The DPI You Should Be Scanning Your Paper Photographs

DPI pulldown menu when scanning photosOne of the most important decisions you face when scanning anything with your scanner is choosing what dpi (“dots per inch”) to scan with. And specifically for this post, what is the best dpi to use when scanning and archiving your 8×10″ and smaller paper photographic prints – which for most people, make up the majority of our pre-digital collection.

Making this decision was very challenging for me and certainly a huge part of my 8 year delay. The reason for this is that dpi is the critical variable in a fairly simple mathematical equation that will determine several important outcomes for your digital images:

 

  • Detail – how much image detail you will extract from your photograph
  • Image Size – how much resolution in pixels you will have to work with (e.g. 2400 x 3000 pixels)
  • File Size – how large the file size will become (e.g. 64.9 MB or 64,878,462 bytes)

 

It’s definitely a decision you want to make before you complete your very first scan. Trust me, you don’t want to get halfway through your collection and realize you could have been extracting more image detail from your prints if you had just chosen a slightly higher dpi to begin with.

If you study the routine of a professional photo restorer, you will learn they tend to see each photograph as a separate challenge – like a doctor attending to an ailing patient for the first time. It’s a laborious investigative process for them. They may even scan each print several times with varying dpi’s, carefully comparing each image until they find the most appropriate dpi for the photo’s personalized workflow.

Because you probably have anywhere from hundreds to a few thousand photos on average in your family’s collection, it’s not practical or even reasonable for me to suggest we would want to attempt such perfectionism. So instead what I decided to do was focus my effort on finding a single dpi setting we could scan with for each print dimension in our collections – like a 3×3″, 4×6″ or a 5×7″ picture. This way, not only is it one less decision you will have to make when you’re sitting in front of a large stack of photographs to scan, but it will also create a pleasant consistency across your entire digital collection.

I know, so far this all sounds great doesn’t it?

 

Well the trouble with trying to settle on just one dpi setting per dimension is that it’s going to be used to produce (in most cases) just one “master” digital file that we will be archiving. So this one dpi is burdened with producing a satisfactory result for each of the three important outcomes I listed above.

To make it easier for us to wrap our heads around this problem, I have summarized all of my concerns into this one question:

What dpi should we scan our paper photographs with that will capture as much detail stored in them as we possibly can, will create a manageable file size, but will also produce enough image resolution should we choose to do some radical cropping or print out an average-sized enlargement from them someday?

Before we go any further, I feel it necessary to mention the term “dpi” really is incorrect when we’re talking about scanning images. Because of laziness in the industry, we have been saddled with this acronym carried over from “halftone dots per inch” used by press reproduction with screened plates used for magazines and newspapers.

Instead, what we are dealing with are actually pixels and not dots. It’s really referred to as ppi or “pixels per inch.” The resolution of an image on your computer monitor is measured by the amount of pixels tall and pixels wide they are composed of (e.g. 2162 × 2194 pixels). However, to avoid any unneeded confusion here and because we are talking about the setting in your scanner software that almost always refers to ppi as dpi, I will use dpi instead. Just understand that as far as the setting on your scanner, they mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.

Alright then. Now that we have that taken care of, let’s figure this out.

Choosing DPI Based on Time Required

One of the biggest mistakes I find people make when choosing the dpi is allowing the length of time it takes to complete the scan influence their decision. Those new to scanning may be surprised to learn that the higher the dpi, the longer it takes for the scanner to make its capturing pass and for the computer the process the information. I’ve recorded for you the time it takes my current scanner, the Epson Perfection v600, to complete scans with various dpi’s.

Scanning Photos DPI - Five Women imageScanning Times for a 3.5×3.5″ Print on an Epson Perfection V600
DPI 150 300 400 600 800 1200 2400 3200 4800
Time Elapsed (mins:sec) :11 :12 :14 :18 :31 1:02 2:34 3:53 6:37

You can see there is in fact a vast difference in the amount of time required to scan at one of its lowest settings (150 dpi) and scanning with one of its highest (4800 dpi). But more importantly, I want you to notice the time it takes to scan at 300 dpi through 800 dpi is almost the same length of time. On this model, we are only talking about a difference of 19 seconds. And specifically between 300 and 600 dpi, it’s only a measly 6 seconds.

All scanners scan at different speeds so your scanner may or may not be slower than this model. But if it is, chances are the percentage of time between each of the dpi settings will be very similar. Regardless, if you think you are going to be one of the ones waiting impatiently for your scanner to work its magic on a higher dpi, I would like you to remember this. Scanning and archiving your family’s photo collection is an investment. It’s going to be an investment of your time and energy, and for that reason, you probably will only want to do this one time.

I believe it’s worth a few extra moments – as agonizing as you may find them to be – to insure your image quality isn’t being compromised by rushing the process. Open wounds need time to heal, baking dough needs time to rise, and photo scanners need time to scan. Got it?

To fill the extra time, consider taking an extra long sip of your nonfat mocha latte, play solitaire, watch some television, or better yet – lightly dust off your next photo to be scanned with a lint free cloth.

So what happens when you scan with the dpi set too low?

Paper prints were never intended to replace the original slides and negatives they were made from – they simply can’t hold that much detail. Instead they were only made so it would be easy to share them. We could print them out, stick them in a fun colorful album and bring them around town to show our family and friends.

 

If you are fortunate to have the original film negatives or slides, you definitely want to use them instead of your prints to create the highest quality digital images possible.

 

Sadly, many of us have accidentally misplaced our negatives or threw them in the trash throughout the years and are only left with these fair to moderate paper representations. But don’t get me wrong – we are lucky to have these. Just talk for a few minutes with someone who lost their entire collection to a house fire and you will want to cut them off mid-story and rush home to your shoebox of Polaroids and give them a big ol’ hug! I’m not kidding. Really hug them. Hug them now.

Paper prints can only hold up to 200 or 300 dpi worth of image detail. If you’re really blessed, you might have some prints with detail up to 600 dpi.

