Saving the Old Photos to New Media
Navigating Grief custom photo projects begin with digital images. But what do you do if your photos are in a box rather than on your computer? Scan! With today’s affordable, powerful, easy- to-use scanners plus a basic understanding of file formats and color information you can make the best of those old photos and memories waiting to be shared.
Scanning turns photograph, slides, photo album pages, negatives and other memorabilia into a computer digital format for storage, sharing and creating printed gifts and storybooks. In order to make the best use of your time and money there is one important question you’ll want to answer before you get started.
Why am I scanning?
A roadmap is only good if you know your destination! You can scan at very high resolutions making large, cumbersome and sometimes computer choking files. But the question is: do you need to? Not always. Sometimes too much file information just uses computer space, makes it impossible to share and takes up a lot of your time and energy. Then again, there is a frustration for those who have scanned all their photos only to need to do so again because technology changes or they didn’t consider the long term usage. When you know what you want to achieve, then you can target your scanning work for efficiency and quality. Here are the main reasons you may be scanning your old photos:
- Send or share online either through e-mail or on social network sites such as Facebook.
- Preserve, restore or change (such as cropping) the original for home printing.
- Create professionally printed projects such as storybooks, cards, and memorial gifts.
- Archive high quality photos for future generations.
Scanning made simple
Fortunately, most scanners have easy options for you to choose settings based on how you will use your scanner. This may be called the home mode, or automatic mode. Your scanner set up will be according to how you answer the questions. You can successfully do all your scanning in the automated mode. Jump to scanning tips if you use these settings or already know about scanning.
Scanner software usually has a custom or professional mode as well, which gives you total control over multiple settings. If you are the family historian, want more creative use of your scanner, or have many types of memorabilia to scan, then understanding the basics of image resolution, color and file formats will help you get just the file you want for your intended use.
Scanning: Finished size and print resolution
You may have heard about DPI, or dots per inch, in reference to the digital world of images. DPI refers only to printer resolution, or how many dots per inch are used to print the image. There is also PPI, or pixels per inch, which is the actual resolution measurement for digital images themselves. Computer monitors, televisions and digital frames also use pixels in their measurement. You may often hear the two interchanged, although PPI is becoming more common in usage.
Image resolution is not as complicated as it seems once you remember that digital image size is based on pixels and printing is based on dots! If you scan a 5” x 7” photo at 300 DPI (the printer setting), you’ll get a photo that is 1500 pixels (5” x 300 DPI= Pixels) x 2100 pixels (7” x 300 DPI= Pixels). These are the numbers you’ll see in your photo software for dimensions.
Once scanned, the image will contain this number of pixels regardless of the size you print. Most scanners list the resolution setting based on DPI for your print output rather than in PPI. The dimensions setting will be found in target size of your scan, and you can specify inches or pixels.
Most often you will want to set your scanner output based on the original photo size for print. That would be 100% in size for print use at 300 DPI. This means that a 3×5 photo will print at 3×5 in your storybook. This is the default for most home use scanner settings.
A Few More Details to Consider
There are times when you want to customize the settings. An example would be to enlarge a small school photo you have. If you scan a 1”x 1” photo at 600 DPI then you can safely turn it into a 2” x 2” photo, by halving the resolution. In another example, if you expect to crop a photo but want the same finished size, scan to enlarge (higher DPI), because when you remove the edges (crop) you will be making the overall photo dimension smaller. It doesn’t matter if your setting is a higher percentage at 300 DPI, or 100% at a higher resolution. The total finished pixel dimensions will be the same. In other words, that 5×7 photo scanned in 150% at 300 DPI is the same as a scan in 100% at 450 DPI. Both are 2350 x 3150 pixel images.
For best results check your scanner for the maximum optical scan rate as this is based on the quality of the lens rather than software enhanced resolution. If you have lots of tiny photos or slides, you’ll want a scanner designed for capturing with a high optical lens or one for made for slides.
The more pixels in an image, the larger the file size. People who make website images use a small file size based on the output of a 72 PPI computer monitor because smaller images load more quickly. If you have ever tried to print an internet graphic on your printer you know that the resolutions are not compatible because you end up with a pixilated, grainy picture! Or, if someone has ever sent you an e-mail with a huge photo it is because it was a full resolution printer file you are viewing on your screen resolution!
One last thought on resolution… depending on your photo program, camera or scanner, sometimes your files are stored in 72 dpi files based on computer resolution or they may be stored in the capture of 300 DPI. You likely have different sizes within your files because some were downloaded from your camera, some came from friends, and others you scanned. It’s like the car side mirror: Some objects may be closer than they appear, only some photos may be smaller than they appear! Again, refer to your software photo viewer for details on size and resolution of the file. If you seek out the PPI measurement then you can quickly convert to a safe print size by dividing by 300 DPI. (2100 PPI / 300 DPI = 7“ Print)
More good news is that when you create your Navigating Grief project you will get a warning if the resolution of your photo will not print at quality resolution. Either adjust the photo size in the book, or scan again with settings adjusted to the desired finished size.
