There’s something charming about looking at old print photos, family photo albums, and shoeboxes full of memories, but physical photos are also susceptible to discoloration, water damage, and other problems.
By digitizing them, you not only ensure the memories are preserved as high-quality digital images but also make it easier to share them with family members using social media and email. However, digitizing photos typically requires you to handle them more than you have done in years. This can increase the likelihood of damage caused by oils in your skin, scratches, dust, and more.
That’s why Capture archival and memory preservation experts decided to show you the best ways to digitize old photos without damaging them. Keep reading to learn about different methods for preserving printed photos as digital copies as well as the best practices to avoid scratches, creases, fingerprints, and other damage.
Quick List of How to Digitize Old Photos without Damage
- Use a Flatbed Scanner
- Use a Smartphone App
- Use a Professional Photo Scanning Service
- Use a Digital Camera
1. Use a Flatbed Scanner
You can use a typical flatbed scanner to scan old photos into digital copies. While time-consuming because you will have to scan each photo separately, the results can be pretty high-quality for DIY digitization. Most options will also produce a different file for every photo easily, which means easier organization, sharing, and storage on a Microsoft or Mac computer, Apple iOS or Android smartphone, or another device.
Cheap flatbed scanners aren’t designed for high-quality photos, so the result may end up grainy, discolored, or otherwise poor quality. However, if you choose a professional style scanner, like the Epson Perfection V600 photo scanner on Amazon, you can produce 6400 x 9600 dpi resolution with one-touch color restoration, fade reduction, and dust removal to create sharp, vivid digital images.
Still, with a flatbed scanner, you need to be careful with your old photos because it requires you to place each one in the machine by hand, scan, and then touch them again for removal. While typically safe for your memories, it does require more handling than some other options.
- Good-quality results are possible
- Easy DIY digitization for storing on an external hard drive or cloud storage
- Some options offer higher-quality results with special restoration features
- Time-consuming because you will have to place each photo in the flatbed scanner one at a time
- More photo handling is required than other options
- Some low-quality options will produce poor-quality digital images
2. Use a Smartphone App
If you are looking for how to digitize old photos quickly, there are photo scanning apps that can take advantage of the smartphone camera to digitize a lot of photos fast. This is an affordable and convenient way to digitize old photographs and may not require as much handling as a flatbed scanner. However, it depends on the quality of your smartphone camera to produce good results, and may also show more glare than other options.
One of the most popular apps for scanning photos is Google PhotoScan because it automatically integrates with your Google Drive account. This makes it as convenient and easy as possible to organize your digital photo collection. If you have an Apple iOS device, like an iPhone, then you can check out Photomyne apps that can also help you enhance, animate, and give your old photo collection new life.
To use a smartphone app without damaging your photos, we recommend placing each photo flat on an even, neutral-colored surface. It’s also best to reduce shadows and glares by keeping the light source above the old photographs. You may have to play with it for a while to get it right, but once you figure it out it can be a fast way to quickly digitize photos.
- Affordable (if you already have a decent smartphone camera)
- Easy and convenient
- Many photo-scanning apps offer additional features to improve the quality of digital files
- Relies on the quality of your smartphone camera to digitize your old photos, so the quality may suffer
- May show more reflections, dust, glare, and background
- Can be difficult to get lighting and quality right
3. Use a Professional Photo Scanning Service
For the highest possible quality and safety of your precious photos, choose a reputable digitizing service that will take good care of your family history. Many of these professional services like Legacybox, Capture, and Scancafe also offer additional features like increased functionality, DVD or cloud storage slideshow, and security for your original photos to make sure they never get lost or damaged.
We may be biased, but we believe Capture offers the best protection and value for your precious memories. Our multi-million dollar tracking and security system monitors your photos every step of the way and through every hand to guarantee they are safe. Plus, our prices are affordable and the quality is outstanding. Not only that, but we offer the world’s first touchless photo album scanning service, which means we can digitize all the photos in your albums without anyone ever having to touch the photos themselves.