It’s really difficult to look at a photographic print and know how many “dots per inch” of detail it holds. Professionals that have been doing this for many years can probably tell based on a lot of criteria such as the year it was printed, the type of film negative it was exposed with, the type of paper it was printed on etc. But for the rest of us, I think it’s fair to say we can only estimate after some trial and error.

If you’re really motivated, take one of your prints and scan it at different resolutions such as 100, 300, 600 and 1200 dpi. Then put each one of your images on your computer monitor (zooming in when necessary) and compare the level of detail. Try and determine at which ppi setting you no longer are getting more picture detail from the setting below it. This dpi setting is then the one you may want to use for this photo because it gives you all the detail at a smaller filesize than that of a higher dpi setting.

 

So if you scan with too low of a dpi – for example 75, 100 or 150 dpi – you run an incredible risk of not capturing all of the detail that your paper prints are holding.

 

In order for us to settle on one dpi setting per photo dimension, we will need to choose one that, in many cases, will be too “high” – attempting to capture more detail than is realistically there – just to insure that we are able to capture the detail when it is available in a given print.

So can you scan with too high of a DPI?

When you buy a dedicated photo scanner, or even an all-in-one printer/scanner, you are led to believe from the specifications on the box it came in there is some real value in scanning with these extremely high dpi scanner settings.

I mean if the scanner is rated for “6400 x 9600 dpi” and that’s why I paid so much for this new fancy model, why not just go for it and set it to that 9600 dpi?

 

That’s a fair question to ask, especially considering all my talk about making sure that when you scan a photograph, you understand this may be the last you will ever get to scan it.

In most cases, you won’t do any harm scanning at unnecessarily high resolutions. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking the higher up you go, the more detail you will extract – because it probably isn’t there to begin with. If you had this much detail, it would be in your original film negative or slide – not in the print.

Also keep in mind the higher up you go, the exponentially greater amount of hard drive space you will need to save the file and the faster computer you will need to process this information in a photo manager. For example, the 3.5 x 3.5″ print at 4800 dpi (48-bit) I did for the chart above took up a massive 2.22 GB (2,216,808,780 bytes) of disk space. Those interested in archiving their masters on today’s single-sided recordable DVD’s will be unhappy to learn you will only get 2 of these to fit on a single-sided (4.7gb) recordable dvd.

I would agree that a 2.22 gigabyte image is rather large and way too excessive to be the average file size for your collection. But you really shouldn’t concern yourself if you start to see file sizes between 40 megabytes and 200 megabytes – especially when you choose to work with file size intense 48-bit uncompressed (TIFF) settings. And on occasion they could even be larger than that for your special photos.

We are finally past the time when hard drive space and processing power is in short supply for digital images. Except for some of the ultra-portable computers, an average personal computer bought today is more than competent at handling 100MB images, and enormous multi-terabyte (thousands of gigabytes) hard drives can be found under $100 if you shop around.

Keep in mind the ultimate goal for these scans are for their archival purposes, and will find their greatest reward years and years from now when computing power and storage space won’t even be a consideration anymore.

Optical Resolutions vs. Digital

The really high resolutions however – 2400, 3200 and 4800 dpi – are really intended for capturing really small and highly detailed sources like film negatives and slides.

If you want to experiment with these resolutions, just make sure you stay away from the “digital” ones. On the box your scanner or printer/scanner combo came in, you will see a rating with two numbers. The Epson Perfection v600 for example is rated for 6400 x 9600 dpi of resolution. The first number is the highest “optical” resolution your scanner is capable of, and therefore the highest dpi you should ever scan with. The second number, is often the highest resolution it’s capable of scanning digitally – faking the results by interpolating the data. Thankfully, some scanning software now won’t even let you select the digital dpi’s from the list.

In the case of the Epson Perfection v600, the maximum “digital” resolution is actually 12,800 dpi, much higher than the second number given. So you may need to consult your specifications printed on the box or find it in the printed or .pdf manual if you are curious about your scanner’s digital capabilities.

Epson v600 Scanner dpi ratings on outside of box

The Advantage of Having All This Archived Image Resolution

In the end, there won’t be any benefit to having our entire collection in a digital format if we aren’t able to make paper prints from them like we can with our film negatives. Just like we need a certain amount of “dpi” to capture images into the computer, we need a certain amount to print them back out to paper. The larger the piece of paper you want to print on, the more image resolution you are going to need in your digital files.

Printers today need on average between 200 and 300 ppi (dpi) of image resolution information to print a high quality image on high quality paper. And I am going to make the assumption that most of us seldom print out a photograph larger than 8×10 inches. Which is good, because almost all of the printers out there won’t even print larger than 8×10 inches!

I know you probably hate math as much as the next person, so don’t worry – I’ll do it for you. What this means is that in order to print out a photo on an 8×10″ piece of paper, we need up to a 2400 x 3000 ppi (dpi) image. Here’s my work:

(8 inches  x  300 ppi)  x  (10 inches  x  300 ppi)  =  2400 x 3000 pixels per inch

Given a choice, without a doubt in my mind, it’s better to scan too high than to scan too low.

 

And if you don’t want to take just my word for it (grin), when I started learning all about scanning years ago, I found great comfort in this quote from Wayne Fulton of scantips.com and kept going back to it:

It is true that if the image might be resized after the scan, it’s always much better quality to resize to reduce the image size rather than to resize to increase the image size. If you aren’t sure what your future intentions for the image might be, and won’t be able to scan it again, then it’s probably best to err on the large side (if storage space allows, up to reasonable amounts anyway). Resizing to be smaller discards excess pixels. But resizing to be larger must create (or fake) new interpolated pixels which were not in the original scan. There is no additional detail possible in interpolated pixels, even if the image is larger. The results are not at all the same as scanning at the higher resolution.

Okay so really, what DPI is the best for each print dimension?

We are finally to the point where I can tell you what dpi I use on average for each print dimension. It was just a matter of crunching the numbers to insure each sized print receives a high enough dpi to not only capture all of the detail possible but will also have enough image resolution to safely print out an 8×10″ photograph from it.

So here’s what you have been waiting for. Here are the dpi settings I came up with to fulfill all of my concerns yet still produces file sizes that are manageable on today’s hardware.

