The 7 Must-Have Features of the Best Photo Scanning Software Packages

Make scanning easier and faster with these useful features.

Photo scanners play an important part in digitizing photos, but they can’t cross the finish line alone. They have to hand the baton off to photo scanning software, which takes the data they capture and turns it into high-quality digital files for you to use as you see fit.

There are plenty of photo scanning software options on the market today, each with its own set of features, some of which are nice to have and others that are absolute necessities. We’ve surveyed the field and assembled this list of the seven most important features in our opinion in photo scanning software.

Read our free ultimate guide to discover what to look for in a photo scanner for home or small business.

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Seven must-have features of photo scanning software

Intuitive interface

The first thing you’ll notice booting up a piece of software — photo scanning or otherwise — is its interface. The arrangement of the software’s various features and tools can make a huge difference in how easy it is to use. If you can locate everything you need in the program without having to scour an ocean of menus or Google around for tips, you’ll find yourself blazing through your scanning tasks faster. You’ll likely also make fewer mistakes, resulting in a more consistent, higher-quality product thanks to your program’s careful interface design.

Automatic file naming

When you’re scanning just a few photographs, you may not find it so onerous to have to scan, name, and organize each file one at a time. But as soon as you introduce any kind of volume to the scanning process, naming and organizing quickly turns into time-sucking drudgery. That’s why top-of-the-line scanning software allows users to configure a customized automatic naming convention. These names can include information such as dates, numbers, or any other kind of prefix or suffix you may need, providing easy preliminary organization that you can leave as-is or go in and modify later with more nuanced details.

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Image restoration

Not all photographs make it to the scanning bed in the same condition. Some may have had to weather years in old shoeboxes, family albums, or on display in sunny areas. All that wear and tear can gradually diminish the quality of the pictures themselves, leaving little scratches or fading colors over time. Luckily, modern photo scanning software can solve this problem. Using advanced algorithms, these programs can identify and remove scratches and restore colors, ensuring that the digital versions of your photos are even truer to the original image than the battered physical document. No more worrying about perfect storage conditions — your photos will be safe forever as digital files.

High-quality scans

Image quality can be measured across several different axes, but the primary considerations are resolution and color depth (also known as bit depth). Generally speaking, higher-resolution images simply contain more information. That allows them to be blown up to larger sizes without obvious quality degradation, allowing for bigger displays or more minute inspection of small details. Ultimately, the resolution of your scans will be determined by the size of your images, but in general, you’ll want to end up with the highest resolution possible. Standard benchmarks are 1080p for HD and 4K for ultra HD.

Color depth, on the other hand, refers to the range of colors that can be displayed. The greater the color depth, the wider the range of colors, and therefore the more accurately the digital scan can mirror the physical photograph. The peak of color depth in most cases is 48-bit RGB, but scans of that color depth are usually too big to store or work with effectively. For peak performance, look for a scanner that can output images in at least 16-bit depth.

Did You Know?:PCMagazine called the ScanSnap iX1600 as "easy to use, fast, accurate, well built, and quiet." Click here to read the full review.

Support for multiple file types

Image quality doesn’t end at scanning. When your scanner reads an image and it passes through your scanning software, you can choose the file format it ends up as on your computer (or in the cloud). Different file types have different use cases. JPEG files are among the most common online, and for good reason — they’re very space-efficient while retaining good image quality. TIFF, on the other hand, offers unparalleled image quality at the cost of storage space, making it useful for further editing work on the images or other professional applications. Whatever your needs, you should be sure to use photo scanning software that can output the kinds of files you want.

Stellar customer service

As with any product, the quality of photo scanning software can often be measured in its customer service. No matter how intuitive a particular program may be, regular use will reveal challenges or bugs that you may struggle to solve on your own. Searching the internet for a crowd-sourced solution has its place, but there’s no replacement for expert customer service that is ready and willing to help solve your problem. Look for photo scanning software with customer service agents who are available during reasonable hours, and cross-reference them with product reviews that mention helpful support staff. Conversely, steer clear of products with poorly reviewed customer service to avoid gumming up your workflow with a program that doesn’t work for reasons you can’t solve.

Optical character recognition (OCR)

If any of the photos you’re scanning contain text you care about, the most important feature you can find is optical character recognition (OCR). This technology enables your scanning software to automatically identify text in an image, read it, and make it interactable. This can help with sorting your scanned photos down the line, as the scanned text can in turn be indexed. For example, if you’re looking for a photo with a stop sign in the image, OCR-based indexing allows you to search your database for the word “stop” and likely find the specific photo you seek.

OCR also makes it easy to extract text from an image. If you’ve scanned the page of a book, for example, OCR can read those words and reproduce them digitally for easier transcription.

When should I use a non-photo scanner?

Photo scanning software may be most obviously applied when scanning photos, but many of its features are as useful in the course of business as they are in personal photo preservation. It can be helpful even when scanning documents rather than photographs, and any scanning workflow can benefit from its implementation.

If you're scanning more than just photos — particularly if you're doing so in large volumes — it's important to invest in a high-quality modern scanner. Whether you're scanning at home or at your small business, the ScanSnap line of scanners has a solution for you. Click here to learn more and shop the full line of ScanSnap scanners.