Five Helpful Tips for Scanning and Preserving Old Photos

Chances are, you’ve got a collection of old photos stashed away somewhere. These photos allow you to look back on precious moments and appreciate your heritage and family history, but as time goes on, they start to age more and more. So, how do you preserve and save them from Father Time? Blog contributor Krista Taylor has plenty of experience scanning old photos and creating digital versions that’ll last a lifetime. Take a look at her tips and tricks to learn how to get the perfect scan every time!

Krista’s Inspiration:

A common question from album makers is, “What is the best way to scan my photos?” As a heritage professional, family historian, mom, CM Advisor, chief cook and bottle washer, I’m be happy to share my thoughts on why we scan images and the method to achieve the best possible results.

We all have different reasons for why we want to scan photographs. It could be those photos belong to someone else, you may want to digitally repair them or adjust the tint, incorporate them into a digital project or online album, keep a digital copy without being the custodian of the original – the list goes on and on.

I’ve scanned thousands of images throughout my career working in archives. So, while this may seem a bit technical, fear not, there is a method to my madness!

Using a Scanner

My first recommendation is to always use a flatbed scanner to provide the necessary stability from movement and light. It’s like using a tripod with your camera. The photo taken without the tripod isn’t going to be as sharp.  In my opinion, a flatbed scanner gives you the best possible scan. On the practical side, you don’t have to scan over and over, so it cuts down on the time. On the preservation side, it doesn’t repeatedly expose your images to light, which is one of the greatest enemies to photographic and archival materials.

Creating a Preservation Copy

My second recommendation is to create a preservation copy (more on that below). You’ll want to scan at a minimum 300 dpi and save as a TIFF. [1] A TIFF is a non-compressing format ideal for storage and printing. If it is a small image, I will increase my dpi (the scanner default is usually 150 dpi). 

When looking for a scanner to use at home for photos, slides, negatives, archival materials, etc., keep in mind that not all scanner technology is the same. Search for products with that purpose in mind, using keywords such as “archival” and “heritage”. Read the reviews to see what other consumers are using the scanner for. Do they say anything looks grainy? Does the tint come out the way they want? Also, talk to those who are selling the products. Explain that your needs go beyond scanning work documents to email. Once you find the scanner for you, become familiar with it and play around with non-archival photos first, so you can see the results of different settings.

What is dpi and why is important? The dpi means “dots per inch.” That’s the number of dots per inch that will create your image. The higher dpi, the more detail you will have in your image.

As I mentioned above, a “preservation copy” sounds like archival jargon, and it is. But after all, we’re curators and archivists of our own albums and photograph collections. To me, my preservation copies are made from the original image, scanned at an appropriate dpi to give me the best possible scan. More often than not, they are heritage photos that I may never have the chance to scan or see again. So, it’s important to do it right the first time.

Scan as a TIFF

My third recommendation is to scan and save the image as a TIFF. I scan images I want to keep as a preservation copy this way for two reasons. First, while JPEG format takes up less disk space and is the default for our cameras and scanners, it has the downside of lossy compression[2]. In a nutshell, lossy compression means each time you open, edit and save your JPEG, the file is compressed and loses quality or sharpness. This is irreversible. 

Second, although a TIFF file may seem like it creates a huge file size, it will not compress the image. If you scan and save as a TIFF, the image will remain the same. For sharing or easy printing, a TIFF may be converted to a JPEG. Conversion from TIFF to JPEG can be done wherever you edit your photographs, whether it’s an online service, purchased program or a free download. And remember, if you plan to make edits, do so with the TIFF version and convert to JPEG for sharing.

How Do I Store?

Before you start scanning, the Power® Sort Box is perfect for sorting and storing. The photo-safe box holds up to 1,200 photographs and may help motivate you to get old photos scanned and into modern albums. 

How you store your scanned images is a personal and tough decision. While most of us will have all of our photos on a computer hard drive, it’s only a matter of before it crashes. Consider using an external storage such as a USB, external hard drive, cloud storage or any other portable and accessible format. Remember that as time goes on, the ways to store will change, so maintaining the technology to access your photos is very important. For example, DVD readers aren’t included with most computers anymore and some don’t even have USB ports. How will you be able to access your photos for future use? This is one of the reasons purchasing cloud storage is becoming necessary, as companies promise to keep up with technology and formats.

In conclusion, my steps are:

  1. Scan on a flatbed scanner.
  2. Scan at 300 dpi (or higher if necessary).
  3. Save as a TIFF.
  4. Convert to a JPEG if necessary for sharing.
  5. Find the storage solution that makes sense for your needs and long-term goals.

See how I was able to take a photo from my family’s past and turn it into a gorgeous digital layout!

Products shown:

In August, Creative Memories released the Memoirs & Memories collection. It’s my hope that you’ll take the tips I’ve provided and use them to scan important photographs from your family past and pair them with the paper and embellishments in that collection. Happy scanning!


  1. What’s the Difference Between PNG, JPEG, GIF, and TIFF? – Widen
  2. Lossy Compression – Wikipedia

12 thoughts on “Five Helpful Tips for Scanning and Preserving Old Photos

  1. I completed a comprehensive heritage album back in 1999. I wish I had your fabulous tips back then about scanning. I have quite a number of old family photos which I scanned in jpg. I will be going through any of the originals which I have at home, and re-scanning them at tiff. Your advice about an external hard drive is very appropriate. My husband and I have both purchased newer computers in the past few years. They do not have disk drives. :-( The best “cloud” is the Library of Congress in D. C. My husband paid a nominal fee to upload his side of the family’s heritage photos. Anyone wanting to see them can go to the LoC online and look them up. I am hoping he will one day have the time to upload my side of the family heritage photos. :-)
    One way or the other I believe preserving old photos, scanning (saving) them, and scrapping them into priceless layouts is part of my pursuit as a scrapbooker.
    Thank you for this valuable article Krista!

  2. Gives me incentive to start the scanning process again on my family photos! Great article! Thanks Krista…..

    1. There should be an option to save in tiff. You might want to try save as…and see if it comes up that way?

  3. I have a two HP printer/scanner but no option to save in TIFF. Do you have a special scanner to do it TIFF. or do you need software for this?

    1. Oops…i replied above and meant to reply here. I have an HP, have had nothing but HP scanners and can save in tiff. There should be an option to save in tiff. You might want to try save as…and see if it comes up that way?

  4. Krista, thank you for your timely advice on scanning. Like Barb in AK, I too have scanned old heritage photos using the JPEG extension, but to do my heritage collection justice for future access, I can see that my ONLY action will be to re-scan everything that I can get my hands on. I have been aware for sometime now that technology is changing so fast, it is difficult trying to keep abreast of the changes. I have all my photos backed up to EHD’s, plus on USB and DVD (for good measure). Perhaps my next step is to either print everything onto archival paper or check-out the ‘cloud’. I wonder, when I am ‘gone’ whether family will be bothered with what is on the cloud – maybe printing and placing them in an album could be the best solution!!

  5. DPI does mean dots per inch, but it refers to the dots of ink a printer uses to produce the image. PPI or pixels per inch represents the number of pixels that creates an image on a screen.

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