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How to convert old photos into digital images

Is that old dust-covered box of photos in the closet haunting you? Are you worried about losing your memories in image form to faded years or, worse, a natural disaster? Instead of letting your old photos fall apart, you can convert them into digital format for easy viewing and storage. The easiest way to go about this process is to send them away to a scanning service, but you can also do the job done yourself. Let's take a look at both methods so that you can stop worrying about your old pictures.

Invest in a photo scanning service

The easiest way to turn your old photos into digital format is to send them away to a photo scanning service. These services generally convert negatives, prints, and slides, and will sometimes offer some sort of restoration for damaged, faded, or crumpled images.

Depending on how many photos you want to convert, this method can also be the most expensive, because they often charge a fee per photo. Still, if you don't have time to scan, edit, and save or print your own photos, a dedicated service is a solid option.

Memories Renewed

Memories Renewed offers photo, negative, and slide scanning, plus they'll transfer old videotapes, 8 mm and 16 mm film, and audio into digital formats. As far as photo scanning goes, all images are scanned at 600 dpi for a clear picture, plus photos can be restored if they're damaged. All photos are handled carefully, so you don't have to worry about your old prints receiving further damage.

The Wirecutter went to great lengths to choose a best photo scanning service, and Memories Renewed came out on top. From that review:

Memories Renewed offers the best combination of price, quality, and turnaround time.

Standard photos cost $0.60 each, plus you can purchase a USB thumb drive, CD or DVD. You can also send your own hard drive, and your photos will be transferred at no extra cost. If you're looking for a great scanning service, this seems to be it.

Visit Memories Renewed

Scan your own photos

The best way to convert those old photos into digital format on your own is to use a photo scanner and editing software. You get to keep your priceless pieces of paper, plastic, and ink where you can see them — you never know what will happen if you send them out — and you can ensure the digital scans are up to your standards.

To get started, you usually want a quality photo scanner that can capture your old pictures properly. We put together a roundup of the best photo scanners on the market that includes affordable and deluxe options. If you don't want to go in for a dedicated piece of hardware, consider checking out the Office Lens app (opens in new tab) that lets you use your phone to scan old photos.

See the best photo scanners

To save time, we recommended that you scan multiple photos at once. Most scanners have a large bed, and you should be able to fit a few pictures. Once scanned, some sort of image editing software can be used to crop each image and, if you want, do some touching up. Red eyes don't have to live forever!

Check out our roundup of the best affordable graphics and photo-editing apps for a good selection of software that can help you get your old prints into shape.

See the best graphics and photo-editing apps for Windows

Finally, once your old pictures are on your PC in digital format, you should back them up for safekeeping. No sense going to all this work just to have a hard drive crash. You have multiple solutions to choose from, but we recommend backing up to at least two different locations. We put together an ultimate guide to help you get your photos and data backed up.

Back up your PC and protect your data with these Windows resources

For a bit more help with scanning your own photos, check out Staff Reviewer Rich Edmonds's excellent write-up.

Everything you need to scan and save old photos using Windows 10

Are you scanning?

Have you turned your old photos into digital format? Did you do it yourself, or did you go with a scanning service? Let us know about your experiences and share any tips or tricks you discovered along the way.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • I'm fortunate enough to have always had the "feeling" I should conserve the negatives, so when I went to preserve old photos I took them to the Kodak store (yes, I still have one standing nearby) and they used the negatives to produce digital files directly without the need to scan them.   As for preserving VHS tapes, I still have a VHS player and all I needed was to get a video converter from Amazon (19€) and connect the VHS to my PC. Then using PowerDirector I transfered the VHS tape and, where it was necessary, I did the restoration of the video picture myself (which was rather fun, I have to admit).
  • So I've read the article and the link but which software is optimal at scanning and cropping multiple photos at once?
  • I've been working on a project over the last few months scanning in old negatives.  I much prefer the results from the negatives, I can actually get something better out of "thin" images than I did when they were printed originally, 25+ years ago.  I also think you're doing the native Win10 Photos app a disservice by not including it in your round-up of editors.  A friend and I took one of the images from a thin neg and he did his best with Elements 14, while I used the Photos app.  I was able to get better results with the Photos app. YMMV. As part of the project I'm working on, I made up a very simple step by step video to help some of the others with how to scan their negatives.  My narration is a little lack luster as I did it at 2AM, but it gets the point across.  If others have relatives with boxes of photos/negatives sitting on a closet shelf, they might find it useful. The other thing this article misses entirely is adding correct EXIF data.  It's great to get all the images digitized, but now they are floating around without any context.  "Hey Cortana, show me my pictures from Mexico" is not going to include your scanned images unless you take the extra step of adding in the relevent EXIF information, date and location they were taken.   I've been using EXIFGeo Tagger, and the developers actually pushed out an update just today based on a few of the suggestions I sent their way.  LOVE when devs are responsive like that.