You find a nice quick, easy, low cost photo scanning service online and ship them the photos you want to use in your family history book. They come back on a CD which you forward to your book designer. The designer tells you that some or all of the photos will need to be rescanned. Whoa! What happened?
Shipping your photos off to an online scanning service is similar to the inexpensive service provided at Costco. For purposes of this post we’ll look at Scan My Photos International of Irvine, California, a large online scanning service. Their services are fairly typical. (There’s a link to their website at the end of the post.) Because all photos are scanned at just 300 DPI, this is a limited, one-size-fits-all solution. What does that mean for authors?
The service will probably work fine for fresh, modern prints, but they are often inadequate for older, more precious pictures. First, these services usually use a sheet feed scanner which feeds multiple pictures through the scanner at the same time. If any of the photos are delicate, as many old photos are, this can be dangerous. Older photos should be hand scanned on a flat-bed scanner which will not stress the photo in any way.
When these services scan at a resolution of 300 DPI, this is the minimum acceptable size DPI for book printers. This is important when you have a smaller photo you would like to enlarge in your book. To enlarge while maintaining image quality, the initial scan must be at a higher resolution. For example, if the photo is 2” X 4” and you wish to blow it up to 4” X 8”, it should be scanned at a resolution of at least 600 DPI. Generally it’s a good idea to scan at the highest possible resolution. Scanning services can be an acceptable alternative for scanning slides. Most people don’t have a slide rack for their scanner. When scanning slides, the scanning services offer a range of resolution choices and price points, because they anticipate that the small images will be blown up.
Scanning services appear attractive both for convenience and their relatively low prices. They are handy for photos that will be shared via the web, as a shortcut to get your prints into a digital format.
However, books require the highest quality images, as they will be printed at high resolutions. If you are scanning photos to be reproduced in a book you will be better served to “hand scan” them, or to get some else with a good scanner and some experience to do it for you. Precious older photos should be hand scanned on a flatbed scanner to prevent bending. The scanner settings can be adjusted specifically to the size and condition of the original. A good scan is the first part of image processing; with the proper settings, it is possible to achieve better corrections to be made in Photoshop at the next step.
A word of caution as you prepare your family photographs for publication in your book. Realize that all photo scans are not the same. Low-end scanning services are fine for the web; but not for book design. Higher resolutions are needed to reproduce well you’re your book is printed – something you cannot see on your low-resolution computer screen. Even the most humble scanner today will scan at 1200 DPI. Why shortchange the future, when your grandchildren will be viewing images at even higher resolutions. With scanning, bigger is always better.
Click here to visit the Scan My Photos International site.