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Updated April 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best photo scanners

Photographs are the best way to remember cherished family events, trips, and other occasions, but hard copy photos can take up a great deal of space in your home and suffer damage over time. Digitizing your photograph collection with a photo scanner can make it much easier to preserve your memories and ensure they’re protected.

A photo scanner is a device that lets you optically scan photographs to capture their image and convert them to digital files. General image scanners can scan photos in addition to other images and printed text, but photo-specific scanners typically offer higher resolution and better color capture. Using a scanner to scan your photos can convert a large collection of photographs to digital images that take up no space in your home and allow for digital editing of the photos. It’s an extremely useful tool for professional photographers and archivists, but amateur photographers with an extensive photo collection may also find it helpful. 

To choose a high-quality photo scanner, start by determining the type of scanner that will work best for your projects, and decide whether a standalone photo scanner or an all-in-one printer and scanner better fits your needs. It’s also important to figure out what size scanner can accommodate your photos and identify other crucial features, such as the resolution and scanning speed so you wind up with the best photo scanner for your project. 

Photo scanner
Check your scanner’s settings before you begin scanning. Most models won’t necessarily be set at the best resolution for your project — adjust them before you start. 

How to buy the best photo scanner

Photo scanner type

Photo scanners are available in two types: flatbed and film.

Flatbed scanners are the most common and most affordable scanner type. They’re easier to use than film scanners. They consist of a glass platen where you place your photos and a lid that closes over it. The platen size can differ from model to model, affecting the size of the photos they can accommodate. Flatbed scanners are the most versatile type of scanner because they can digitize photo prints, negatives, and slides. 

On the other hand, film scanners usually only scan negatives, and they’re often limited to the 35-millimeter format. In some cases, their resolution can also be fairly low. For this reason, most people prefer to spend a little more on a flatbed photo scanner that can handle mounted slides and filmstrips. 

Standalone photo scanner vs. all-in-one printer

In addition to the style of the scanner, you can choose between standalone models and those that perform multiple functions. Multifunction or all-in-one printers offer a scanning function as well as printing and photocopying options. They tend to have a flatbed scanner design, but the quality of the scans varies between models. 

Single-function photo scanners generally offer better results and even some photo-specific features that can provide better results. If you’re planning to scan a large number of photos, a standalone scanner is your best option.  

If you opt for an all-in-one printer, avoid models with a sheet-fed document scanner. While they can effectively scan your photos, they may damage your originals.

Scanner size

Flatbed scanners have an 8.5- by 11-inch (or letter-size) platen, which works well for most standard photo sizes. However, you can find some models with an 8.5- by 14-inch platen that can accommodate larger photos. The standard size for most documents, including photos, is A4. A4 scanners work with 120 and 220 film strips, too. Consider the photos you have to scan to choose a scanner size that works best for your needs.

It’s also important to consider a scanner’s overall size. This ensures you’ll have room for it on the desk, table, or counter where you plan to keep it. 

Resolution

When you digitize your photos, you want the digital images to be of the highest quality possible, making a scanner’s resolution a key detail to consider when shopping. Resolution is measured in dpi or MP, and higher numbers offer better resolution. In general, it’s best to choose a model that provides a resolution of at least 600 dpi.

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Staff Tip
When choosing a spot for a flatbed photo scanner, make sure there’s enough clearance over it to open the lid easily. 
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What features should a photo scanner have? 

Display

A scanner’s display is an essential feature to consider because it affects how easy it is to use. Some models have a touchscreen display, which is extremely user-friendly and lets you choose settings more quickly. Other scanners have simple button controls that are still easy to use but may take more time to operate than those with a touchscreen display. 

Scanning speed

If you have many boxes of family photos you’re planning to scan, you want a scanner that works quickly for more efficient scanning. Some models can scan each photo in as little as two seconds, while others may take up to 10. For bulk projects, it certainly helps to choose a photo scanner that operates at a higher speed. 

Wireless connectivity

For many people, a scanner that offers wireless connectivity is more convenient than using a USB cord to connect it to your computer or other device. A model that allows for wireless connectivity can connect to your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, meaning you don’t have to think too much about where to place your scanner because you don’t have to worry about a cord’s length when connecting to your computer. 

Wireless scanners usually still include a USB cord to connect the device to your computer, letting you connect the scanner to your device manually if you’re having issues with your wireless connection. 

Cloud scanning

If you don’t want your photo files to take up valuable space on your computer’s hard drive, you may want to scan them directly to cloud storage. Using cloud storage also makes it easier to share your photos with friends and family. Photo scanners with cloud scanning capability allow you to scan the photos directly to storage services such as Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox, saving you the step of having to transfer them from your computer or other device. 

Some photo scanners have a micro SD card slot that allows you to save your photo images directly to the card. 

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How do you accessorize a photo scanner?

USB-C cable

If your photo scanner doesn’t offer wireless connectivity, you may need a high-quality USB-C cable to connect it to your computer. Some cables are optimized for data transfer, letting you transfer your scanned photos to your devices quickly and easily. 

Digital photo frame

If you want to display the photos you’ve scanned in your home, a digital photo frame makes it easy to showcase your favorite family memories. They can store plenty of digital photos via an SD card or internal memory. The display then automatically scrolls through the photos for you to enjoy.

How much do photo scanners cost? 

Inexpensive

The most affordable photo scanners are usually handheld or portable models. They can work well for small photo scanning projects, but they may not be the best option for large-volume scanning. They don’t offer very high resolution, either. These scanners cost $65 to $175.

Mid-range

Mid-range photo scanners are flatbed or film scanners. They can work well for both small photo scanning tasks and larger projects. They offer fairly good resolution and may have features such as a touchscreen display and wireless connectivity. These scanners cost $174 to $449.

Expensive

The most expensive photo scanners are large flatbed or film scanners meant for large photo scanning projects or professional photographers. They offer extremely high resolution and special features such as a touchscreen display. They cost $450 to $775; however, some models can cost more than $1,000.

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Staff Tip
You’ll get better results if you scan your photographs in color. Even sepia or black-and-white photos scan well in color unless there are marks made by ink or tape on them. 
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Tips

  • Keep a microfiber cleaning cloth nearby when scanning photos. Any dust, hair, or fibers on the scanner’s glass will get scanned along with your photos, so you want to make sure the platen is clean before you begin. 
  • Sort your photos before scanning. You can work much more quickly if you don’t have to organize them as you go. 
  • Don’t try to fix creased or damaged photos before scanning. You can use a can of compressed air to blow away any dust, but you’re better off editing any wrinkles or marks out after you’ve scanned the photos.
  • Scan multiple photos simultaneously to work more quickly. If your flatbed scanner is large enough, you can lay out the photos next to one another for scanning and then crop the images when you’re done to separate them.
Best photo scanner
While photo scanners sometimes come with editing software, you may want to purchase separate software that offers additional editing options to really clean up and perfect your photos.

FAQ

Q. Is it better to scan a photo or take a picture of it?

A. You can always use the camera on your phone to take a picture of your photos to digitize them. However, if you want the best quality, you’re better off using a photo scanner. It offers a much higher resolution, making your images clearer and more vibrant. 

Q. Does scanning a photo damage it?

A. If you have some old, cherished photos you want to preserve, there’s no need to worry about a scanner damaging them. In fact, scanning the photos may actually make them look better because the scanner can color-correct your photographs automatically and may come with software that allows for editing to enhance them.

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