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Personal Preservation Tips: Scanning

An overview of basic storage best practices to help with preserving personal photographs, papers and digital files.


Now days a decent scanner is relatively cheap, so scanning items yourself is a good way to save and share photos and letters is to scan them and make digital copies.  These copies let you do whatever you want with them, without worrying about the original getting lost or damaged.

If you don't have access to a scanner but have a smart phone, there are a number of apps that can work to turn your phone into a makeshift scanner.  While theses images wont give you the same quality as a scanner, they work great for sharing them with others.  It's also easy and you do not need to buy anything extra.

The Library of Congress made a easy to follow video that covers the basics of how to use a scanner here

File Types and Names (and why this matters)

Digital files degrade over time and with moving around from disk to disk, making them blurry or corrupt.  However some files are better at stating usable for long periods of time.  When you're scanning you should keep this in mind. 

  • JPEGs are very easy to use, and save on space, but don't hold up well in long term storage.  The archival standard for images are TIFFs. TIFFS take up much more space, do no compress, but will stay usable for much longer.  From a TIFF file you can use software like Photoshop, GIMP or Irfran Viewer to make JPEG copies from the TIFF.  If you're not comfortable with converting files, just stick with keeping files in JPEGs.
  • Unlike photos, saving letters is easy. Save your letters as PDFs
  • Naming these files is also really important. Name the files clearly and descriptively, that'll help you easily remember what's in the files before you open it.  The name of the place or event the photo was taken with a name or two of who is it will be a great help to you later on.  If you have a lot of folders with the same name, add numbers to the end of the file (001, 002, 003 etc) to keep your computer happy and no two files named the same. 
  • For letters, name them by who the letter was sent by and to.
  • Look at "Digital Files" to see how to organize the folders you keep them in

Scanning Specs

Scanning specs:

Here's a quick guide to the settings you should manually set your scanner to to get the best quality archival images.  If you are given an addition option on your scanner to pick the "quality" of the file, always go with the highest setting.

Type of Material Color Mode* DPI (PPI) **
Color Photo 48bit RGB 400 
Black & White Photo 16bit greyscale 400 
Color Slides 48bit RGB 800 to 1200
Black & White Slides 16bit greyscale 800 to 1200
Written letter 8bit greyscale or 24 bit RGB 300

*Color mode is basically the quality of colors the scanner puts out, the higher the bit number, the more shades of colors.

**DPI stands for Dots Per Inch, PPI Pixels Per Inch.  The higher the number the higher the resolution.  The specs provided above leave you with a good enough quality image that is even acceptable to publishers!

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Long Island City, NY 11101
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