DPI Scanner Settings for Archiving Paper Prints
Print Dimensions 2.5×3.5″ 3.5×3.5″ 4×4.5″ 3.5×5″ 4×5″ 4×6″ 4×7″ 5×7″ 8×10″
DPI Setting 1000 900 600 600 600 600 600 600 600

Again, these dpi’s are formulated to be used across the board for lots and lots of prints. You might decide certain prints in your collection are way too soft and lack the detail to warrant the suggested dpi so if you want to scan these few at 300 dpi for instance, be my guest. And for example, you may find some black and white prints seem to have a tremendous amount of detail, so you may decide it’s worth scanning them at 1200 dpi. Or maybe there are a few prints here and there you know you will want to make really big enlargements of someday – your prized few. Whatever reason, just use the above settings as the default.

And a little note here – the pulldown menu in your scanning software where you choose the dpi may not have every conceivable value to choose from – in this case 900 or 1000 dpi. But chances are you can choose another dpi such as 800, hit the delete key to clear that amount and then type in the value you wish. If this doesn’t work, you may have to choose the preset value below or above my suggestion. Of course you know now to choose higher dpi right?

Be content in knowing that what these default settings have done for you is create a digital collection with consistent image dimensions throughout that will be extremely beneficial to you as you begin to work and print with them in your image managers. You won’t have to worry whether you have enough detail and resolution for future tasks because you have already planned ahead for them.

 

What dpi do you use to scan your paper prints with? Has this made you change your mind one way or the other? Tell me what you think about all of this in the comment section below.

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173 Comments on "The DPI You Should Be Scanning Your Paper Photographs"

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Peter Fuller
Guest

THis is a fantastic site. I have been wrestling with all these issues and your ste is by far the best of any information that I have found – you are answering exactly the same questions that I have

Thank you!

Mel
Guest

Thanks for the detailed posts on photo archiving. I was looking for some tips on naming conventions, and was reading a few of your posts. Lots of good info with given reasoning. I was going to scan at 300 for normal, and 600 for particularly good photos, but think I will shoot for 600. I may need to pick up another drive at some point.

Mark
Guest

in order to print out a photo on an 8×10″ piece of paper, we need up to a 2400 x 3000 ppi (dpi) image. Here’s my work:

(8 inches x 300 ppi) x (10 inches x 300 ppi) = 2400 x 3000 pixels per inch

The result of the equation is actually 2400×3000 pixels, not 2400×3000 pixels per inch. So to print the image at that size with 300 dpi without interpolating (stretching the image), the original scanned picture will have to have been one of the following:
1. 8 inches x 10 inches at 300 dpi
2. 4 inches x 5 inches at 600 dpi
3. 12 inches x 15 inches at 200 dpi

Basically, like you said originally, you can’t get more quality out of a picture than it had to begin with. Scanning at excessively high DPIs will not make the 8″x10″ printout higher quality.

Great article. I learned a lot.

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Curtis,

In general, I agree with your scanning resolutions for prints, assuming you will never want to print them larger than 8 x 10 inches, and then use the full frame without any cropping. True, only a relatively few, expensive inkjet printers will print larger than 8 inches, although some will print up to 8 x 44 inches (Epson R380, for example), but places like Staples offer poster printing up to at least 20 x 30 inches for less than $30.00 CAD per poster. Thus, it’s entirely possible that one might wish to have a number of images printed at larger sizes.

As you mention in one of your responses, if an image is to be cropped significantly, a higher scan resolution is recommended. If possible, scan the full image at an appropriate resolution for the largest conceivable desired print size and save as a separate file, then crop to the desired portion in the scanner’s preview and rescan just the cropped portion at the appropriate resolution and save as a second file. While I haven’t scanned many prints that I have the copyright for, when I scan my own slides or negatives, I set VueScan’s output size to 11 x 17 inches, 2400 ppi, 48-bit color, DNG+JPG. This usually works out to between 270 and 300 ppi for the scanned file. My reason for choosing this print size is that I might someday want to submit some of my files to magazines for reproduction and I want to provide them with something they could reproduce as a double-page spread on 8.5 x 11 inch pages.

Incidentally, the 9600 ppi/dpi optical resolution on the V600 is only relevant for transparent media, slides and negatives. The 6400 ppi/dpi is the optical maximum resolution for reflective media (prints, newspapers, etc.)

Art

Paul
Guest

Hello,
I have found your site a useful tool for us newbies entering the world of archive scanning. A mistake that I have fallen into is to scan lots of photos then research what resolution I should have used afterwards. I have scanned all my photos in at 1200dpi, apart from disk space, does this extra high resolution produce any further disadvantages to my scans? I don’t wish to re-scan them all to a lower resolution if I don’t need to. I hope to eventually use these to print off copies at a later stage and maybe even blow them up for wall art. Please help. All my best.

Paul
Guest

Hello Curtis and Art, thank you so much for your in depth answers, they have helped me a lot. I very much appreciate your time in responding and your advice. Keep up the excellent work!

nancy
Guest

thanks for the chart.
Looks like I’m in the ball park on most of what I’ve been scanning.

My canoscan 9950 can manually set the dpi and also has a scan at % …which on small prints…I’ve noticed if I scan at 600 dpi and push the percentage to 200-300%…it gives me more detail and a larger file.
Is this helping or hurting…??

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi again, Nancy,

Pushing the percentage to 200-300% and increasing the resolution to 600 dpi is a good way to gain detail in your scans, even though it does significantly increase file size. It’s much better to increase an image’s size in the scanner than to scan at its actual size and try to enlarge it in editing software. To see this, take any sample image you wish, scan it at actual size, at 600 dpi. Save the file with a distinctive name. Now, scan the same image again, but this time increase the percentage to 200% or 300%, your choice, also at 600 dpi. Save this scan with a different name. Look at the two scanned files at the same viewing magnification, preferably 1:1 or Actual Size, and compare the visible detail and sharpness. You’ll see more of the first scan on any given size monitor when your view size is set to Actual Size than you will see of the second scan when it’s viewed at Actual Size since it’s either 2 or 3 times bigger than your first image. For further proof, print each file to fit an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper, even if you just use a black and white laser printer and plain copier paper. Examine the detail and sharpness of both prints. There’s no need to use expensive photo paper or color ink for this simple experiment. If you want to scan a small original, especially a postage stamp or even a ‘wallet size’ print but be able to print it to 8 x 10 inches, increasing the percentage before you scan is the best way to get a suitable size of file to print at larger sizes.

