Monday, March 20, 2006

Digitizing Your Old Photo & Documents On A Shoe String Budget (Updated)

2 of my favorite file format for pictures & documents are JPG & PDF. But many people prefer TIF, TIFs are uncompressed which mean very large files.

If you can't tell I like free or cheap programs. I will go into more programs later but the 2 free ones I use the most are CutePDF to make PDF files (works like a printer driver "If you can print it you can make a PDF file". Requires installing the program & converter, both avalible on the free download page). And there is Picasa from Google, not very powerful but has some very nice features for a free program. The one I like the best is when editing it doesn't affect your original file.

When Picasa is combined with CutePDF you can make multi page PDF files, which is very nice for your genealogy documents. One problem I have run into is sometimes it rotates the documents, but rotating the pictures before printing will take care of that problem. Highlight the images you want, click file>print then change the printer to CutePDF then click Print. I like to go into Properties/Preferences and make sure it is the DPI & color I want.

A few things you need to know when scanning or taking digital photos: DPI (dots per square inch), imagine graft paper and each square is a pixel (dot), it is given 1 color. The higher the DPI the better the picture will look, but the larger the file. Then Quality/Compression, the higher number the less compression & the better the picture will look. And finally Grayscale verses Color, color is millions of colors & grayscale I believe is 250 shades of gray which makes a smaller file. If a picture is black & white I will use grayscale unless the picture has started to change colors with age, I like that pinkish or yellowed effect. Remember when emailing a picture you could be sending that person a VERY large file if you don't take these in to account. Nice thing about Picasa it will resize the photo for emailing without hurting the original.

Here is my minimal rule of thumb for Scanning:
Printer friendly for Email & Web
· I like a 600 Horizontal Pixel Width for Photos

8.5x11 scanned documents
· 72 DPI - 600x776 Pixel Width

8.5x11 scanned documents:
· 200 DPI - 1700x2200 Pixel Width

Scanning Photos (think pixel width when you want to enlarge a picture):
4x6 photo
· 300 DPI - 1200x1800 Pixel Width 5x7 photo
· 300 DPI - 1500x2100 Pixel Width 8x10 photo
· 300 DPI - 2400x3000 Pixel Width

My minimal rule of thumb for Quality/Compression for the Web & Emailing pictures are 3-4, 5 & up for Archiving.

When scanning I like to crop or select a larger area than just the picture. Say you have a 3x3 picture but the store can only do 4x6 prints, well you will have crop some of the your picture to get it fit in that 4x6 area. Another option is some programs will let you change canvas size without changing the actual size of the picture, I have found IrfranView at will work for this & it is free. It is easier to trim a print than chose what you want lose to make a print.

Even though you have archived your pictures & documents electronically, back it up in print!!! Formats & programs always change. Try and use an acid free paper & there are a lot of stores out there that do digital prints from CDs & memory chips. I prefer my photos on glossy paper, it can be scanned better next time. When making prints in a store edit each picture so you crop & edit each picture just the way you want it. After you make prints, store your originals in a safe place & only handle the copies. I do not like these photo printers that you can hook up to your computer, if your print gets wet or damp you can kiss your picture goodbye.

Scanners are always coming down, so all you need to know is what is compatible with your computer. I picked up one that also does slides & negatives for under $150, but you have to have a USB port (universal serial bus) on your computer, and it was a little hard to figure out how to change the DPI defaults for the photos & negatives.

That was a lot of work when you first start out, but now you can burn a CD of your work & share it with your family & friends for just a few bucks. And hey, if you have a computer failure you can always ask for the CD back ;-)

A few links you might want to check out:
Preserving Family Heritage

A few scanning tips

Scanning Experiments


Dennis said...

Picture editor: I just ran into a case where I had to open the new JPG2000 picture format. So I went looking for for a free program & found one that is OK, IrfranView at (you will have to download the program & the plug-ins). It will change the canvas size of the photo so you can add text on the image without putting it on the picture. Plus it has several other nice features. There are pay programs that do a better job, but I am trying to keep it cheap.


Dennis said...

GIMP: GNU Image Manipulation Program

This will do a lot more than what you need for working with genealogy pictures & has a high learning curve if you know what I mean ;-) But it has the 2 things I like, Quality and it’s free (but I do recommend donating to help the programmers).

It can do Layers, adjust the pictures size to do prints, adjust the size of the canvas so it fits properly (ie. into 4x6 prints), add text, make multi page TIFs for your documents, and much more!!!

Works with Unix, Windows 98-XP & MacOSX. At least for Windows you need to download 3 files, the main program, the help & the run time environment (there is one for the newer operating systems & one for older).

Probably not the best for the beginner, but would recommend giving it a try. Eventually you may want to share your genealogy with own web pages & this would be a great graphic program for that. My biggest complaint is there is no search for the help, but you can use “Context Help” and point to the thing you want to find more about.

I have been playing with graphics for about 10 years & this does about everything my other programs do. Day 1 I was overwhelmed, day 2 & I am getting use to the terminology & liking it more & more!!!

You can download it at