Boost Your Scanning Skills

By Allison Dolan Premium

Successful photo retouching starts with a good scan. If you don’t digitize pictures properly, you’ll end up doing extra work to get the results you want. Save time and effort in your Photoshop endeavors by heeding this advice at the scanner:

? Be sure the glass is clean. Stray dust or dirt on your scanner creates even more blemishes for you to fix. Wipe down the glass with a soft, lint-free cloth, and be gentle: if you scratch the surface, it’ll show up in all your scans.

? Always preview. Don’t send your image directly to Photoshop — you’ll save time by troubleshooting first. Scanning software lets you preview your picture before you make the final scan. (Many programs will automatically detect a photo on the scanner and preview it when you launch the software.) In the preview window, you can tell if the image is crooked or there’s fuzz on the glass. You also can change the settings and see what effect they’ll have on the scan — before you commit to them.

? Get the right resolution. Digital-imaging gurus usually advise scanning at the lowest resolution that produces a good image, so your files don’t gobble up your hard drive space. That’s sound advice, but when you’re sprucing up timeworn photos, be wary of setting the resolution too low. You typically need 300 to 600 dots per inch (dpi) to get a print-quality image. To correct little imperfections, though, you might want to blow up the area without losing clarity. For example, say you want to work on a ½-inch section of a 5×7 photo. You might not see enough detail when you zoom in on a 300-dpi image; in that case, a resolution of 600 dpi could be a better choice. You can decrease the resolution — and the file size — once you’ve finished retouching.

Also consider what size you want the finished picture to be, and set the resolution accordingly. Remember: You can always increase the resolution by making an image smaller, but you’ll lose resolution when you enlarge the image. So if you want to make the image bigger, you should scan the picture at a higher resolution from the get-go.

? Optimize your output. Just as there’s an appropriate resolution for every scanning job, there’s an appropriate output. This is the option in your scanning utility that calibrates the scanner for the type of material you’re digitizing — a color photograph, grayscale photograph or line art, for example. Be sure to pick the corresponding setting: Scanning Great-grandma’s class picture as line art could result in an indistinguishable mass of students. And note that there’s no advantage to scanning a black-and-white photo as color — it’ll just increase the file size. You may get better contrast and crispness in grayscale, anyway.

? Crop before you scan. Old photos often have frayed, torn or folded edges. Rather than retouching the entire background, you can simply crop them out of the photo. (But be careful not to delete any important image details, such as props, buildings or the photographers’ imprints that often appear on old photographs’ cardboard backings.) Scanning software lets you crop your pictures before you create the final scan; usually, this involves merely adjusting the image selection in the preview window. (Drag the dotted lines around the picture until they enclose the area of the photograph you want to scan.) You’ll eliminate some damage, give your scan a crisp edge and reduce the file size.

? Pick the best file format. For the uninitiated, image formats might look like alphabet soup: TIF, GIF, PSD, PNG, JPG … Here’s how to get past the letters and understand each file type’s purpose. JPG and GIF files are great for posting online — they compress an image’s data, so it loads quickly on a Web page. The compression does erase information from the file, though. So for preservation copies or images you’ll print, save files in TIF format, which retains the most detail. (Publications — including this one — often use TIFs because of their image quality.) TIF, JPG and GIF are all universal formats that any photo software will recognize. You should avoid “proprietary” formats (those specific to your particular program) if you want to share your digitized photos with relatives.
From the May 2004 Preserve Your Family History