Art Taylor

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Curtis,

Sorry I beat you to responding to both of Nancy’s comments but I checked my email last night, saw a note about your newest post and two other notes (re her comments) so I read the new post, checked the other notices, and responded to each of them. It was pure coincidence that I happened to see and respond to them first. Thanks for your confidence in me as shown in your response to her.

Art

nancy
Guest

thank you both!!!
I appreciate the responses…and the encouragement that I seem to be headed in the right direction.

I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing harm…by increasing the percentages…(wasn’t sure if it was the same thing as what you get when you go to the high dpi numbers…the scanner advertises).

I originally saw that each time I increased the percentage on mostly wallet size prints…they looked so much more detailed than just at 100%.

And…regarding my .tiff vs. .jpg debate…
I’m becoming more convinced to just switch to .tiff.
I select it when scanning…so I never get the “save as” option…although I do know what you both were talking about.

…but am I reading this right…that even right after the scan straight to jpg…info gets lost?

I never use the original scan…
I make a duplicate and edit it…or use it for blog posting or printing.

It’s just frustrating to spend all that time…only to have, yes Costco, edit it back down on a digital upload. I guess the way to go is to take it in on a disc.

As of late…I’ve been using jpgs for scans that I think I will never print + lots of borrowed photos…mainly to just get thru them and return
…but I’m doing both a tiff and a jpg for prints that I want to last FOREVER. (mostly cabinet cards and really good prints)…

but you all are right…hard drive space is cheap and what does it hurt.
I’m going to have to move onto that post about the best ways to resize/resample these huge files down for internet use…so I can share them with family.

thanks again!

Naya
Guest

Hi Nancy!

Happy to find your site! I am new to scanning and I just started buying old polaroid cameras and of course producing/keeping polaroid photos. I live in the tropics and the photos last up to three months then it all turns blue (due to the humidity) unless I keep them in the dry box. My Brother MFC-260C scanner (actually fax, scan, print, copy- er) says it scans 600×2,400dpi optical. You have an option to use 1,200dpi when scanning. Makes me confused which is my highest dpi. The one on the info (600dpi) or the one in the scanning option (1,200dpi).

Also, I have read a book that say’s for polaroid photos scanned on 300dpi on image size set to 8×8 inches, is a great size for making prints. Dunno what size is “great size” they are talking. But I saw that they (the author/s) printed a 40×30 inch size photo. I wonder if this size is from 300dpi scan or even 600dpi (which my scanner have). My brother scanner does not have an image size 8×8 option so I use an image size of 4×6 or 5×7. Am I doing it wrong?

To make the story short (Tadah!! haha!), I would like to scan my polaroid photos. And be able to print it into A3 (or double of that size), 40×30, 40×40 image. Is 600dpi (optical – because that’s what it say’s on my scanner) enough or should I get a Canoscan lide 210 scanner that has 4800x 4800dpi? Money is not an issue. I have saved money if I need to buy the canoscan.

Would be very happy to hear your advice/ tip.

Thank You in advance! smile

Naya
Guest

Sorry got confused with the comments. This message is for Curtis ^^
Please ignore me addressing it to Nancy. But hi to you Nancy anyway and to all who made the previous comments!

*I’m pinching myself with this mistake I have done* Hahaha! grin

nancy
Guest

: )

just saw this!

Curtis?
I’m gonna let you sort Naya’s question out! : )

Jesse
Guest

TL;DR

WAY too much information. Perhaps offer a “skip to chart” link at the top so we can save all that theory and just get the answer we came for?

Tom
Guest

WOW! Where have you been all my digital life? What a great website! —- It took me a LOT of time to come up with the truisms and good advice you have so clearly condensed here to a form useable by those of us seeking to preserve old pictures. My digital collection already includes 10s of 1,000s of images so I feel quite good that you have validated many of my scanning practices. I know I have much yet to learn and your website I think is going to be a real help to me going forward with archiving and cataloging my ever growing collection which starts in the 1880s. —– THANKS!!

swirlingmistsoftime
Guest

The best site about scanning photos! I have been doing exactly what you suggest, and I am happy with my collection of photos on my computer!

Sharon Chard-Yaron
Guest

Curtis- quick question (I think)– My parents are now both deceased.. the framed photographs on the wall of their home/ i.e parents at various events with other VIP’s (white house, Congress, Lincoln Memorial etc…)- was thinking of taking them out of the frame and having them scanned (jpeg) for family members. Not sure if I want them printed also, but maybe; Some of the photos are black and white; we do not have the negatives. Do you have a recommendation re dpi? I came across this company http://www.memoryhub.com/convert/photo-scanning Since I don’t know what I’m doing and some of these photos may go into a book, what do you think.. just go for 1200 dpi or is 600 enough? Thanks. Sharon

Jane
Guest

You are amazing! Thankyou so much for publishing online your lessons learnt from scanning – you have saved me hours!!

George
Guest

This website is amazing! I currently am scanning in lots of old, mostly smaller B&W’s picts on my Epson v-500. I use most everything that I have learned on this site; (dpi settings, naming convention, etc).
However, I do have a concern, I begin by pre-scanning in small picts (example- 2×3 at 700 dpi), then setting print size to 4×6, then doing final scan. How do I ensure that I will not get cropped picts when I upload to Walgreen & pick up? This does not happen always, mostly when you really do not want it to happen. I have read most everything on your website, along with reading lot of info on scantip.com site. Any help would be much appreciated.

