Quality Levels for Photo Print Scanning



ECONOMYDpsDave scans these photos at 300 DPI. The digital images tend to look out of focus on displays that are larger than the original, and our experience is that customers are generally disappointed with this option. For why this is, visit our Resolution page. But we realize that there are circumstances where it makes sense to scan at 300 DPI.  In addition, you can save even more by doing some of the work yourself! Color Fix, Image Rotation, Scanning in Order and Custom File Structure services are optional.  However, to qualify for this amazingly low price, you have to do some of the work yourself!  CLICK HERE to see how.  Some restrictions apply.

HIGH DEFINITION: Our most popular option, these photos are scanned at 600 DPI. Color Fix, Image Rotation, Scanning in Order and Custom File Structure are thrown in for free! This option allows you to zoom in so you can recognize faces and make prints. Our experience is that customers are thrilled with this option. These digital images pack in 4 times the data of a 300 DPI scan.

Ultra High Resolution: The ultimate in scanning quality. Professional photographers, museums, restoration experts and graphic artists use this to maximize the quality of their digital images. These digital images pack in 16 times the image data of a 300 DPI scan.
Please visit our Photo Resolution page to see examples of the differences between these quality levels.

How to decide which quality level to use for scanning photos to digital

Picking the appropriate quality level for scanning your printed photos is important! Making the right choice depends upon the nature (size and quality) of the original photo, and what you are going to do with the digital image.

This chart summarized the recommended scanning resolution by size and how you intend to use the digital image:

      Intended use    
Original size Archive View Share Movies Restoration
SmallUp to 3×5 1200 600 600 300 1200
Medium3x5 to 5×7 1200 600 600 300 1200
LargeBigger than 5×7 600 600 600 300 600


The nature of your original photos.

Smaller photos require higher resolution scanning than larger photos. 

Although it seems backwards, it’s true, and it’s because of how people view the digital images. Most photos that have been scanned to digital format are viewed screens that are larger than the original. When the image is magnified to fill the screen, it will look out of focus if it was scanned at 300 DPI. When a low-resolution scanned photo is magnified, small digital artifacts appear on the edges of objects. Our perception of focus is actually a measure of the sharpness of edges in an image, and our brains interpret those digital artifacts as the whole picture being out of focus. For example, a 5×7 original viewed on a 10 inch notebook screen is magnifies about 2 times on each axis, making the magnification factor about 4x. An old 2×3 school photo gets magnified 25x. Although the old photo from your grade school might not have the quality of the 5×7, the smaller photo will need more resolution.

Matte or glossy makes a difference! When a photo with a matte finish is scanned, the matte is part of the digital image. When the digital image is enlarged to fit the screen, the matte gets enlarged as well, and becomes more obvious. This is another “strange but true” aspect of photo scanning. Photos with matte finish are easier to view because you don’t have to avoid the bright reflection spot like you do when looking at a glossy photo. But, matte photographs that have been scanned to digital images do not look as good as glossy scanned photos.

Scanning your photos to archive them.

Most people are having their photos scanned so that they can protect them from disaster, organize them better, and clean up the mess! However, right behind these urgent needs is a desire to preserve the photographs. We are often scanning photographs which are 100 years old, and think to ourselves that 100 years from now, these will be among the oldest images on the planet! The originals will have long since crumbled to dust, but the scanned images will still be around. Nobody knows how people will be looking at those photos, but it is certain that a higher quality scan today will be appreciated in the future. We recommend that you boost the scanning resolution for those pictures which are archive-worthy.

Scanning you photographs for viewing on a computer or TV

The colors and detail in your photo print do not match the colors and details that your eyes saw when you took the picture. Likewise, the image displayed on your computer or TV cannot match what the original photographic print looks like. The transition from photo print to electronic display is particularly difficult, as the photo print is reflective, and computers and TV use transmissive displays. What all this means is that there are colors in your photographic print that your computer or TV cannot display. You can see the difference by comparing a recent photo print with the scanned digital image of the old photo.

Additionally, the settings on your computer or TV make a big difference as well. Your digital images are adjusted so that they look good on most computers’ default display settings. If the scanned photos look funny, you can adjust your display. If your TV has a “Photo” setting, use that, or turn the red down a little bit. For computers, use the “photo” setting, or set the color temperature to 6500 degrees.

Viewing your photo scans as a movie.  A movie file is different from a digital images file.  Although you can make a movie from JPEG files, you cannot make a JPEG file from a movie. In addition, an image in a movie is a much lower quality picture than the image in a JPEG file.

Scanning your photos to make additional photo

Most photographic prints are no longer made by developing film.  Today, special printers use special ink to print the image on special paper.  Most commercial photo prints are printed at 1200 DPI, and a few are printed at 600 DPI.  Scanning a photograph to print more copies is a great way to share your photos, and if you have the photo scanned at a minimum of 600 DPI, it will have all the detail of the original.  However, there are some colors which cannot be digitized, and you may notice that some of the colors in the original photographic print are not accurately reproduced in the copies.

Scanning your photos is a great way to solve problems associated with the emotional value of these photos.  One lady said was visiting her parents, and sneaked out of the house at 3am to hide a box of photographs in the car, so she could get them scanned.  We had to move quick before dad discovered the missing photos!  Some of our best clients are divorce and estate attorneys who say that everybody fights over the photographs!

Scanning your photos for sharing over the internet

Since every scanned photograph that gets shared over the internet can be viewed on a computer or TV, it is important to scan the photo at 600 DPI.  This assures that the photo will look sharp and in focus, and allow people to zoom in to look at details.  Photographs scanned at 600 DPI produce datafiles that are a lot bigger than datafiles produced by scanning at a lower DPI, which can make it harder to send the scanned photos over the internet.

The solution to this is to compress the high resolution scanned photo, not scan at a lower resolution. For example, a 4×6 photo scanned at 600 dpi produces a 3.5 MB datafile. Many email services limit the size of attachments to 6 MB, meaning that you can only attach a single scanned photo to each email. However, compressing the datafile using loss-less JPEG setting of 2, produces a 300 KB datafile that looks identical to the bigger file no matter how much you zoom in.

Many people believe that compressing scanned photos reduces the image quality of the picture, but this is no longer the case if the appropriate compression algorithm is used. By the way, JPEG is a collection of many compression algorithms, and beginning in 2000 there have been “loss-less” JPEG routines available. The particular algorithm used is determined by the photograph scanning software used by the photo scanning Service Company that scanned your photographs.

Scanning your photographs for restoration

Some old photos have suffered the ravages of time, and you want to have them restored. The photograph scanning process will fix most color fade, but cannot fix physical damage. But there are photo restoration services which are very good at this. If you have damaged old photos and are thinking that someday you might want to have them restored (or have the ex-spouse removed) you should scan them at a higher resolution.