Everything You Need to Know to Digitize Photos in 2023


Everything You Need to Know to Digitize Photos in 2023

How to preserve your memories for posterity.

Physical photos are a tangible bridge to the past, allowing us to access the precious memories of friends and family or to revisit memories of our own. Unfortunately, they’re also vulnerable to fire, flood, fading, and being lost. All of these problems are obviated by taking time to digitize photos, turning them into digital artifacts that will remain as vibrant as the day their source photos were shot. They also become easier to store, share, and organize.

If you’re ready to turn your pile of photos into a single safe and easily accessed digital archive, this guide is ready to help with tips, equipment recommendations, and everything else you need.

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What Are Digital Photos?

Digital photos are computer files composed of picture elements (pixels) that look like little squares when the image is enlarged. Each pixel is assigned a color value from the standard 16 million options and is then arranged to form a complete image.

Image dimensions are measured in pixels and expressed as image length by image height. Visual fidelity, or resolution, is measured by the number of pixels and expressed as megapixels, each of which is worth 1 million pixels. A higher resolution allows you to increase the dimensions of a photo more before noticing individual pixels or blurry details

    Why digitize photos?

  • Incredibly space efficient — thousands can live on a single storage drive, and a nearly infinite number can be stored in the cloud.
  • Easy to organize by any schema imaginable: date, photographer, event, subject, and more.
  • Fast and convenient sharing over any distance with any number of people.
  • Safe from disasters like fires and floods and immune to quality degradation from handling or light exposure.

Three digital photo file formats


A middle ground between JPEG and BMP, with excellent image quality and a more manageable storage footprint.


The most space-efficient image file type, producing serviceably detailed photos.


A maximum-accuracy, archive-ready photo file type that requires a lot of storage space for each image.

Before scanning


To digitize photos, you’ll need either a flatbed scanner or a top-loading scanner with an automatic document feeder (ADF). Flatbeds are slower but more gentle, while ADF scanners are much faster.

You’ll also need a microfiber cloth or can of compressed air, as tissues and paper towels can scratch photos or leave behind debris that creates subpar scans.

Scanner settings

Before scanning, select your chosen file type, set the file path for where these scans will be stored, and establish a naming convention that makes it easy to identify and organize scanned photos. Always scan in color, as color and sepia photos need the extra color spectrum to preserve details, while black and white photos won't be affected by scanning in color.

Photo scanning procedure
  1. Organize your photos into groups and remove any duplicates.
  2. Clean the glass of your scanning surface with your microfiber cloth, then dust each photo before scanning.
  3. Avoid trying to reverse creases in old photos, as you'll likely cause more damage.
  4. Periodically clean your scanning surface. If the glass gets smudged, lightly wet a portion of your cloth, gently rub the smudge away, and wait until the glass is completely dry before resuming scanning.
  5. Use photo editing software such as Photoshop Elements or Fotor to remove creases and red eyes, crop the photos, brighten them, restore faded colors, or perform any other adjustments.

Curious about the fundamentals of digital photos and the digitizing process? Read our guide What Are Digital Photos? to learn more.

Did You Know?: The ScanSnap SV600 works in conjunction with Vivid-Pix's RESTORE software to enhance faded images, restore color, and improve contrast. Click here to learn more.

How to Digitize Photos in 2023

As physical photos age, their colors fade and details become indistinct. Digitized photos are immune to the ravages of time and safe from damage. They're also easier to store, organize and share. But to digitize photos correctly requires a little bit of thought, care, and equipment to ensure a high-quality product worthy of your treasured memories.

    Scanning options

  • Phone scanning is convenient and affordable but produces lower-quality scans.
  • Digitization services ensure a superior product and can digitize specialty items such as negatives and slides, but they can take a long time and require mailing delicate photos.
  • Home scanning is affordable and lets you control the scanning process, but requires scanning equipment and active effort.

Optimal scanner settings

High-volume scanners

Standard color depth is known as True Color or 24-bit color. Scan all photos, color or black and white, using this setting for optimal color accuracy.

Dots per inch (DPI)

DPI roughly correlates with image fidelity. Higher DPIs result in image files that take up more storage space. Scan in at least 300 DPI for high-quality images.

File types

BMP files offer the highest quality images but take up the most storage space and can't be uploaded to most social media sites. JPEG files retain impressive quality but require much less storage space and are used across the internet.