A Few Words on Color
Just like you have different resolution for printing and computer viewing, there are different color modes for prints and monitors. The good news is that when you use the Navigating Grief publishing center we make the adjustments to optimize the best color output. However, understanding how color affects your scan can help you get the best scan. Starting with great files will give you the results you want: capturing the story and photo rather than becoming distracted by a poor quality photo.
Color you see from the scanner, on your computer monitor, and printers have different color defining output. The scanner, just like your digital camera, TV and computer monitor, produce the color in three colors known as RGB (red, green blue). Printers use four colors (or more) known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). If you are printing to your own printer, you may want to convert the settings to CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) in your photo program for your final picture. If you have ever printed a picture that looked beautiful on your computer monitor only to have a color shift on the final print, it’s because your monitor uses the three colors and your printer uses four to define the same information. For SFH projects, keep your files in the standard RGB. We’ll make the conversion. Most home equipment will compensate for your color, too, but this is one explanation when you have a color problem to overcome.
Black and White is only two colors – black and white! Used mostly for line art, black and white can also be a good choice for reproducing text, letters and documents. Grayscale is the best choice for what we call black and white photos to restore to the original depth of grays in between. For photos, you may want to scan in color and use software to convert to black and white. If the original is “black and white” you can choose color, which might pick up the blue or sepia discoloration of old photos, or scan the original using the grayscale setting for a closer to original scan. For documents, preview in both black and white and grayscale to see which looks best before you scan.
Saving and File Formats
File formats such as JPG, TIF, RAW, GIF and PDF, each have different uses in the world of graphics. Navigating Grief products use JPG (called j-peg). This is the compressed format most commonly used, and the usual format downloaded straight from digital cameras and scanners.
Uncompressed formats, such as TIF, are used for photo restoration, archives and safekeeping of high resolution originals. Professionals may keep their Photoshop or other software formats as the original file. Digital cameras may also include RAW format, which allows the user to make camera setting changes in exposure and other settings after the picture is taken.
PDF files are most often used for document sharing. This is not recommended as a photo storage format.
Read through your scanner’s documentation for the features to help you automate scanning. Here are the two most used options for photo scanning. Often there is a document scanning mode or other options as well.
Simple: Use automatic or home scan features. Easy, quick, covers most needs.
- Look for the best photo quality setting, or appropriate media such as newspaper, document, etc. Match your setting to the item scanned.
- Program usually will scan entire page size regardless of your target.
- Use color restore if available for photos and you want “original” colors rather than aged photos.
- Use dust removal if available and needed. Be aware that this sometimes comes at the expense of overall sharpness.
Advanced: Select more options or create multiple files from page of photos.
- Look for the DPI setting. Use 300 DPI minimum for use in professional printing.
- Select individual photos with the marquee tool (drag a box around each photo) so you’ll have one file per photo. You may be able to select several individual photos on each page (such as a scrapbook page) this way.
- Review the final size – scan at 100% even if you expect to use a smaller version. If you’ll never use that 8” x10” at 8” x 10” for your digital projects, then you can target a smaller size to keep.
- If you want to enlarge, either scan at higher DPI (e.g., 100% at 600 dpi) or use higher percentage (e.g., 150%) at 300 DPI. Consider the final usage.
Adjust color, red eye, contrast, etc. for each photo as desired. Remember, your computer screen color and printer colors will not always match exactly unless you’ve calibrated the colors to be compatible. Usually the defaults are perfectly fine. You can also make these adjustments using the tools found in the Navigating Grief.
- Clean the glass. You’d be amazed at how much dust can appear on the print that you don’t see while scanning. After your first scan, review the photo at full screen on your computer. Most computers have software included to manage photos.
- Clean the glass! Old photos especially leave dust behind as you scan. Check regularly and dry wipe the glass as you go. Use a lint free cloth.
- Protect the glass. Once scratched you’ll be leaving a mark on all subsequent scans. Occasional use of a windshield product that protects glass can be helpful for maintaining ease of cleaning. Use cautiously; this may void your warranty. Check with your manufacturer for compatibility.
- Protect the glass! It’s fun to scan odd sized, special photo frames, or unique 3-D objects. Use a transparency (found at office supply stores) between the glass and object to decrease the chance of scratches.
- Check the photo itself for dust. Be careful not to scratch the photo. Gently dust it with a lint free cloth before scanning.
- Slide the photo to the edge of the glass to help ensure straight edges. Watch out. Old photos often have uneven border edges that skew the alignment.
- Create an organizational plan for naming your files. Order by year, activity or family. Do what makes sense to you.
Ideas for scanning
- Photos: Scan both with and without original mat. Sometimes the mats are part of the charm and help give a visual clue to the era of the photo. Same goes for the bordered prints. Cropping the edges out is easier than having to scan again if you decide to preserve the original border.
- Documents: marriage certificates, love letters, awards, newspaper clippings.
- Textiles: Favorite clothing, use as textures for backgrounds, memory sparklers as a tablecloth.
- 3-dimensional items: medals of honor, special gifts, book covers, items representing favorites.
Starting with good digital photos or memorabilia means a better quality book! Scanning is similar to the construction maxim: measure twice, cut once. Your preparation in choosing the best photos, a quality scanner, and knowing your final output will make the task run smoothly.
Have more scanning questions? Ask them here or share your scanning tips, lessons, or successes for others to try.