How to make digital copies of your old paper photos.

Why would you want to?  (digititally copy your photos)

  • If the worst should happen – a disaster – you lose them all!  Just this month, Australia has been in the firing line of a vicious cyclone, devastating floods and fires.  Can you stand to lose your photos?  Thousands of people have just gone through exactly that.
  • They’re only paper – if they get wet…your roof leaks, your washing machine blows up, your bathroom floor fails…or as little as a cup of coffee falls into the box!…well, you can say goodbye to them.
  • There’s only one copy – so what will happen….as it will….when someone passes on.  How will you divide the family photos.  Wouldn’t you like ALL of them?
  • Are the photos getting damaged, stored in old albums – the chemicals in the pages are eating away at the paper? – the cling glue on the page has stuck them in permanently?  Where sticky tape has left residue?
  • Are they being damaged by NOT being stored properly, in drawers and boxes, getting dusty, bent and eaten by moths!
  • Are you photos being ignored, never admired or looked at, maybe you forget what you’ve got!

If you’re into genealogy,  if you’re your own family history keeper, or just a regular person born before the 1980’s then chances are you or your extended family have a bundle of original (paper) photos stored somewhere never being looked at.   These days there are dozens of ways to display your precious memories on screens and in special photo books – but you can’t do it unless you’ve digitised the photos.

Digitising is easy.

There are a number of ways to make a digital copy of your photos.
We’ll be talking about the easiest – photo scanning.  It’s simple for a regular person to do without technical knowledge, and has the best and quickest results.   Best of all, it can be very, very cheap.

First step – sorting and organising.

Before you get started on your scanning task, you have to do the preparation.  Always the ‘horrible bit’…it’s a bit like the sanding before the wall painting!   For a comprehensive guide on how to sort and organise your photos, particularly if you’ve got a lot of them (like I had, 100,000’s!) you might like to start with my posts on

A Guide to organising Family Photos – Part 1 and   A guide to Organising Family Photos – Part 2

These guides will set you up with sensible bundles of organised photos, so when it comes to scanning there’s no sorting involved!
If you haven’t got thousands, just organise them into groups (perhaps how you’ve taken them out of the album, or chronologically, or by subject), turn them all right way up and then elastic band/ziplock bag them ready to go.

Before you scan – important!!!b0f5f7a932fb36d893c110640fa62842_important-aol-bildersuche-meme-important_348-358

Make sure that if you’re going to use a feeder scanner (see the following information) that you ensure your photos are pristinely clean.  As a photo progresses through a feeder, it needs to pass over a glass window which is where the scanner ‘lives’.  If any residue gets on the window the heat often makes it stick, even dust sticks with static, and all the following photos will have ‘lines’ of (usually) green through them.  You won’t know this, because you can’t see the photos until you get the dic or usb home on the computer.  The sticky stuff from pages of photo albums is the PITS!  It often comes off on old photos and you have to remove it from photos before putting it through a feeder, or it melts and gunks up the window.
Even if you’re using a flatbed, you need to clean your photos.  Scanners pick up dust particles better than your eyes.  See that wart on Auntie Mame’s face?  It’s not.  It’s a crumb.

Choose your Scanner:  
Is a document scanner OK?

NO!  You are looking for PHOTO SCANNERS – as opposed to document scanners.   Photo scanners are able to discern more colour variation and provide more clarity when scanning.  This is called resolution.

DPI – what is it?59780113

The picture printed on your photo is made of millions of dots of ink.  It is described by a number of ‘dots per square inch’ or DPI.  (Actually this is a misnomer, it should be PPI – pixels per square inch as this is what they are, pixels, like on your computer, but for the sake of this argument, the terms are interchangeable and mean the same thing.)
A regular document scanner – the type many of us have at our PCs – scan best in black and white at about 200 DPI.  They usually have a ‘colour’ mode too, however you’re looking for a scanner that can do much better resolution than that.

The most successful photo scanners can scan at 300-2400 DPI, or even more, but you won’t need such a high resolution.