Emma
Guest

Hi lots of great info here, but I’m afraid I’m not that technically minded and wondered if you could advise please? I’m looking to buy an all in one printer but I have lots of old photos mainly 4×6 and 5×7 size….I want to scan photos to my pc and archive them all and make a photo book as a 60th birthday present….I’ve seen a few canon all in ones but not sure wether to get the 4800 x 1200 dpi one or the more expensive 9600 x 2400 dpi one….I’m a complete novice so any help would be greatly appreciated!!
Thank you smile

Emma
Guest

Sorry ive just realised that the dpi I have given is actually the print dpi…. The canon pixma mg6450 is £100 and the scan dpi is 1200 x 2400….the canon mg7150 is £150 and the scan dpi is 2400 x 4800….I really want to know if its worth paying the extra £50 for the higher dpi? Will it produce better results for my old photo prints?
Thanks to anyone who can help, I just want to be told what to buy!! wink

Rolf
Guest

Thank you for a great article

I am planning start scanning my own collection and wanted to ask you if it would be worth investing in a new scanner as far as picture quality is concerned, as the one I own supports 1200dpi and would therefore be enough.
(Canon CanoScan N1240U USB flatbed, at least 10 years old)

I understand the newer ones are faster, but is the picture quality difference really noticeable?

Emma
Guest

Hi Curtis thank you for your reply.

I decided to go for the more expensive one in the end…..I am really happy with it, scans the old photos beautifully in just under a minute which I think is ok! Also prints photos really good quality photos which is a bonus!

Although I totally underestimated the work involved in doing a photo book, I’ve been at it for ages now…nearly there though!
Thanks again! smile

itsizzi
Guest

I’m so happy to have found this site. Thank you so much for all the great information. I have been trying to get my head around these conversions for a photography class that I’m taking. We’re creating collages in Photoshop that can be printed 8.5×11, and must use scanned print photos. I have everything from old 2×3 Polaroid snapshots up to 5×7, and I wasn’t sure about the best settings for each. Since I will be cropping and editing, I will have to enlarge some features in some of the small ones, so that I can copy them into the larger photos. I am hoping not to lose too much information, or pixilate them when I do that. If I understand you correctly, you suggest to scan small snapshots 1000-1200 and 600 as an average for everything else. I had thought it was better to scan at the highest resolution possible for everything, but how can you tell what is too high?

pinootie
Guest

Hi, I’m really not savvy when it comes to anything technical, so I’m hoping you can clarify a few things for me.

1. Why would someone want to invest in a scanner such as the Epson Perfection v600 (rated for 6400 x 9600 dpi of resolution) when, if I understood correctly, you are suggesting that we may never need to scan higher than 1000dpi?

2. I’m completely misunderstanding the following statement: “What this means is that in order to print out a photo on an 8×10″ piece of paper, we need up to a 2400 x 3000 ppi (dpi) image.” I read that and then I read your chart suggesting 600dpi for an 8×10 print and I say to myself “I’m obviously not understanding something here”. I’m understanding your statement to suggest scanning at 2400dpi and your chart to suggest scanning at 600dpi. Can you clarify what I missed here?

Thanks for your patience and understanding. I’m in a situation where I moved to a very humid island and my printed photos are getting covered in mold and mildew. I’m trying to figure out which printer to buy, so I can digitalize my photos before they’re destroyed with the weather. I found an all-in-one printer with 1200dpi, but don’t know if I should invest in a machine with a higher dpi. Do you think an all-in-one printer would suffice for this project or is it necessary to invest in a separate scanner?

Thanks again

Tony
Guest

Fantastic! Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts/experiences for all to read. I’m nearly ready to scan hundreds of precious family photos for archiving, but haven’t yet achieved the necessary enthusiasm for getting started. I’ve contemplated many things as you’ve experienced already. I’ve sorted all photos by year, some by family relation etc… I’ve created a small studio to work from and recently been searching for a better performing (larger, newer) scanning solution for easier processing. I’m uncertain as of yet – but, I’m considering an Epson Expressions scanner (large format scanner; Scan Area: 12.2″ x 17.2″). Currently I have a very old CanoScan (10 years old) like mentioned in a previous post, which I’m thinking is worth upgrading before getting serious and beginning my archive adventure. Your Picture Size/Scan DPI chart fills the last void in my planned workflow perfectly! Thanks again!

Doug
Guest

Curtis,

Like you, I’ve been doing this since scanners came out. And like yourself, have found out through trial and error what works best. I find in your post a 2 year old article that is as relevant today as when you wrote it.

By chance I’ve got a background in professional photography, both shooting and lab work. I was trained by and worked for the head of the PPA. I find it ironic that the beginning of your post speaks to the time intensive process it takes a “restorer”. For this is exactly what I was doing boxed up in a tiny room with the lab printer.

Last year I undertook a project to make a photo show for my father’s 90th Birthday. I managed to enlarge a 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ tintype to about 8×10. Just kept on scanning at higher levels until the image was not in focus. I did this for over 300photos. I highly endorse this method to your readers if there is a item they really want to archive at it’s best.

*** Some technical tips for today that were not out 3 years ago in any practical price point.
1st – Buy if possible an Epson LED scanner. (Largest you can afford)
2nd – Buy a used Mac and dedicate for editing & scanning.
3rd – Buy a 2nd screen and use to display scans as you go.

Great article!

Doug

Tony
Guest

Very cool Doug! A couple comments. imho Mac’s aren’t as significant as they once were due to the blurring and advancements made overall with technology of today. PC’s are just as capable, easily. I agree with using an Epson scanner, it’s the best decision I’ve made thus far (and I haven’t even started)! It (Epson Expression 11000XL), bundled with LaserSoft® Imaging SilverFast® Ai and IT8 Target is awesome! It allows me to actually create new, different perspective, photos from the original with the ability to pick and choose what gets scanned. It is remarkable.I’ve got the transparency lid, allowing me to scan slides/transparencies/negatives – I can zoom/scan selected areas + select resolution. Allowing more creativity along the way. My setup isn’t for everyone, and I’m fairly competent with graphics/technology. My last hardware purchase/suggestion is to invest in a 2HDD RAID1 solution (Caldigit VRmini 2 http://www.caldigit.com/VRmini2/ – hopefully available in July this year). The last thing anyone would want is to have your computer/hdd crash after nearly finishing the project. Poof, gone. Disaster recover should be highly considered. A simple RAID1 solution will create copies during the process and in the event of disaster (HDD failure), can be replaced and replicated.

