-quick, easy to use app for quality scanning of both single and multiple images. The cheerleading photo above was scanned and cropped in just 10 seconds! It does have one filter – for color, which you can turn off in settings. I did not turn it off, then submitted the cheerleading photo to a photo restorer. The feedback was positive; the color was appropriate for its age and a scratch on the photo had a clean, sharp edge – a sign of a good scan.
Using advanced AI technology, Photomyne also lets you scan a page of up to four multiple images in a single shot. Then it breaks the images into separate files by auto detecting the borders. The technology works behind the scenes to auto rotate the photos, crops them, and corrects perspective. You receive four ready-to-use individual files. There is also a colorize feature so that you can add color and depth to black and white photos. The app offers unlimited cloud storage and you can import other digital images to build and save albums.
PhotoScanner by Photomyne is a free version of the app with a limitation of 20 photos. There is also a subscription app, PhotoScanner Plus by Photomyne with a free 7-day trial and price options for one month, one year, and a one-time single payment plan good for 10 years. The subscription plans are well worth exploring, especially if you want to digitize your existing print collection.
Pic Scanner Gold – Called “the best photo scanning app for iPhone and iPad”, Pic Scanner Gold is an advanced version of the world’s first photo scanning app for iOS. It offers super-fast scanning, and a professional grade photo editor with 19 Adobe powered tools that let you adjust lighting, contrast, blur, remove stains, repair blemishes, recolor and dramatically improve faded heirloom images. Lots more is included for a modest one-time fee.
Each of these mobile scanning apps lets you order gift prints within the app or easily export your scan to order through your favorite online printing service.
Ask a Local Specialty Photo Retailer to scan for you. Choose this option especially if you need to scan film, slides, photographs that are larger than 8"x10", photos that need retouching or restoration – or if you have specific file size requirements.
Typically, you will be asked how you intend to use your photo as this will determine the file size and type provided – for example, 72 DPI for screen use, 300 DPI for inkjet prints up to 8"x10" inches, 600 DPI or higher for larger size photos. Scanners in these locations are typically high resolution and can accommodate more original print sizes. You will also likely have a broader choice of paper types to choose from when printing your image – so expert scanning by a specialty photo retailer may be a one-stop solution to creating a gift copy of your old photo in good condition.
Some specialty photo retailers also offer photo restoration services. The expertise available onsite can vary widely. While many retailers may be able to do simple retouching onsite, repairs needed to torn or damaged photos – and especially to faces – should go to a professional photo restorer. Specialty photo retailers may send this out to a restorer for you, but you may wish to engage a photo restorer directly.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSIDER PHOTO RESTORATION SERVICES?
There are lots of reasons why you might decide to restore an old photo before giving it as a gift. Most frequently, restorers are engaged to correct problems due to:
- Age – images that are deteriorating and falling to dust
- Ripped images
- Fire, water, sun, or mold damage
- Images stuck to glass in frames (very, very common)
- Addition or removal of family members
- Wedding photos: creating a perfect group shot from multiple images of the same composition where someone is not smiling or has their eyes closed.
WHICH PHOTO RESTORATION SERVICE SHOULD YOU USE?
Unless you are an expert in Adobe Photoshop and other image manipulation software, there may be times when you need to hire professional photo restoration services.
There are many lower-cost online services which send images overseas for retouching and these can be effective for digital images that need relatively simple work, e.g. recreating a simple background or removing a skin blemish. Some of these services, like Color Experts International which advertises “the best price in the global photo editing industry” have a flexible pricing structure. You may choose to have one feature in the image changed (e.g. under $1 for object removal) or pay a package price.
There are several other offshore services to choose from – and some national photo retailers such as Costco also offer restoration services through third-party suppliers. Prices are variable.
How you intend to use the photo once it is restored should be a factor in deciding which restoration service to use.
Depending upon the extent of the damage, the value of the photo to you, and your planned future use (Is it an heirloom? Is it a wedding gift? Will it be wall art? Will it be used on a memorial tombstone? Or, in social media?) you can select from a range of suppliers. Most suppliers will ask for a scan of the image and provide a cost estimate before you authorize the work.
For photos which have deep meaning and historical value, you may wish to select a photo restorer who can provide more personalized service, such as The Photo Restoration Center. If the image is badly damaged, the restorer may need to recreate part of the image and will need to consult with you and ask for other reference materials, if you have them. For example, if part of a face is missing, the restorer may ask for other pictures to recreate the person’s appearance.
In addition to artistic skill and state-of-the-art technology, The Photo Restoration Center applies historical research for accuracy, experienced judgment, and the best efforts of multiple restorers to ensure its high quality.
The minimum cost at The Photo Restoration Center is $150. This level of quality is what many individual clients and museums expect when handling family heirlooms and photographs for display.
We submitted this not-so-old photo that has water and sun damage and is stuck to glass to both Color Experts International and The Photo Restoration Center for a price estimate.
Within 15 minutes, we received a price quote for $29.99 and a promise to return the corrected image within 36 hours after receiving payment. The price quote listed CEI’s credentials: headquarters in the United States, company president with 20 years’ experience managing projects for magazines such as National Geographic, and current customers such as RR Donnelly printers.
We spoke directly with Sandra Christie, owner of The Photo Restoration Center. She told us honestly that a lower cost online service could likely handle this project. Correcting the crackling is not hard; the damage to the face of the boy on the right is more difficult. She also told us that she does receive projects to correct photographs tackled by less talented restorers.
Whether or not we submit this photo to Color Experts International or The Photo Restoration Center is a tough call. This photo records the achievement of four boys who received their Eagle Scout rank in 2007. It hangs in the Scout Cabin of a 104-year old Boy Scout troop in a photo gallery honoring all the Troop’s Eagle Scouts.
Ensuring accurate reproduction of the boy’s face is important. How a restorer treats eyes, the corner of the mouth, and a part of the nose can change a person’s whole face. Making this restoration even more important, two of the boys’ mothers are now deceased and the photo had deep emotional importance.
Photos can tell a story – and the meaning associated with older photos can get richer over time. Giving a photo with powerful emotional meaning can be an extraordinary gift. Fortunately, with the scanning technology and photo restoration services available today, you can recreate these images. And with the breadth of materials to print on today, these can become new framed photos, canvas, prints of metal and more—awesome and meaningful gifts.