How to digitize photos
  1. Before scanning, dust your scanning surface with a microfiber cloth.
  2. Dust each photo before scanning. Avoid trying to undo creases in old photos, but do glue or tape broken images back together using acid- and lignin-free adhesives. Signs of the repair can be removed using photo editing software.
  3. Perform a test scan of your first photo to ensure your settings and naming conventions are configured correctly.
  4. Avoid touching the surface of the photos to prevent oils from your fingers from damaging them. Cotton gloves and carrier sheets can help protect very old photos.
  5. Flatbed scanners can scan multiple photos at once, but the scan will need to be cropped into individual files during editing. Flatbeds can also be used to digitize particularly large photos by scanning one section at a time and stitching the sections together using photo editing software.
  6. When finished scanning, perform any necessary editing (red-eye reduction, cropping, etc.)

How to store digitized photos

Google Photos

Google Photos sports a familiar, intuitive interface and useful features such as automatic and manual tags for people, objects, and locations. Users can store 15GB of photos for free. Paid plans start at $19.99 per year for 100GB.

Microsoft One Drive

Microsoft OneDrive supports tagging, photo search, and album creation. Prices start at $1.99 per month for 100GB, but Microsoft 365 Personal includes 1TB of storage in addition to the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite of applications for $69.99 per year.
To learn more about how to digitize photos using the best of modern tech, read our blog How to Digitize Photos in 2023

What Is a Digital Image?

Digital images are ubiquitous online, but many of us have no idea how they work. By learning the fundamentals of digital images, we can better understand how to make a photo, scan, or logo look its best.

    What is digital imaging?

  • The process of turning data inputs into an image.
  • Photographs are the most common example: A digital camera's sensor absorbs light and stores it as data a computer can read and use to reproduce the image.
  • Sonographs, which measure how soundwaves ricochet off surfaces, provide the data for ultrasounds, another kind of digital image.

Image quality — color depth, color channels, and resolution

Color channels

  • To show color, we need to add channels for those colors. The most common color scheme is red, green, and blue (RGB).
  • At 1-bit depth — each color either on or off — we can achieve eight colors: Red (100), green (010), blue (001), black (000), white (111), yellow (110), magenta (011), and cyan (101).
  • By increasing each channel's bit depth to eight, we get 24 bits in total and around 16 million possible colors.

Color depth

  • Each picture element (pixel) receives bits of data that tell it what color to be. The simplest possible image would have only one bit per pixel, meaning each pixel could only be either pure black (zero) or pure white (one).
  • At two bits, we reach four possible combinations: 00, 01, 10, and 11. That's two shades of gray in between our original black and white.
  • Increasing up to the standard 8 bits, we achieve 256 possible shades.


  • Resolution is the level of detail in a digital image.
  • An image's resolution is its total number of pixels, as measured in megapixels, each of which is worth 1 million pixels.
  • The higher an image's resolution, the more it can be enlarged before details blur and individual pixels can be discerned.

Raster Images

  • Rectangular grid of 2D pixels in which each pixel has an assigned color value.
  • Capable of fine-tuned detail, but can't be resized without losing definition.
  • Most commonly used image type (photos, photo editing).
  • Examples: JPEG, PNG, and GIF.

Vector Images

  • A series of mathematical equations, lines, and curves on a grid that produces an image with shapes, borders, and fill colors.
  • Can be scaled infinitely without loss in quality but require a lot of computing power to add fine details.
  • Less commonly used image type (logos, digital illustrations).
  • Examples: SVG, AI, and PDF.


Read more about how digital images work in What Is a Digital Image?

Did You Know?:  ScanSnap software includes automatic face rotation, color correction, and red-eye removal for easy photo digitization. Click here to learn more.

The Best Digitization Services

There are several ways to digitize photos. Scanning photos yourself provides control over the process, but sometimes convenience is the name of the game. Professional photo digitization services are a surefire way to ensure a quality product, preserving your memories and the original photos.

    Why use a digitization service?

  • No scanning equipment required.
  • Saves time on scanning and digital touch-ups.
  • Can digitize unusual formats such as slides, negatives, or movie reels.
  • Expert service that produces high-quality scans.

Digitization Options

Mail-in Service: EverPresent

  • Mail materials to their Massachusetts office.
  • Includes dust removal and cleaning services.
  • Costs range from $0.59 per standard photo, slide, or negative, to $2.99 per photo album or scrapbook page.
  • Extra-delicate photos, captioning, advanced image retouching, and meta-tagging cost extra.
  • Produces a private download link and a physical USB drive or DVD, and materials are then returned via mail.


Local service: FedEx Office

  • National chain offering scanning, printing, and shipping services.
  • Self-service, on-site scanners or scanning guided by service representatives.
  • Often offers small and large format scanners.
  • No options for specialized media such as slides or film reels.
  • Pricing varies based on location.