Samantha Charlie
Guest

So if we do want to blow up our scanned photos later, say to a 24 x 36 size, what is the desired dpi setting?

Stacey
Guest

I’m thinking about buying the scansnap ix500 with a document feeder. It has 600 dpi in “normal mode,” and in “excellent mode” it will scan 7pp at 1200 dpi. I keep reading reviews that people think that this is too low of resolution for pictures. According to your article it would be perfect. I like this scanner because it is so easy to use and fast. I can also use it for documents. What are your thoughts on this scanner and the quality I will receive from it. I’m not worried about the pictures being damaged…i’ve tested it and it seems to be very gentle on them. I really enjoyed your article! thanks for your help.

Lindsay Brown
Guest

I’m glad I found this page….Question for you: I’m trying to scan a couple of old 3.5×5.5 (I think that’s their size) photos to print out as 8×10’s. I have the dpi in the scan settings set to 600. But when I open the file in Photoshop and Bridge, the resolution is only saying 72. Please help, this is starting to frustrate me! : ) PS. I have the Epson v600. Thank you so much!

MPardus
Guest

Just wanted to thank you for this extremely detailed and elaborate article. I was exactly trying to figure out which dpi settings I should use to scan my old photos and I found here on this article not only a satisfying answer but also tons of information along with it. And in very enjoying read also. Thanks again for the great article, sir.

Dawn
Guest

Thank you, Curtis, for affirming what I’ve believed and been doing for years, but had absolutely nothing except my own beliefs to back me up!!

upsidedownjim
Guest

I’m thinking of going a different route. I think somewhere in this thread someone listed a link to the Smithsonian’s practice of scanning for 6000px on the long edge.

I worked the DPI I would have to scan various length photos at to get to 6000 px on the long edige:

1″ photo @ 6000 dpi
2″ photo @ 3000 dpi
3″ photo @ 2000 dpi
4″ photo @ 1500 dpi
5″ photo @ 1200 dpi
6″ photo @ 1000 dpi
7″ photo @ 857 dpi (round to 900)
8″ photo @ 750 dpi
9″ photo @ 666 dpi (round to 700)
10″ photo @ 600 dpi

My rationale for scanning at a high DPI:

-All photos could be re-printed at 8×10″
-Can save a copy at a lower DPI if needed.
-Can be viewed on higher resolution screens which I think will be the predominant way scanned photos will be viewed. 4K (3840 x 2160) is likely to replace HD monitors. And following that 8K (7680 x 4320) could replace 4K.

So, a 1″ x 1″ scanned at 6000 dpi would be 6000 px X 6000 px. It would be 3680 px taller on an 8K screen, but that would leave some room for zooming in (if needed).

Due to the increased file size of scanning at high resolution, I’m thinking of scanning at 24-bit colour vs. 48-bit colour.

Does any of my rationale make sense or am I, in fact, going to wind up with worse quality photos by scanning at higher resolution than what may be in the original scan? Will I regret 24-bit vs. 48-bit?

Thanks for any feedback. It is tough making these decisions that you don’t want to regret after scanning thousands of photos.

Rick
Guest

Very good article, thanks for posting it.

One question though;

If 1000 DPI (or even 1200) is the highest resolution recommended why pay $200 for an Epson V600 with 6400 x 9600 resolution when the Epson V370 at $100 gives you 4800 x 9600 resolution, still way more than needed?

leigh
Guest

Hi Curtis,
I have learned so much from these Q & A’s thank you so much for all of the time you’ve spent educating the masses. I probably missed this but what should be selected in the target size pull down menu. Is this the size that you might want to print the image out in the future, or the actual size of the image being scanned ?

Tony
Guest

I’d imagine “target size” is Output, so it’d be a combination of both actual size and what your intent for future use is.

leigh
Guest

I have 6×4’s to scan and want to be able to print them out as 8x10s so I should select 8×10 as target size. Would hate to spend the time and do it incorrectly. Thanks for your response

Tony
Guest

You could scan it, then open the picture in your picture editing software, or Internet Explorer (etc…) for viewing. If an application, select View and if available, Actual Size and/or Print Preview. If opening in a browser you could click the picture (magnifying icon on hover will show if picture is downsized in browser) to show actual size. You should be able to measure on screen to ensure the desire size was scanned. In a graphics application – there should be options that show actual size in Inches also.

Tony
Guest

Also, you’ll want to keep in mind – just because you can scan to enlarge a smaller picture does not necessarily mean it will turn out great quality. It depends on the actual picture size and how much larger you scan to, and orientation. Since I’m no seasoned pro, I’d guess your 6×4 should scan to 8×10 but considering which edge is enlarged, it may not (hence orientation). Trial and error.

Dawn
Guest

Unfortunately, my current scanner (Epson Perfection 3490-3590) scans only the original size. I do wish I could scan at a predetermined size from the scanner, instead of going into Photoshop to do it!!

Tony
Guest

Hi Dawn, I did a quick search. Looks like your scanner uses Epson Scan software? If yes, there are options to change the ‘Destination’ settings. https://files.support.epson.com/htmldocs/pr349p/pr349pug/scan1_5.htm#S-00700-00500-00400

Dawn
Guest

Unfortunately, my current scanner (Epson Perfection 3490-3590) scans only the original size. I do wish I could scan at a predetermined size from the scanner, instead of going into Photoshop to do it!!

Tony
Guest

When in Professional Mode. See Selecting the Scan Resolution section in link above.

Tony
Guest

Sorry, also see Selecting the Scan Size section down page from the Selecting Scan Resolution section, see ‘Target size’ settings.

paulpsoucek
Guest

Mr. Bisel –

Ya know how it is when you can be trolling around the internet forever, then finally have the great fortune of wandering into a treasure trove of information that is succinctly put forth in a friendly fashion?

That would be your “fault,” and I thank you for the wealth of information on the PPI balancing act.

I work in audio, and the sample/bit rate arguments never stop.

Mind you, if we “back-purpose” our needs from what is possible from both the (a) presentation and (b) perception perspectives (referring to audio), we could save a lot of drive space!

