How to scan and archive your old printed photos

Whether you're looking to reduce clutter or share fond memories online, here are three methods for digitizing your print photo collection.

Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Chances are you have a stack of photo albums collecting dust in a closet somewhere. Maybe they make for a fun coffee table chat, but if you want to share your memories with friends and family online, or simply create a backup of your photos, where do you start?

There are several ways to go about digitizing your printed photo collection. Depending on how many photos you have and how DIY-eager you are, your choice will vary.

1. For the highest quality, use a scanner
To ensure minimal loss in original photo quality, use a flatbed scanner. This might be an old standalone scanner, or (most likely) in your all-in-one printer. If you don't own one, you can check out the best models here.

In a dust-free environment, set up your scanning station. First, remove any dust or dirt from your prints with a microfiber cloth or alcohol-based cleaning wipe. Then, clean your scanner's glass  with these simple instructions .

It's important that you thoroughly clean both the photos and scanner, as the scanner's sensitive sensor will pick up even a speck of dust on the glass or on the photo.

Before you scan the photos, consider the way in which you'll organize them. By date? By event? How will the files be named? The options are endless, but no matter which method you choose, choose a system before you scan, and organize your printed photos into stacks accordingly.

If you need some guidance, check out this guide to organizing your photos .

With that out of the way, you can begin scanning your photos. Because each printer manufacturer's scanning software is different, I can't offer step-by-step instructions, but here are some tips:

  • Scan multiple photos at once. On an average-sized scanner bed, you should be able to scan 4 4x6 photos at once, and crop them later. Use this method to cut down scanning time.
  • Select a resolution of at least 300dpi, and up to 600dpi if you plan to order enlargements.
  • Take advantage of editing options. Most scanning software will allow you to crop, adjust color, adjust brightness, and remove red-eye. 

2. Use your phone to scan photos
With a free app and a smartphone with a high-quality camera (like the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S III), you can quickly scan your old photos, archive them, and share your memories with friends online.

(This won't replicate the quality of the first method, but good if you want to scan photos in a pinch or don't own a scanner.)

First, download and install Shoebox, a free app for iPhone and Android. Once you sign up (or log in with Facebook), you can begin scanning your photos. But, before you do, here's are some tips for prepping your assembly line:

  • Dust off your photos with a microfiber cloth, or a alcohol-based cleaning wipe for really dirty prints.
  • Find a well-lit area with lots of natural light and few shadows.
  • Clean your phone's camera lens with a microfiber cloth, or a cotton swab and a drop of isopropyl alcohol.

Now you're ready to "scan" your photos with your phone. Launch Shoebox and hit the red camera button. Then, with the photo laying down, position your phone so that it's parallel to the photo. Finally, tap to focus and hit the shutter button.

From there, crop the photo by dragging the crop lines. And, if you need to, adjust the saturation and brightness so that the scanned photo matches the original. You'll then be asked to put the photo in a "Shoebox" (like an album), if you want. Finally, add extra information, like when the photo was taken and who's in it.

Repeat the process for the additional photos. All scanned photos will be saved to your camera roll and be made available online via the link provided at the bottom of the app's Uploads tab.

Now you can post the photos on Facebook or store them in your preferred photo storage site, like Flickr or Picasa.

3. Outsource the work to someone else
If all of this sounds like one giant headache, consider outsourcing your photo scanning to a professional, paid service. For example, ScanDigital.com will scan, crop, edit, and archive your photos at $.48 - $.68 per photo, depending on the scan quality you choose.

DigMyPics.com and ScanCafe.com are two other options worth comparing.

 

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