The 3 Best Ways to Scan and Digitize Old Photos

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.

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’re willing to expend.

Why You Should Digitize Photos

Taking the time to turn your photos 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 several reasons why you may want to consider converting old photos to digital copies.

  • It’s easy to damage physical photos. Water damage, discoloration, and accidental tears are all legitimate concerns that could ruin your collection of photos forever. Making digital copies allows you to make as many backups as needed. Now, 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. Digitizing photos ensures that no one in the family has to go without their favorite childhood memories. Every family member can have access to the entire photo collection.
  • Digital photos are easier to edit. You can correct blemishes, adjust the 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. You want each shot to look its best.

No matter what your circumstances are, everyone should consider scanning old photos. It may take some time or money, but the benefits of protecting old photos outweigh the cost.

If the investment has you thinking twice, 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

Taking the time to convert old photos into digital copies is the perfect excuse to settle in for a couple of long afternoons. Scanning old photos at home on a scanner is time-consuming, but it gives you complete control over how your photos are organized, digitized, and stored. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to relive old memories.

The Best Picture Scanner to Digitize Photos

There are a lot of different brands of picture scanners out there, all of them offering a wide range of prices and features.

If you want to convert your photos to digital copies at home, the best way to scan photos is by using a flatbed scanner. They are much less likely to damage your photos. They’re also compact and will generally only require an ordinary laptop or computer to function.

A basic option like the Canon CanoScan LiDE 300 is a great way to scan photos up to 8×10 in size without breaking the bank.

If you’ve got negatives to deal with, you may be asking yourself: is it better to scan or photograph old photos?

Scanning negatives directly is, unquestionably, the way to go if you can afford it. The Epson Perfection V600 is the best scanner for old photos. It can digitize film negatives, as well as your printed photos. The Kodak Scanza is a great portable option if you need a film scanner as well.

If you’re willing to pay top dollar and are short on time to scan photos, some scanners are designed to scan stacks of 4×6 photos quickly and at a very high quality.

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W claims to be the fastest picture scanner on the block. It scans 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.

Another convenient and affordable option is the battery-powered Doxie Go SE. It scans your old photos to an SD card, and is the size of a rolled-up magazine.

Strategies for Scanning Photos to Your Computer

Learning how to digitize old photos is easy when you keep the following principles in mind:

  • Be organized. Are you going to scan photos chronologically? In order of importance? Should you save them to your computer or your 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 the subject in each shot.
  • Be selective. Think about how many photos you take on your phone that you delete immediately. You don’t need to save all of your old photos (to do so would probably be a nightmare). Only scan the ones that are important to you.
  • Be meticulous. If you’re going to go through the trouble of scanning photo prints, you may as well get the job done right. Wipe the dust off of your old 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. If you’re digitizing photos with a scanner that doesn’t show you a preview, check in on your photo 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 from prints, 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 of your photos). Even if you happen to be scanning black and white or sepia photos, choosing to scan in color will give you some opportunity 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. It would be wise to put a TV show on in the background, listen to your favorite music on Spotify, or even surround yourself with friends and family for a photo-scanning party. Is there any better way to share memories as you dig through your treasure trove?

2. Using an App for Digitizing 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 in a picture scanner. Perhaps, alternatively, 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.

It’s not surprising that one of the best ways to convert old photos to digital is Google’s PhotoScan app.

The free app takes multiple photos of each print to improve quality, remove glare, and correct any distortion. Better yet, the app can be completely integrated with all the great Google Photos tools that you already know and love.

Download: PhotoScan for iOS | Android (Free)

Not sure you want to go with Google? Consider these alternatives for iPhone and Android:

Download: Photo Scanner Plus by Photomyne for iOS ($3.99)

Download: Photo Scan App by Photomyne for Android (Subscription required)

Download: Memories by IdeaSolutions for iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)

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 scan old photos is to simply turn to a photo-digitizing service. If you don’t want to put in the time that comes with scanning old photos, this might be the option for you. However, it might not be something everyone is comfortable with.

One consideration is the security of the photos that you send away. You will have to send away your family photos to a stranger, often trusting the mail system with some of your most precious memories. This stranger will see every photo that you send to them, so you may want to pick and choose what you want to scan.

If all of that is fine with you, this may be the best way to scan a lot of photos at once. Some companies that specialize in scanning photos include:

1. ScanCafe

Cost per photo: 44 cents per photo scanned up to 8×10 inches. Under its Value Kit deal, photo scanning costs 28 cents per image. Every photo is color corrected and edited by hand.

Formats Supported: Photos, negatives, slides, film/video.

Additional Services: Gives you the option to review your scans before purchasing, and offers expedited services. If you have a lot of photos to scan and don’t mind waiting, the Value Kit pricing option may be right for you

2. DigMyPics

Cost per photo: 49 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, all at a premium.

3. Scan My Photos

Cost per photo: The pay-per-photo price starts at 13 cents per scan, depending on what resolution you want. Additional services (image rotation, color correction, and same-day scanning, among others) cost extra.

Formats Supported: Printed photos, film, negatives.

Additional Services: Gives you the option to pay between $220 and $460 (depending on resolution) for a prepaid photo scanning box, international shipping, and rush services. These allow up to 1800 photos, so work out as a cheaper option if you’ve got a lot of pictures to scan.

4. Local Options

When choosing a service to scan your photos for you, don’t forget about your local photography studio, or even your friendly neighborhood Walmart or Walgreens.

While not all locations will offer this service, this option may be more convenient and timely, if not a bit more expensive. This can also be a better choice if you only want a few high-quality scans.

What to Do After Your Photos Are Digitized

No matter how you choose to digitize photos, the result will inevitably be more space in your home, memories that are safe from harm, and a sense of gratitude that only a long trip down memory lane will afford you. Now that you’ve successfully converted all of your physical photos to digital, your options moving forward are endless.

You can send copies of your photos to family and friends, create a slideshow for your next family event, or share any unforgettably awkward moments on social media for instant likes, comments, and gratification.

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