That said, I am with you: space is relatively cheap, and I’m a proponent of getting it right in the first place.

Thank you again, and I now know where to turn when I have queries about my bucket list of photo archive creation.

Best,

Paul

Stacy
Guest

ok I read through most of this and I’m not very technical so i didn’t follow all of it.

my question is this: I have some photos from various discs of digital photos, etc. If you have a photo say in jpeg format and you have the original print of the photo would you scan it in using the 600dpi tiff format so you have that instead of the jpeg? I don’t want to make more work for myself but if I’m scanning anyway…. Just wondered yours or others thoughts. I had sent a bunch of photos to a scanning “service” that did a horrible job but I do have the pictures they did on disc. I believe they would be jpegs which means id probably have to rescan all of the ones i sent to them

Also I believe I kept the negatives to a lot of my photos. I’ve never scanned negatives but I bought the epson v600 and it comes with something to scan the negatives so I’m thinking I can do that last — you know in a few years when I’m done scanning the millions of other pictures i still have (since I just started this endeavor). What dpi on the epson v600 would you use to scan negatives?

Calum
Guest

Thanks for the great information in your site.

I’m not clear on the reason for using a high DPI for smaller photos.
Does this imply that small photos have a higher original and inherent level of detail per inch than larger photos?
Or is it for some other reason?

I would have intuitively expected that both larger and smaller photos would have the same original level of detail, and therefore the same DPI should be used when scanning. But maybe I’m wrong here?

Tony
Guest

Curtis, please correct me if I’m wrong – Calum, try thinking of DPI as a type of zoom. The higher the DPI used to scan an image, the larger the outcome. If the picture is too small, and scanned with an aggressive DPI setting, the picture will distort.

Calum
Guest

My question might not have been clear enough. My question was not about the concept of DPI itself, but rather about the fact that Curtis recommended a higher DPI for smaller prints. For example, he recommends 1000 DPI for 2.5×3.5″, and 600 DPI for 5×7″. I’m wondering why he makes this recommendation.
Before I start scanning (and I’d better start some time soon…), I want to check the DPI which I should be using, to make sure I don’t make a mistake on 100’s of prints. And I want to understand the criteria for Curtis’s recommendation, so I can judge for myself.

Here are some possibilities which come to my mind:

A) If a smaller print generally has more detail per square inch than a larger printer, then this is certainly a good reason to use a larger DPI for smaller prints.

B) If small and large prints generally have the same level of detail, then there are two possibilities:

B.1) Scanning at 1000 DPI is overkill for small prints, as this is beyond the level of detail actually contained in the original print. This would mean that 1000 DPI is not capturing any more detail than 600 DPI, so it would be pointless to be scanning at 1000 DPI.

B.2) Scanning at 1000 DPI for small prints captures actual detail in the prints.
In this case, I am presumably losing some potential detail when scanning my larger prints, because I’m using a lower DPI which does not capture all of the detail.
There can be some valid reasons to take this approach of using a lower DPI for larger prints. For example:
1) Using a higher DPI on larger prints results in larger file sizes – I think about 2.77 times bigger. For bigger prints, this can be quite significant, especially if you are using TIFFs.
2) For smaller prints, 600 DPI does not allow you to subsequently print at 8×10″. Using 1000 DPI allows you to do this. For larger prints, 600 DPI is sufficient for subsequently printing at 8×10″, so the same issue does not exist for larger prints.

So I’m wondering which of A, B.1 or B.2 is the reason for Curtis’s recommendation to use a higher DPI for smaller prints.
Or is there some other reason that I’ve missed?

Tony
Guest

I can’t speak for Curtis. The DPI determined at scan time does not relate to the photo’s content, but rather its size. Scanning a small photo at a larger DPI will produce a larger scanned image, allowing you to adjust and/or use the image in a variety of ways. Example: scanning a small photo at a larger DPI would allow you to have a printable version 8×10. Or you could re-size it (smaller) to use for other options. The larger the scan (DPI), the more flexibility/options you’ll end up having. That goes both ways – smaller photos scanned at a greater DPI – the outcome will be a much larger digital copy. The caveat – scanning a large photo with a greater DPI will produce a gigantic (file size/ect.) digital copy. You’ll want to take into consideration the original photo size and adjust the DPI for a more versatile digital copy for use afterwards.

Stella
Guest

I am disappointed. I had an OfficeJet 7620 all-in-one. When upgrading to a new computer, we upgraded the printer/scanner/fax – or so we thought! Newer should be better, right? Our old scanner was capable of 1200dpi. The new one, HP OfficeJet Pro 8520, only 300dpi. As I read this post, it still should be sufficient as I’m not a professional, just interested in preserving family photos as best I can. Am I correct?

Tony
Guest

Stella, are you sure that’s the right model number? I couldn’t find it on HP’s website, or the internet. I’d be surprised if it could only scan at 300 dpi in today’s world. Their lowest end models available (8000 series) show up to 1200×1200 dpi.

Stella
Guest

HP Officejet Pro 8620. It offers 75, 100, 200, 300. Purchased at Costco. Your comment makes me think it was a special purchase just for Costco distribution without all the usual capabilities….

Stella
Guest

Correction. Not purchased at Costco.

Tony
Guest

There must be settings/options you are not seeing. I found that model (8620, not 8520) – it shows scanner optical resolution
1200 dpi.

Stella
Guest

Another correction. Yes, model 8620.

Tony
Guest

The specs for this scanner (all in one) looks like it should be capable of up to 1200 dpi scanning.

Tony
Guest

Maybe you are trying to ‘copy’ instead of ‘scan’?

Stella
Guest

Thank you for all your efforts, Tony. Problem solved but NOT easily. The higher resolution is only available when the “always scan from glass” option is chosen! The other option is “use document feeder if loaded”. It seemed a no brainer to me but evidently not HP! If there’s nothing in the document feeder, it would seem obvious the glass was being used. I don’t like the “always” option. One way or another, it is available but certainly not a user-friendly scanner!

Susan Mac
Guest

Hello Curtis,
I am scanning family photos. My family had a photo processing plant back in the day, so you can image the number of photos I have to scan.

