How to scan a photo

Monday, September 20, 2010

If you own a scanner or multifunction device, you have the ability to make copies of your family photos. Why would you want to do this? Well the original photo may require restoration, perhaps the color has faded or changed, or the photo is cracked or scratched. You might also wish to use the photo in a scrapbook or produce copies for relatives. There are lots of good reasons why you might want to make a copy of a photo.

Even if you don't want to do any of these things, scanning a photo is a way to preserve that photo as it exists, today, knowing that it won't deteriorate any further inside your computer and that if you burn a copy on a disk or back it up to an online service (like Google Docs) it will be preserved forever.

The are hundreds of different scanners and multifunction devices out there, so I can't give you instructions on how to use your particular model, but there are a couple of things you should look for.

Always scan at 300 dpi or greater

To print at true photographic quality, you will need to print at between 240 to 300 dots per inch (dpi). This means that in order to print the photo at the same size it currently exists, you need to scan it at between 240 to 300 dpi. Anything less means that the photo will be printed smaller or, if you force the photo to the same size, the dots will be printed further apart and image detail will be lost. For photo paper prints, 300 dpi is recommended.

Following this logic, if you have a 3x3 image that you want to print at 6x6, you would in fact need to scan at twice resolution for full size (i.e. 600 dpi).

Having said this, many color photos simply aren't very sharp and there may not be a noticeable difference by scanning higher than 300 dpi.

It should also be noted that video displays (monitors) only require 72 dpi to maintain the original size. However, I do not recommend scanning at 72 dpi unless you are absolutely sure you won't ever need to print the photo. You can always reduce the dpi of an image but you cannot increase the dpi after you scan the photo.

Scan in the mode than matches your source document

Scanners offer several optimized settings for each type of source document: color photo, black and white photo, line art/document. Make sure that you select the right setting for your document type.

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