You are considering DPI resolution because once your little photo is scanned, chances are you’ll be putting it on a ‘bigger’ screen, even MUCH bigger like your TV or computer.  This stretches out those ‘dots’ or pixels, and if there’s not enough of them to ‘fill the space’, you’ll notice….and your photos will look blurry.    The more dots/pixels, the more blank space is coloured, and therefore the clearer the photo when enlarged.  This is good, even if you do not intend to enlarge.

On the flipside – you don’t want your individual scans to be too enormous.  For one thing, the bigger the scan the longer it takes.  Say 30 secs for a 600dpi to 3 minutes for a 2400 dpi.  Ouch!
AND those big digital files will take up a lot of space on your computer, hard drive, usb or wherever you are going to store them.

So let’s choose a happy medium – good enough for a good photo, small enough to be sensibly stored.

So, what’s a good DPI for photos?

There’s really no point in scanning photos over 1200 DPI in my opinion.  The high resolutions are actually intended to capture really tiny detailed sources like film negatives and slides.  Actually on the box of any new scanner you will find a maximum resolution rate – say 6400 x 9600 dpi.   This is not the suggested scan rate. The first number indicates the highest ‘optical resolution’ (what it sees) your scanner is capable of (not that you should necessarily use) and the second number is the digital scanning maximum rate – which means it’s guessing at  extra dots and plugging them between existing ones to create a bigger result using the data (the photo) provided.

An interesting test:   If you really want to, you can test your scanner by scanning a single photo at all different resolutions, start at 200 – then examining that photo in each of the scans…finding out which one gives the best resolution without an improvement in the ‘next higher scan’.  (meaning the higher scan did no more than the one before.)   This is the resolution you could use.

I have found that 600 – 1200 DPI is fantastic and usually gives excellent results.
Note: if you have the negatives for your photos or slides, you may want to consider scanning these instead as they hold much more information than a printed photo! strangely!!

So – you’re looking for a scanner that is made to scan photos, AND that can scan at 600-1200 DPI.3751995

Flat (flatbed) scanning v Feeder scanning.

You may want to give some thought to how many photos you have ( you may have read my ‘organising your photos’ posts.)  If you have thousands of photos, I’m going to suggest you use a feeder scanner.  If you have merely hundreds (ha ha) then a flatbed scanner should suffice.
The difference is in time and effort.  It is fairly monotonous to lay the photo, straighten it up, shut the lid, press the button, wait for the scan, open the lid, remove the photo ….and then do another.  Some scanners can multi scan then crop the individual photos, therefore you can lay around 4 or 5 on the bed at a time…but it’s still time consuming and I wouldn’t recommend it for a massive amount of photos.  The benefit of a flatbed scanner however, is that they can scan at higher DPI, it’s unusual (or even impossible) to find a feeder scanner that does 1200 DPI. The best is on average 600dpi.

So – Flatbed pro’s – you may have one already, they’re more readily available, they can scan at  a higher resolution.  Your scan will possibly be straighter.
Feeder pro’s – they’re not overly expensive, you can sit in front of the TV and do it! It is not as time consuming.

Some examples of these are:

Flatbeds:scanning scanner digital copy photos 1

Epson’s V800 or V550 flatbed photo scanners do an amazing job, beautiful resolutions, and the capability to scan negatives, slides, prints and other documents into excellent digital images. They’re MADE to scan photos.  Many other companies produce photo flatbeds too, Canon, Plustek, to name a couple.


Look at this great page by PC Magazine: Best Photo Scanners of 2017

photo scanner scanning copy digital 2

A photo scanner can be a great investment.


If you’re the lucky owner of zillions of photos like I was, you’re going to consider a feeder scanner to save you 7.9 years of scanning!!

There are many, many small cheap feeder scanners on the market.  They are not necessarily the way to go, though may make a good ‘backup’ if you can’t find a decent feeder scanner to use.  The least problem with these small, cheap feeders, is that photos can often feed in crooked, …more often than not actually.  The worst problem is that when the ‘rollers’ get dust, debris or detritus on them, they scan that along with the photo and you can end up with hundreds of photos with lines through them as the scanner rolls photo along a dirty glass.  It’s virtually impossible to clean the scanner of these small units, unlike the big ones where you can open them like a photocopier, the small ones are sealed shut.

