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How to Pick a Photo Scanner: The Complete Guide

Digitize all of your family memories and important files with these helpful tips.

Whether you want to share treasured memories on social media, or archive business-critical photos for safekeeping, every family, home office, or small businesses should have a quality photo scanner on hand. However, knowing which features to look for can be tricky, especially if you’re not scanning photos regularly.

Explore our ultimate guide to photo scanners to learn everything you need to know about what to look for in a quality scanner, as well as how to scan any kind of photo you might come across.

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How to scan any kind of photo


How to scan

  • With a flatbed scanner: Open the lid, ensure the scanning area is clean, and place the photo on the scanner, image side down. Close the lid and press the scan button on the scanner or in your software.
  • With a manual or automated document feeder: Stack your photos together, ensuring you have properly lined them up. Place the stack onto the feeder, image side down, and press the scan button on your scanner or in your software.

Most photo scanners made today can even handle older, more delicate or awkward photos like Polaroids with ease. While some photos may require special care and attention, you can digitize most of your photo collection with a few easy steps.

Important scanning tips

Handle with care

If you are handling photos that are several decades old, be sure to wear nitrile gloves when handling them to prevent dirt and oil from further damaging the print. Also, only handle photos on the sides, and avoid stacking more than a few photos on top of one another.

Watch your dpi

Dpi stands for “dots per inch,” and it represents the overall quality of your scan. The higher your dpi, the better the reproduction, but it will take longer to scan and result in a larger file size. Online photos look excellent at 300 dpi, while 450-600 dpi is perfect for photo editing or physical reprints.

For Polaroids

Polaroids and other disposable photo types can bend easily. It’s best to stick with flatbed scanners or straight path feeders when digitizing these photos. Automatic document feeders will work, but they may bend your photos, so process them with care.

Read more about how to handle multiple photos at once, and more in “How to Scan Disposable Photos and 2 Other Kinds of Images.”

Did You Know? The ScanSnap® iX1600 can scan 4”x6” photos in under a second, further reducing processing times with auto-facial orientation and automatic red-eye reduction.

Blast through batches with a photo scanner with a feeder

Photo scanners with feeders are great for:

  • Scanning similarly-sized photos.
  • Families or businesses who regularly scan large volumes of photos.

For older, more delicate photos, a flatbed scanner is perhaps the best fit. But if you need to process dozens or hundreds of photos at once, you’ll likely prefer a scanner with an automated document feeder.

Choosing the right photo scanner with a feeder

Automated jam protection

The last thing you want is for your treasured memories to rip or tear in the automated feeder. Look for scanners with special equipment and detection capabilities to prevent jams before they happen.

Photo processing software

Many scanners include software that automatically removes blemishes or rotates photos to ensure every scan looks right with the push of a button.

Speedy scans

The point of getting a photo scanner with a feeder is to get your stacks of old photos onto your computer as quickly as possible. Look for scanners with photo scanning speeds of a second or less per print for the best results.

Read more about ideal specs and our recommended picks in “Photo Scanners With Feeders: What to Know Before You Buy.

Save on space with a photo scanner and printer combo

Photo scanner printers are perfect for:

  • Families looking to share memories with friends and loved ones.
  • Home offices that want the functionality of both a photo scanner and printer without taking up valuable space.
  • Small businesses that need to save on funds by condensing two crucial functions into a single device.

Some people might only scan or print a handful of photos or documents every year. Others may need the functionality of both devices in a small footprint to save space. In that case, a photo scanner printer might be right for you.

The benefits of owning a photo scanner printer

Save space

Whether you’re living in a small apartment or need to save space in your office, photo scanner printers offer the functionality of two separate devices in a single package.

Stay organized

Digitizing important photos or documents allows you to keep them sorted and readily available, even as your physical copies degrade over time, end up damaged, or even misplaced.

Reduce costs

Finding the right all-in-one device means you only need to spend money on a single device. Photo scanner printers often reduce other expenses, like maintenance, power consumption, and software licenses.

Read more about the benefits of a combo device in “9 Reasons to Invest in a Photo Scanner Printer.”

Pairing your photo scanner with the right software package

Photo scanner software can help you:

  • Easily organize photos in local and network storage.
  • Support multiple file types, like JPEGs, BMPs, or PDFs for online use.
  • Manage multiple scanning devices across your home or office network.

Scanning the perfect photo takes more than finding the proper hardware. The right software ensures that your scans are digitized in high-quality files, tagged and organized for easy retrieval, and restored after experiencing the ravages of time.

Features you should look for in scanning software

Intuitive interface

If your software isn’t easy to use, you’re less likely to use it. Look for solutions that provide one-touch scanning options, automatic file naming, and other time-saving features.

Image restoration

Chances are your photos aren’t going to be in the best of shape. High-quality photo scanning software includes automatic and manual touch-up features to enhance colors and reduce blemishes.

Optical character recognition (OCR)

Modern scanning software can recognize text within scanned photos and documents and make that text interactive — perfect for extracting content from books, certificates, and other important files.

Read more about how the right software makes scanning simple in “The 7 Must-Have Features of the Best Photo Scanning Software Packages.”

Did You Know? Every ScanSnap scanner comes packed with ScanSnap Home, which offers simple one-button scanning and built-in OCR and image correction features.

Digitize your business’ photo archives fast with a photo scanning service

Why are photo scanning services necessary?

  • They have access to industry-grade photo scanners that are capable of processing photo negatives, portraits, large prints, and more — regardless of age or condition.
  • They are experts in photo restoration, capable of reducing blemishes and repairing decades-old photographs, so that digital copies are as pristine as possible.

Photo scanning services help take the guesswork out of digital photo archival, whether you’re a small business that lacks the resources to make high-quality scans or an enterprise that needs to rapidly process tens of thousands of images.

What to consider when looking for a photo scanning service

Time for turnaround

Many factors will affect how long it takes for you to get your photos scanned, including the number of photos you have, the complexity of work that needs to be done, and whether you can drop them off locally or need to ship your photos to their location.

Ease of transfer

Some services provide special shipping boxes to protect your photos during transit and will mail them back to you the same way. Many will also provide links to instant cloud downloads of the finished, digitized work, in addition to physical discs or USB thumb drives containing your files.

Home or office focus

Some photo scanning services specialize in personal photo collections and cannot handle the volume of photos a larger business might require. Always check the services’ capabilities before agreeing to send your photos off.

Read more about which services best meet your needs in "Choosing a Photo Scanning Service: What Businesses Need to Know."

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Our recommendation: The ScanSnap product line

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.  There’s a ScanSnap scanner for you, regardless of your photo scanning needs or space requirements. If you want something compact, the ScanSnap iX1300 offers simple Wi-Fi scanning in virtually any environment. Or check out our flagship ScanSnap iX1600, which includes a 50-page automatic document feeder for larger photo scanning projects. Our ScanSnap scanners come equipped with ScanSnap Home, which makes photo organization and image correction a breeze, including intelligent features such as auto-facial orientation and red-eye reduction. Click here to learn more and shop the full line of ScanSnap scanners.