I have a Brother HL-2280 Multi-Function that can scan to 1200 dpi – but only 24-bit I plan to use a software package that will allow me to scan and autocrop multiple images at once. My questions:

1. Do you think the Brother MF is adequate to do the job? Should I break down and buy a separate scanner? i really don’t want to spend a fortune.
2. Anyone prefer any of these software packages and why? Irfanview – Vuescan – Autosplitter – Silverfast
3. Once these are scanned, it will be huge files. Only way to distribute them is passing along a hard drive to each family member to download to their computers?

Thanks for the advice in advance!

Tony
Guest

Personally, I wouldn’t use a multi-function for scanning. That’s just me. Here you can read about bit differences: http://www.shomler.com/30bit.htm I am using Silverfast. I like it and think the company knows their stuff. The version I have came with my scanner. It doesn’t auto crop and save the images after scanned, but I think it is available in upgrade available for purchase. I pre-scan multiple photos – select (outline) each and then batch scan. You could distribute them amung hard drives, or flash drives, or even on the internet (cloud) – like Microsoft OneDrive etc…

Gabe
Guest

I have many old photos (black and white) to be digitized this week. I have an Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII which I think the best for the job. I’m planning to adjust the dpi to whichever suits for each photo.

Elise
Guest

Wow, this is making me rethink the photos Ive scanned prior to finding your site! Thats overwhelming. On another note however, I have a question this brings to mind, I think I know the answer but want your opinion. When it comes to studio photos, where there are many many MANY copies and duplicates in all various sizes ranging from little wallets to 8x10s, is it best to scan the 8×10? Do all of these copies (being from the same studio mind you) have the same dpi in the paper photos? As a time saver I behooves me to choose a smaller size as to scan multiple photos in one go as possible, however, if the largest print will indeed give me more detail, I would be more than willing to scan that one instead…

Susan
Guest

To save time and energy, I’m wondering if it would work to scan 3 or 4 photos a the same time (as they are in the photo album now.) I would arrange them on the screen and save them at 600 dpi. Could you give me pros and cons of doing this? I have so many albums of photos, I’m concerned it will take me forever to scan each one separately. My purpose in scanning is to give my kids each a CD or each photo album. I would appreciate your input. Thanks!

Jamie Dunbar
Guest

This is an awesome site, thank you. Any thoughts on 16bit vs 24bit etc TIFF files? What is a happy level to avoid huge file bloat?

julie arnaoutis
Guest

Absolutely Brilliant. I had my spread sheet set up and I was on google comparing DPI, cost, whether it did negatives etc but the real issue is not understanding what I really needed. I have always been the one taking photos and I have boxes and boxes. I looked at having them done via a company which ended up being way way to expensive. I go round in circles and give up for a bit and then start my search again. Your article has given me the information I need to make the get started. Do you have a preference in scanner?. Thanks again. Julie

johnson
Guest

You can always change the DPI of your image later by using this free online tool
http://convert.town/image-dpi
and you won’t need to install any software.

John Hanley
Guest

Hi Curtis. I am continuing with my own scanning project. I have noted a couple of ‘wrinkles’ regarding the dpi for scanning that have confused me a little. I am merging my scanned images with those sourced from digital cameras or phones. So, in a particular Windows folder, I will have images from both sources in the same folder, which is fine with me. This keeps all images for, say, one of my kids in the same folder regardless of source.

I keep track of the resolutions I use to scan various photos and so have the column heading in Windows File Explorer for ‘Horizontal resolution’ set to display. One thing I noticed was that the ‘resolution’ shown for images that originated from *cameras* were vastly different from the resolution numbers exported from my scanner. For example, my scanned photo might have a resolution of 300 dpi or 600 dpi. But the camera based images almost universally have resolution numbers like 72 dpi, or 96 dpi. I did some internet research on this, and the consensus seems to be that the resolution exported by a digital camera is a meaningless number. Most sources say that the camera makers had to put some number in there and chose 72, 96, or something else just to fill the resolution field. They say the only meaningful values are the pixel dimensions.

Most of the posts on this site relate to Mac or iPhoto or Picasa, none of which I use. But I imagine you can see the resolution of your camera based photos in those environments as well. I would like to know if you see the same results (regarding resolution reported from cameras) in your environment.

Thanks,

John Hanley

P.S. I have a second perplexing item on resolutions to ask about, but will wait until I see what you think about the camera resolution issue.

Jackie Fritsch
Guest

Thanks for the article. I have a question. I just got a Canon MG7520 because it is wireless, scans, prints, makes copies. However, I scanned a 4×6 and no matter where I saved them they came out about 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch. How do I get them bigger? Will changing the dpi to a larger number allow me to enlarge the prints?

Tony
Guest

Hi Jackie. Yes, raising the DPI will scan to be a larger image. Your Canon looks capable. Max. Resolutions Optical:2400 x 4800 dpi7 Interpolated:19,200 x 19,200 dpi7. Try increasing the DPI and see if it changes the results.

John Hanley
Guest

Jackie, when you say ‘they came out’, are you referring to the size you saw on your computer screen or the size you saw when you eventually printed the photo? Most scanners have a setting to either automatically recognize the actual size of the original on the scanner glass, or allow you to set the size of the photo to be scanned.

Marty
Guest

Great site, Curtis. Your extensive and detailed replies amaze me.

I have an unoriginal thought/question for you:
Instead of using a scanner, what are the pros/cons to taking a digital photo of the actual printed photo in order to digitize it?

I can see this taking much less time, especially if you had a station set up with a camera mounted facing down, set to, say, 5×7 when you’re “scanning” that size pictures, and just sliding them against an L-shaped frame to get the picture in the right position and snapping a photo of the print. Even if you had to place a piece of glass over it to flatten the print, I could see this taking maybe 20 seconds per picture…

Keep up the nice work.
Marty

Chris Edwards
Guest

Marty,
I do this when I am in a hurry–an iPhone 6 works quite well. One problem I find is in the reflection–maybe using non-reflective glass might solve this? Another problem is avoiding my shadow. Scanning seems to work better for me.

Chris

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