People ask me all the time about the best way to scan their old prints. If you have taken on the role of family photo historian, you will need to do some scanning at some point.
You may still have boxes of loose prints or stacks of old photo albums, and while you know that scanning is the best way to preserve them, it can be hard to get started.
Let’s break it down to some manageable steps and take a look at some options to get things going.
The first question is: are you going to do it yourself or hand it off to someone else to do the job?
Doing it yourself may or may not save you money. It is really more a question of time and will. Scanning a photo collection can be a big project; it can take weeks and even months.
It will be a process best done consistently and steadily over time. Big gaps of time between tasks can break your focus, and you might have to reacquaint yourself with your workflow as well as the scanner and software you had to learn.
The plus side of scanning your photos yourself is, in fact, all that time you will be spending with you and your family’s history.
This can be a priceless opportunity that will not only better acquaint you with all those people, places, and events, but can serve to cement those things into your own memory as well.
That can be somewhat life changing and give you a unique perspective on who you are and where you came from.
Print scanners come in two forms: there are the flatbed scanners most of us are familiar with, and there are batch scanners that can scan multiple prints in short amounts of time.
Flatbed scanners are fairly inexpensive. One to two hundred dollars will get you a perfectly good scanner that will yield good quality scans. Unless you are scanning only a few prints, stay away from those printer/scanner combos. They are very slow, and the quality may not be great either.
A good batch scanner, such as the Epson FastFoto FF-680W Photo Scanner, can cost several hundred dollars.
The time element is what you really need to consider. A batch scanner will scan between 30–50 prints per minute, while a flatbed scanner will take about 15–20 seconds per scan.
You can sometimes group a few smaller prints into one flatbed scan, but you will then need to separate them into their individual files, either manually or with some software.
But here’s something to think about: while batch scanners may be too costly an investment for just your photo collection, you could get a few friends together and pool your resources to buy one to scan all your collections.
Not only will it be cheaper, but it will be a lot easier to learn how to do it together. And who knows, it may be the beginning of a new part time business venture; a lot of people need this service.
Your other option is to give your print collection to a scanning service to do. There are big companies that can handle the job, but you will also find local professionals who can help you as well.
The upside of a larger company is, they may be cheaper and even provide convenient shipping options if they are not in your area.
The downside is that shipping can sometimes be risky, and you can’t insure one-of-a-kind memories. In fact, insurance companies will usually not insure old prints for any more than the value of the paper they are printed on, and you can imagine how little that is.
A local professional can offer a more personalized experience. They may pick up your order or even do the scanning at your location. They can also sit down with you beforehand to discuss ways to organize it.
Although it may be tempting to just drop off a box full of prints to be scanned, I think it makes more sense to do some preparation when possible and not have to deal with an unorganized digital file mess when you get it all back.
It will also probably save you some money as you can get rid of a lot of prints that you have no interest in scanning.
We often have batches of prints we got back in those one-hour photo envelopes or groups we may have put together at some point. Whatever you can do to organize at least some of your prints by year, person, place, or event will be helpful.
I like to write down the info and date on an index card that can then be scanned with its batch of prints. The scanned index card can later be used as a visual divider to help organize those digital images.
If you don’t know the year a photo was taken, even sorting photos by decade will be helpful. It is a wonderful feeling to have a nicely organized set of scans, renamed and sorted into folders and all set to look at and share with family and friends.
Working with a local professional can help guide you through this process. They can even place your prints into archival boxes and sort them the same as their corresponding scanned digital files.
If you do work with a larger company, ask them what kind of customized work they will do if you help prepare the files and information for them.
Albums can be trickier and will depend on whether you want to remove the prints from the album or even if you can. Many albums are not archival, and I have found that the prints in them are often in worse shape than loose prints due to oxidation and exposure to light.
Using thin dental floss can be an excellent tool in removing prints from those stickier album pages (sometime a spatula works too), but you may have to scan the entire album page in some cases if the prints cannot be safely removed.
Good luck, have fun, and enjoy a great journey down memory lane.
How many boxes of photos have you scanned to this day? How many more do you have to go? Do you do the scanning yourself, or have you used a professional service? If you haven’t started yet, what’s stopping you? What tips do you have for those who have yet to begin scanning their family photo collection? Please share with our community.
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