5 Ways To Scan Old Photo Albums

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5 Ways To Scan Old Photo Albums

Digitizing old photo albums wasn’t on my radar until this summer when forest fires got so close to my home that the air outside was difficult to breath because of the smoke. Charlie and I decided to get ready BEFORE we got a notice to evacuate.

Guess what was number one on my list?

My photos, of course, even though a lot of them were already digitized.

But then I saw the row of old, heavy Creative Memories photo albums on the shelf and realized NONE of them were digitized.

After the Oregon fires died down—and thankfully we never DID have to leave—I was fired up (no pun intended) to get my albums digitized. I started with a set of three 12×12 inch photo albums about a trip our family took around the U.S.A. back in the ’90’s.

Here are the 5 methods I explored to digitize them, the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and the method I chose to digitize my albums.

Solution 1: Hire A Local Or Online Company To Scan The Albums For You

On The Positive Side:

A professional does all the work, which means they’re likely to do a really good job. Plus it saves you a ton of time and you actually get it DONE!

On The Negative Side:

You have to send your albums away and it can be expensive if you have a lot of photo albums. It’ll cost somewhere between 1 and 2 dollars per page.

Ship photo albums

But if you’d rather let someone else do it and the cost isn’t a problem, this could be a good solution for you. I didn’t personally try out this option, but I know other people who have and they were happy with the result.

Solution 2: Photograph The Album Pages

You can hand hold a camera or smart phone but it’s best to use a tripod, which is what I did, and I used a music stand to hold the pages. You’ll want to avoid glare by positioning your page properly. I found that having light coming from the left and the right rather than directly onto the page worked best for me.

Then just photograph each page one at a time.

Photograph Images

On The Positive Side:

If your light is good and your hand is steady or you use a tripod, you can get good photos. There’s no additional expense, except for your time, and it gets the job done.

On The Negative Side:

The quality of your images will depend on the quality of your camera or cell phone. The image on the left was taken with the most recent iPhone available as of early fall 2020. Compare that with the same image on the right taken with my almost 10-year-old camera and you can see a marked improvement with the camera.

Camera Comparison

You’ll also need to crop the photos, and your photos are likely to be slightly skewed. I did my best to set up a good photoshoot but all the images taken with a cell phone or camera were still slightly skewed and sometimes one or more sides would be slightly curved.

The biggest problem in my estimation was no control over the size or resolution. If you plan to print these pages at some point, you’ll need each digitized page to be 300 ppi if you want to print it the same size it is now without upsizing it.

I started out using my iPhone, which is an older model, and it only produced enough pixels for an 8×8 inch book so I borrowed the newest iPhones at the time and those only gave me enough pixels for about 10×10 inches. (I didn’t test an Android phone so I don’t know what sizes they would be.)

My trusty 10-year-old camera, though, gave me a full 12×12 inch size AND the best image quality.

Solution 3: Use An App On A Mobile Device

On The Positive Side:

The apps generally remove the skew and crop the photo for you, which is great, and an app might have a free version or the paid version may be reasonably priced. And for those who don’t want to be bothered with scanners or with cropping the images afterwards in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, this gets it DONE!

On The Negative Side:

You still have lack of control over the resolution and the quality is still only as good as your device. In fact, the photo usually ends up being even smaller than just taking a regular snapshot with your mobile device.

Some apps, like Photomyne, recognize the photos on your album page and want to create several individual photo files instead of including the entire page. If that’s what you want, then you’re good to go, but if you want to photograph the entire album page it’s a problem.


Solution 4: Scan On A Regular Size Scanner

On The Positive Side:

A regular scanner will give you high quality scans and you have total control over the size and resolution.

On The Negative Side:

For large 12×12 inch pages that means you have to scan 4 times on a regular scanner to get every part of the page scanned with enough overlap and then stitch the pieces together using stitching software like Photomerge in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

This is very time intensive and boring. If you plan to do this with scores of photo albums, you’ll need a lot of patience and a lot of time.

Stitch 4 images

Solution #5:  Buy Or Access A Large Format Scanner

One of our Family History Hero community members went to a local school and was able to scan oversize pages. I don’t know any details about that or if there was a cost.

Another member of our community said Heritage Maker consultants for a digital scrapbooking online company, have access to large scanners you can use and she says the cost is reasonable.

I also checked with libraries, Family History Centers, and local printers, but they either had regular size scanners or the scanners weren’t suitable for photos.

But Aileen Blomgren, one of our Family History Hero community members said she was using a large format Plustek scanner that scans and automatically crops the photo. Here’s what she said about it:

“I’m very, very happy with the results I’m getting. The extra large scanner lets me do a full, oversized page in one scan, which saves my sanity. And reducing my stack of 80 or so albums down to something manageable is saving my sanity, too!”

The idea of saving my sanity sounded really good so I gave it some thought…what if I could scan my three most important albums quickly and not have to crop and fix the skew? That would save me a huge amount of time and frustration!

When I looked into it I saw there were two versions of the Plustek scanner that would work with albums. I ordered the Plustek OpticSlim 1180 that retails for around $350, the one my friend Aileen has, but after I contacted the company to ask a question and they found out I was going to do a review of it, they gave me the chance to try out the Plustek OpticPro A320L that retails for around $800.

Plustek OpticSlim 1180

I’ll give you my quick impression of the Plustek scanners but if you want to know the details watch the video below for a full review where I compare the two so you can make a better decision if you decide to go this route.

Here are the positives and negatives of purchasing the Plustek large format scanner. (This time I’ll start with the negative.)

On The Negative Side:

I found that the Plustek scanner software and documentation wasn’t very intuitive. I couldn’t figure out how to get a good scan setting so I went to the Plustek website and chatted with customer service.

On The Positive Side:

The Plustek chat and customer service were both excellent. They had me up and running quickly and answered all my questions. And a company rep told me that an updated version of the software is in the works.

But most of all the scanning experience itself was amazing!

At one point when I was working on my 3 albums of our trip around the USA—145 pages—I actually felt euphoric like I was having…FUN? I’ve never felt that way before about scanning! But I was scanning my pages one after the other, playing loud 70’s music, and singing along without having to even think about what I was doing or even where I was placing my page on the scanner as long as it was lined up against one side.

There’s no skewing because it’s a flatbed scanner, and it automatically crops every page! I got the first (and biggest) album done in around 40 minutes so all three albums took less than 3 hours.

Before trying the Plustek scanners I had spent a fair amount of time photographing pages, but when I saw what the scanners could do and how fast and easy it was, I switched and started over.

If you’re interested to find out more and want to know the difference between the two models and my tips for setting up the software, watch my review of the two Plustek scanners.

Plustek Scanner Settings PDFDownload the Plustek Scanner Settings PDF

Here’s A Money-Saving Idea For You…

When I looked into purchasing the Plustek scanner I checked out the price of new models and also looked into buying a used Plustek scanner on eBay. To my surprise I only found a few listed for sale and the price was comparable to buying it new.

That gave me the idea to buy a new one and then resell it after I was done using it. I could offer free shipping and a bit of a discount and still recoup most of my investment. That would make scanning my photo albums very cost effective!

That’s what I was planning to do…

But now that I have one I don’t want to get rid of it. I like it! I can see the benefit of keeping it to scan other large items and even memorabilia, and maybe even help other family members get their albums scanned. Plus it’s really easy to scan multiple pages into one PDF, which is what I plan to do for albums I don’t intend to turn into a hardcover book.

So those are 5 ways you can get your old photo albums scanned. The most important part? Choose one and get it done…before it’s too late.

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