6 Top Tips for Photo Restoration with your Scanner

Many of us have old photos that have been handed down through the family.

And let’s face it, most of them haven’t stood the test of time all that well and often they weren’t that good a quality to begin with.

Well there are many things you can do to improve that situation using your computer and some good photo editing software. And I’ll be talking about that in a follow up article.

But you can make some big improvements to you old photos just using your scanner. So let’s have a look at how you can use your scanner to improve the quality of your old photos.

Tips for Scanning Your Photos

Your scanner may be a stand-alone device or it may be a part of your home printer. Whichever it is it will have its own instructions for operation so I don’t intend to go into that here.

But many scanners enable you to make improvements to the digital quality of your image before you scan it into your computer.

If you don’t have any photo editing software this can be a boon as it’s all the restoration you are going to be able to do on your computer.  So let’s take a look at some tips for improving your photos as you scan them in. This will generally require you to use the Advanced features on your scanner.

1. Most scanners will let you adjust the size of your photo. This is particularly good if you have some really old photos that are very small. I have a whole bunch of these from the ’40s and ’50s. You can’t go too big with these but you can at least double or perhaps even triple their size. That gives you more to work with.

2. We usually scrap at a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (ppi) but it’s a good idea to scan your photo at 600 ppi. This also has the effect of doubling the size of your photo when you drag it onto your 300ppi scrapbook layout file. Just be careful if you are combining this technique with the one above because you might end up with too granular an image.

3. Make sure you give the surface a good clean with a soft cloth before you scan and make sure the scanner bed is clean and dust free. If you have specks of dust on the photo or the scanner bed they will be picked up in the scan (and magnified if you have set the resolution higher) and they will become another problem that you need to correct.

4. Some scanners will let you make other adjustments before you scan such as adjusting the lighting. brightness, contrast etc.


Take advantage of this and play around with these settings. Often your photo will have a bunch of detail that is not visible to your naked eye  but will be revealed when you play with these settings. It’s important to reveal these details before you scan because once the image is scanned, your digital version will only have the detail that is displayed on your scanner preview screen and any of these finer details will be lost.

5. If you’re scanning a sepia photo, change the color mode to Greyscale.You can turn it back to sepia with your photo editing software later. But greyscale will enable the scanner to pick up more detail. If your scanner offers you a choice of greyscale options (eg. 8-bit or 16-bit) choose the largest size available.

6. Your scanner may also offer you the option to remove dust specks, correct fading and backlight and other ‘photo fixing’ options. If you don’t have photo editing software, and your scanner is the only point at which you can manipulate your photos, then you should play around with some of these. Remember to make small adjustments until you get the image quality you are happy with in your preview screen. If you do have photo editing software I recommend that you leave these settings alone and do these adjustments on your computer. The features in your software are probably more powerful that those on your scanner.

Here is an example of what I mean. Unfortunately you can’t really see the full difference in the quality between the two scans because Internet quality is only around 72 ppi. But let’s give it a try.

This is a photo of my Dad from around 1952. It is 2inches x 2 inches and black and white. I know it looks like sepia but it is really black and white which tends to get a bit muddy looking over time.


Now here is the scan I made after applying several of the tips listed above:


Not only have I doubled the size of the photo but the detail is much clearer and sharper.

I can now take this photo and work with it some more in Photoshop Elements to improve it still further if I want. But if you don’t have a photo editing program, you can see how much more improved the photo is by just using the scanner settings.

I hope you found this useful. I’m going to run a little series on tips for restoring photos so stay tuned.

Other Related-ish Articles:

Are you a Good Photographer?

Scrapbook Idea: Dressing Up Your Photos

How to Give Your Title a Reflection


11 Responses to 6 Top Tips for Photo Restoration with your Scanner

  1. Nicholas May 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm #

    Nice picture!Your posts is really relevant to me ! Its teaching me alot as I am trying to start a blog now myself! Please do continue posting!

  2. Alen May 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    Nice work. It might look better if you give it some sepia tones like light oranges, this can make it look more fresh.
    Something I have always wanted to do that you may enjoy is actually putting the real colours into the photo. Difficult but fun.

    • karooch May 18, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks for the tip Alen.
      Do you mean like colorising the photo. I’ve tried that and you’re right it is a lot of fun. But that’s another technique for another post.

  3. Simon May 26, 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    Old b and w photos can be cleaned up quite easily, then taken to the next level with sepia, and if your skilled restore the colour like Alen mentioned (but that is really had to do well and have it looking realistic). On the other hand its nice to leave them as they are, with that unique character they have.

    • karooch May 27, 2009 at 8:21 am #

      That’s true Simon. And old B&W or Sepia photos have a charm that is all their own.
      In an upcoming article I’ll be talking about ways in which you can repair some of the damage that these old photos may have taken over the years.

  4. June June 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    Thanks for the wonderful tips!! Excellent article as always.

  5. Paul September 9, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    I usually scan all my photos in 48 bit color at 600 ppi. This provides the greatest amount of data and detail from the original photo. I can then change it to black and white or sepia in Photoshop when all the editing is completed.

    In addition, I save the original scan as a TIFF file for future editing.

    • karooch September 9, 2010 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks for the tip Paul.


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