Best DPI for scanning photos

We all have memories wrapped inside a shoebox in our basement. Most of those memories are probably childhood photos captured on a film camera. Well, isn’t it time you got them digitized? What I mean is you can take those photos out of your basement and store them on your digital device like your computer or your mobile phone. So, don’t be late and get yourself a top quality photo scanner now! After that, you’d need to know the best DPI for scanning photos, so your photos are saved in the greatest resolution possible.

What is DPI?

If you have a scanner, you probably already know this. DPI refers to “Dots Per Inch”. It becomes one of the hardest decisions to choose the DPI for a picture. DPI determines the detail of the picture, the size of the picture and the size of the file. You have to get your DPI right to get the best version of your paper photograph. You can select the DPI level even on a flatbed scanner. But what’s the best dpi for scanning old photos?

While choosing the appropriate DPI for your scanner, consider both the file size and the resolution of the image. What you have to understand is that more DPI doesn’t essentially mean higher resolution but if you use a higher DPI, you can crop and reproduce your photo without losing any quality on it.

Choosing the Appropriate DPI

So, what is the best resolution for scanning photos? If you use a higher DPI, it will not only create an image with a great resolution but will also be highly detailed and thus will require a good size. You can only perform radical cropping on high-resolution images or the image will pixelate. Read the entire section to know about the best resolution for scanning photos to print.

1. Understanding the DPI Correctly

If you take out one of the photos from your childhood, you can see that every inch of the photo consists of 300 dots. This is because most of the photo labs used only 300 dpi to develop photos. But which dpi is best for scanning? If you’re scanning documents, you don’t need to use high dpi but while scanning photos, go for a higher dpi to get a reproducible print of your original. For example, 600 dpi is considered the best resolution for scanning black and white photos.

2. Scanning at 300 vs Scanning at Higher dpi

You’ll get the exact copy of the original photo if you scan it at 300 dpi. So, why go for a higher dpi? You’ll get all the details on the photo if you scan it at only 300 dpi and working with 600 or 900 dpi won’t increase the level of details on your photo, nor will a higher dpi change pixels of an image. What’s crucial to understand here is when you’re using a higher dpi (ex: 600 dpi), you’re not increasing the detail on your copy but you’re increasing the size of your copy without giving in any detail.

3. Going for >300 DPI

A photo scanned with 300 dpi looks great not only on the monitor but also on a projection screen of 8’x8’. But when you want to turn that photo into a bigger print, the scanned copy will pixelate. If you go for >300 dpi for scanning, you’ll be able to make a 4”x6” photo bigger in size without having to lose any quality. On top of that, the scanned photo won’t look like it’s been stretched. For example, if you use 600 dpi on a 4”x6” photo, the quality will be exactly the same on an 8”x12” copy. 600 dpi or higher dpi will provide you the best resolution for scanning old photos.

4. Choosing the Optimum Resolution

The best resolution for scanning photos will depend on your business with the photos. Look at these features for each dpi to select which one is the right choice for you:

When you scan a 4”x6” photo using 300 dpi, you’ll get

  • A precise copy of the original
  • The size will be limited to 2 megapixels
  • You’ll get the digitized photos in HD quality
  • You’ll get a 4”x6” re-print size

When you scan the same photo using 600 dpi, you’ll get

  • The photo will become 8”x12” in digitized size
  • The size of the photo will be 9 megapixels
  • You’ll get HD quality on the scanned photo
  • You’ll get an 8”x12” re-print size

When you scan the same photo using 900 dpi, you’ll get

  • The photo will become 16”x24” in digitized size
  • The size of the photo will be 18 megapixels
  • You’ll get a 16”x24” re-print size
  • You’ll get HD quality on the scanned photo

5. Choosing a DPI Based on the Required Time

What is the best dpi for scanning photos? Many people choose the dpi based on the time that is required to scan the photo. Higher dpi means it needs more time to process. Generally, this is the dpi time ratio on the flatbed scanners:

DPI Required Time (Minute: second)
150 :11
300 :12
400 :14
600 :18
800 :31
1200 1:02
2400 2:34
3200 3:53
4800 6:37

As you can see, there’s not too much difference between the required time in 150-800 dpi. But the difference between 150 and 4800 dpi is significant. This is the average flatbed scanner ratio but there are faster devices too.

So, the best dpi for scanning photos depends on your necessity. But it’s always better to scan with a higher dpi. Keep some space on your pc to store the photos since higher dpi means it would require more space. If you go for a higher resolution scan, you’ll get more reproducible scans. Remember that your scanner can’t do much if the original photo lacks in clarity, quality and exposure.


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