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How to Digitize Your Old Paper Photos Skip to content

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Digitize Your Photos to Preserve Your Memories

How to do it yourself or use a professional service

two hands holding old photographs

GETTY IMAGES

Chances are you've thought about bringing your old paper photos into the digital age.

Great idea. After all, you likely have a lifetime of precious memories trapped in photo albums, shoeboxes or dusty frames.

Once digitized, these photographs will no longer fade over time; they can be automatically repaired with smart software (such as adding back color, removing redeye and stitching rips); photos can be organized and easily searched by keyword (on a computer, tablet, phone or online cloud site); and you can share them with friends and family over email and social media, or create fun projects like scrapbooks, slideshows, fridge magnets and more.

There are several ways to go about scanning old photos (or slides or negatives), but it boils down to two main options: Do it yourself (DIY) or use a professional service.

Here's a look at both options. Regardless of the direction you go, be sure to first organize your paper photos before you digitize them, or you risk having a “digital mess,” too, advises Mollie Bartelt, cofounder of Pixologie, a photo management company.

"You can organize your paper photos by major categories like decades or people, and then suborganize them into sections, like family events,” she says. Bartelt recommends putting photos into piles or small boxes, divided by index cards and labeled with sticky notes.

DIY

If you prefer to digitize photos yourself, you can pick up an inexpensive flatbed scanner (from $69), if you don't already own one.

You might also invest in a multifunction printer (as low as $49), which is usually an inkjet printer, scanner, photocopier and sometimes a fax machine, too — all in one unit.

When scanning the photos facedown, keep in mind the higher the dots per inch (DPI), the better the resolution will be. For example, 300 DPI is OK for photos, but 600 DPI is recommended to ensure you get all the details in your pictures. A resolution of 1,200 DPI is only necessary if you're looking to enlarge a photo to a poster-sized print through a service (see below).

The Best Photo Manager?

a family looking at two phones

courtesy Western Digital Corporation

One of the smartest tech products of 2019 centralizes all your digital photos and videos, and keeps them all in one place. Whether you capture and save photos on a smartphone, iPad or computer (or cloud account), ibi ($179) is a small, white and cylindrical gadget that joins your Wi-Fi network, automatically aggregates and organizes your photos and videos — wherever they're stored — and houses them on its 2 terabyte hard drive (enough for half a million photos and more than 200 hours of home movies). The app for your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop lets you easily find any image you're looking for, and also allows for individual images and entire albums to be shared privately.

Flatbed scanners also can be used to preserve irreplaceable historical documents, such as birth certificates, marriages licenses, a child or grandchild's handprint or drawing, newspaper articles, and cherished letters and deeds, as well as images of a sentimental keepsake like grandma's favorite broach or a great uncle's pocket watch.

Depending on how many photos you have, be aware this process might take a long time.

To speed things up you might consider picking up the Epson FastFoto FF-680W ($599), which can scan one 4-by-6 photo per second. Just load 36 photos in the feeder and press a button, and the process is quick and painless.

It also offers the ability to capture in a single scan both the photo and any handwritten notes on the back.

Used wirelessly over Wi-Fi or connected to a computer via USB cable, the FF-680W scanner also can handle postcards and Polaroid photos; offers photo restoration and editing options, as well as file organization tools, including automatic file naming; and allows you to share images to popular cloud services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

Services

If you have too many photos, are too busy, or don't think you're tech-savvy enough to do it on your own, you can leverage local or national services to digitize your photos for you.

Companies like the aptly named ScanMyPhotos.com will send a box to your home — large enough to pack up 1,800 photos, says the company — with prices starting at $145 (cost is determined by DPI requirements). Turnaround time is two to three weeks. They also offer hand-scanning of 35mm slides and film negatives.

Alternatively, you can bring paper photos to retailers, such as Costco, which also offer services for digitizing paper photos and other media. Prices start at $20 (for the first 63 images).

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