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Scanning For Restoration

So, you’ve got this great old photo you want to restore. What are the steps you need to take to get it into your computer so you can perform some Photoshop magic?


Is the photo in fairly good shape , that is, not all crispy, crumbly, tattered and torn? The first thing you need to do is carefully hold a can of compressed air about 8” away from it and give it a little blast of air. This will clean off any surface dust that might be on it, and, perhaps, make a little less work for you! Skip this step if you have any doubts as to the condition of the photo! If there’s any doubt in your mind AT ALL, it’s just better to remove the dust digitally! In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this for any photo over 50 years old!

Next, make sure your scanner glass is clean! I can’t stress this enough! If there’s a finger print on the glass from the last time you took a photo off, it might end up right in the middle of the next photo scanned! The safest way to clean your scanner glass, in my opinion, is the exact same way you’d clean your camera lens! Clean dust off the glass with compressed air. Use a microfiber cloth and lens cleaner to clean the glass. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly before putting a photo, any photo, on the glass!!

Now, for the actual scanning. All scanners are different, so I can’t tell you specific settings. I also won’t recommend any one scanner over another. I will tell you I’ve had expensive scanners and I’ve had inexpensive scanners that have done fairly equitable scanning and I’ve had mid-range scanners that banded horribly. I’ve found that, all-in-all, I’ve had the best luck, personally, with Mirotek scanners, but the best scanner for you is something you’ll have to discover for yourself. I never scan at a lower dpi than 300, absolute rock bottom! I need at least that resolution to have a decent work area, plus, there’s printing to think about. You want an nice, clean print of the restoration. That being said, I start the scanning at 1200 dpi. Yes, 1200 dpi, really. Bring the scan into Photoshop and see how close you can zoom in before the image begins to pixelate. If you can get it all the way up to 300% or 400% and it looks clear, crisp and BIG, you’re good (tip: on photos of faces, watch the eyes for first signs of pixelation). Also, make a new layer and do something on it with the Clone or Patch Tools. See if there’s a lot of brush lag. If there’s pixelation, blurring or brush lag, scan again at a lower dpi. I usually start at 1200, go down to 1000, 800, 600, then drop to 300 dpi. If your scanner has a check box, or some other way to select scanning at a higher bit depth, by all means, select this option! It makes for a little slower scan, but for the higher information level, it’s worth it. Play around with your scanner. Get to know your equipment. Experiment with the same photo so you actually see the difference in dpi levels.


When scanning old photos, you’ll get the best result at the highest dpi with daguerreotypes, simply because that was a superior photographic method. You won’t get the same result with a photo taken with a simple box camera. However, each photo will be different and the only way you’ll know you have the best possible resolution is to start high and rescan at a lower dpi as needed. I. Personally, don’t see the need in going much higher than 1200 dpi, although I have had one instance where I had a beautiful result scanning a daguerreotype at 2400 dpi. However, if you do this often you’ll need a super stellar graphics card, tons of RAM and a hugemongus amount of storage space.


Taking a little extra time to make sure you’re getting the highest quality resolution will make for a much more enjoyable restoration experience, not to mention a better all around result!
(Note: This article was previously posted on my blog, but I’ve had a few requests for tips on scanning for restoration, lately, so thought I’d re-post it here on TipSquirrel!)

Thanks Janine, another cracker!
You can see more of Janine’s amazing work on her blog.

Janine is on twitter too, where we know her as @landailyn

About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

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