Best DIY option

  • Scan many photos quickly.
  • Control over the scanned product.
  • No hidden service fees.
  • Bundled software enables easy organization.
  • Less cost-effective for smaller, one-off scanning projects.
  • Difficult to scan larger photos.

Read more about digitization services in 3 Best Photo Digitization Services Available.

Tips for Digitizing Old Photos

Physical photos become more and more fragile as they age, but the memories they represent only grow more precious. Scanning old, delicate photos presents particular challenges, but is vital to protect them from the ravages of time and make them easier to share and organize.

    Why you should digitize photos

  • Easy sharing via the internet.
  • Permanent preservation.
  • Safe from natural disasters.
  • Easy to store and organize.

How to digitize old photos safely

Before scanning

  • Avoid touching photo surfaces to keep them clear of finger oils. Consider wearing cotton gloves during handling.
  • Dust your photos and scanning surface with a microfiber cloth or compressed air.
  • Don't try to undo creases, but do try to keep photos flat when they're being scanned. Use acid-free glue to repair torn photos.
  • Use scanners with automatic document feeders for high-volume, non-delicate materials. Use flatbed scanners for more delicate photos.

During scanning

  • Scan in at least 300 DPI.
  • Scan into JPEG files for maximum space efficiency, BMP for large files of unparalleled visual quality, or PNG for a compromise between the two.
  • Use carrier sheets to protect delicate photos.

After scanning

  • Back up scanned photos to the cloud to keep them safe and easy to share.
  • Store physical photos in acid-free portfolios or archiving bins to preserve color accuracy for as long as possible.

Read more about digitizing delicate photos in Need to Digitize Old Photos? 8 Tips for Preserving Those Memories. .

Did You Know?: PCMagazine described the ScanSnap iX1400 as “compact, friendly, and easy behind the scenes.” Click here to read the full review and learn why it earned an “excellent” 4 out of 5 rating.

How to Digitize Videos

Videos can't be converted using a standard home scanner. Instead, they require specialized equipment that varies based on the format of the video. Magnetic tape technology such as VHS and Betamax, film reels, even early digital formats such as DVD — each requires different technology. But the process for each is relatively simple and easy to complete at home.

    Digitization services

  • Walmart Photo can transfer VHS, Betamax, Video8, DV and select other formats. Orders can be placed online, and materials can be mailed or dropped off at a local Walmart.
  • EverPresent offers the same services, plus additional video editing and custom labels for physical copies.
  • VistaPix Media offers 8mm and Super 8 film conversion, plus standard video tape conversion.

How to digitize videos yourself

Video cassettes

  • Requires a VCR with A/V-out ports, a video capture device and software, and a computer.
  • Begin by connecting your video capture device to your computer via USB and the VCR or Betamax player to the capture device via A/V cables.
  • Start the video capture software, name the video, estimate the recording length, choose your input, and set the aspect ratio.
  • Insert the cassette into the VCR/Betamax player and press play. You should see video and hear audio in the capture software. Press record to begin digitizing.
  • Once finished recording, use the capture software to edit the digital video file.

8mm film

  • Requires an 8mm to digital converter and an SD card.
  • Follow the instructions on your converter to set up your film reels, feeding the film reel through the spokes and tabs to ensure the device can see the film frames and play without hiccups.
  • Turn on the converter. You should see an image from your film reel on the display.
  • Dial in your exposure and sharpness levels, then press record.
  • When the conversion is complete, remove and reverse the film reels to rewind the film onto its original reel.


  • Requires a DVD drive and conversion software such as Handbrake.
  • Attach your DVD drive to your computer and insert the disc you want to convert.
  • Open your conversion software and select the file you want to convert.
  • Set your conversion options, selecting resolution and frame rate, and choose a file title and output location.
  • Start converting. If more than one video file appears on the DVD, some software will allow you to add the other files to a queue to convert them automatically.
  • When the videos have finished converting, you'll see them in the folder you selected before.
Read more about digitizing old videos in How to Preserve and Digitize Videos

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Our recommendation: ScanSnap scanners

We know you have no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a home document scanner. We pride ourselves on having spent the last 50+ years designing and developing some of the most beloved electronics in the world, including our line of award-winning, easy-to-use, one-touch ScanSnap scanners.

With digitized photos, you never need to worry about losing them to flooding, fire, or simple misplacement. They'll stay preserved in prime condition for friends, family, and future generations to enjoy. Our powerful and intuitive scanners are here to help. Click here to learn more and shop the full line of ScanSnap scanners.

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