However, they have their uses and if you keep your photos very clean they make a good start.  Here are some examples: photo scanning scanner copy feeder digital

If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a purpose made photo scanner that has a photo feeder in it.  So far, I haven’t found one, except the older Kodak PS50 or PS60, which are expensive, but extremely efficient.  They can scan around 30 photos a minute, kodak photo scanner digital scanning copyat 300-600dpi which is just fine.  It gets sent to a dvd, a usb, your computer or whatever.

For thousands of photos, a feeder scanner is the only way.


Having said that – you may find a Copy Centre near you that has scanners open to the public for a fee. In Australia we have Officeworks, they have photo departments and copy centres there.  They also have scanning facilities and if you’re lucky you’ll find these Kodak scanners or something similar, available.

  • I had my photos in organised piles, and never took too many down at once.  I broke it up into smaller ‘jobs’ that took about 2 hours at a time.
  • I scanned using the Kodak PS60s at our local Officeworks.
  • I carefully rebundled every ‘lot’ after scanning.
  • I saved every now and then.
  • I checked the scanner window every 10 minutes to check it was clean, and carefully looked at the little photo screen watching for ‘lines’.   I took my own window cleaner and rag to wipe the window every now and again.
  • I checked my photos were clean before scanning.
  • I had it all  put on a DVDs for about AUD$7 a disc which held around 300 photos each.
  •  Then I simply copied the information to my PC and organised it and distributed it from there.

Scanning company:

There are many companies which will scan your photos for you.  they can put them on discs, flashdrives or external hard drives.  Generally they cost a fair bit, and you’d need to get a quote before you send your two tonnes of photos to them.  But if you’ve no other way then this is better than nothing.  Google is your best friend.

When you’ve scanned your jobs – what next?

  1. Well, after each scanning job (I broke mine up into smaller lots) I always replaced the old photos from wherever they came,…the longer it’s left, the more you forget where they’re from.  Ensure you give back photos to relatives. (and retrieve your receipt if you made one!)
  2. Don’t leave it too long before you copy your digital photos to another place. DVDs can get scratched, USgiphy copy copyB flashdrives can break, and HardDrives can be corrupted.  A digital copy is probably more delicate than a hard copy!  So make copies, copies and more copies.
  3. Put your DVD, Flash Drive or Hard drive into your pc or mac and download all the files to a new folder you might call ‘scanned photos – date’.  You may want to make folders within the folder to ‘start sorting’ into some kind of order.  Or you may prefer to leave it until ALL your scanning is done.  Either way, copy your newly scanned files to another hub to protect them.
    I have my scanned photos in a large folder on my PC called ‘Scanned photos project’, then divided up inside by event/people/chronology, so that I can find photos when I’m looking for them.  They’re in separate folders named things like “Jenny birth 1963-age 10”, “Mum and Dad 1958-wedding 1960”, “England Trip 1996”.  In this way, I can add photos when or if I find more, and find anything I need.
  4. Then buy a good external hard drive or a large USB flash drive and carefully copy your completed scan project, IN the organised folders, onto your media.

    If you don’t know how to do this, here’s an extra good page from “Dummies” on using external hard drives and USB flash drives (which work essentially the same way).How to use an external hard drive  Basically you just plug it into the usb port of your computer, let it ‘install itself’ (this should be automatic), a windows will probably pop up showing you the ‘contents’ of the drive which may have some system files on there (you can leave those).   Just right click on your ‘scanned photos’ folder, click copy’ then move over to your new hard drive or flash drive window, and click ‘paste’.  Your whole folder, and all it’s sub folders and contents, should copy over. It may take some time if you’ve got a lot.

  5. Make a few different copies, distribute them to family who may like them and also give a copy to a trustworthy relative or friend to keep for you, incase of a disaster.  I have given my parents a copy.
  6. If you have a ‘cloud storage’ facility, you can copy all your photos, or at least your important ones, to the cloud as well.

    If you have old photo albums and are wondering what to do about them see my post: Those Damn Photo Albums – what to do?
    If you’d like to know more about organising your current digital photos see my post here:  10 Steps to organising your digital photos. For good.



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