Whatever digitizing service you choose, we want to make sure you know how to best digitize photos, so make sure you check pricing, reviews, specialty services, as well as the type and size of photos that the service will digitize. This will help you narrow down your selection and decide on the best option for your memories.
- Professional quality results with any reputable photo digitizing service
- Security for your old photos with companies like Capture who spend a fortune to protect your photos
- Extra features like smart chapters and slideshows, scratch reduction, color correction, cropping, and, if you choose Capture, touchless photo album scanning
- Pricing structure varies from one service to the next, but can be expensive with some options
- Some services may only accept certain photo sizes (Capture accepts photos from 2” x 2” up to 8” x 12” and photo albums up to 14” x 14”)
4. Use a Digital Camera
If you want to quickly preserve your old photos to protect them against theft, flood, fire, and normal wear and tear, then a digital camera can be a fast, easy, and convenient way to do so. Typically, digital cameras will be higher quality than the camera on your smartphone, which means higher quality digital images. However, unlike apps, you will have to use additional photo editing software like Photoshop to restore or enhance the quality.
Still, with practice, you can quickly take photos, restore them with additional software, and save photos as digital files onto an SD card, hard drive, cloud storage apps like Dropbox, or any other device. Plus, since digital cameras typically have plenty of storage, you can quickly take multiple photos and find the one with the best quality, which makes it easy to get the lighting right.
We recommend learning how to digitize old photos at home with a digital camera by starting with a dimly lit room for the best results. Most modern cameras have lighting adjustments to brighten the image, but external lighting can contribute to glares. We also suggest using the highest quality digital camera you can get within your budget for the best possible results. Finally, removing photos from photo albums can reduce the chance of glare.
- Fast, easy, and convenient
- Higher quality images than you can get with smartphone cameras
- Most modern cameras have lighting adjustments, auto-focus, and other settings that can make it easier
- May have to practice and use trial and error for good results
- May risk damaging photos by removing them from photo albums to reduce glare
- Will require additional photo editing software for color correction, scratch removal, photo enhancement, etc.
Tips for How to Digitize Old Photos without Damaging Them
We know how important your family photos are, which is why we want to give you some tips to help you with digitizing your photos without damaging them. Keep reading to learn all the best photo-handling practices and tips.
Preserve Them ASAP
The most important thing is to preserve your old photos as soon as possible because photos will naturally degrade and fade with age. Once they are preserved as digital files, you won’t have to worry about losing them forever and can enjoy the digital images without risking the original photos.
Choose the Method with the Least Handling
Even when handling photos with care, it can still be risky. Try using the digitizing method that requires the least amount of handling possible. This may differ depending on your goals, but a flatbed scanner will generally require more handling than a professional photo scanning service or digital camera. The only way to digitize photo albums without anyone touching them, however, is to use Capture’s touchless photo album scanning service.
Hold Photos by Edges
The oils in your skin can damage photos, especially old photographs. That’s why you should do your best to hold the photos by the edges when possible. We also recommend thoroughly washing your hands before handling photos. If you want to be extra careful, you can also wear nitrile gloves.
Keep Area Clean
The place where you are digitizing your photos, if you are doing it yourself, should be kept clean and free from debris, dust, food, drinks, and anything else that can damage your photos. In addition, do not use paper clips, rubber bands, tape, sticky notes, or other fasteners to organize print photos.
Remove Dust with Microfiber
Print photos can collect dust that shows up during digitization, so you probably want to clean them first. Do so slowly using microfiber or an air bulb blower to clean the dust away without touching the image. If you use a tissue, paper towel, or even a soft brush, you risk scratching the surface.
Now that you know how to digitize old photos without damaging them, you can preserve your memories forever. Just make sure you weigh the pros and cons of the different methods like using a flatbed scanner, smartphone camera, or a professional service.
If you want to learn more about Capture’s digitization services, state-of-the-art security, or touchless photo album scanning that can preserve your old family photos in high-quality digital format for an affordable price, click here.