How to Digitize Old Photos, Slides and Letters for Your Photo Book

The photos you put inside your photo book should look their best to take advantage of a traditional process that provides superior images like silver halide printing. With the quality of smartphones and cameras these days, that’s not hard for your digital images, but what about the traditional heirloom family photos you have at home?

To get the photo book ready, they need to be cleaned, digitized and handled with care.

old photos


Prepping Old Memories for Photo Books

Lots of aging media have similar traits and need to consider as you try to spiff them up. We’ll get into specifics by format, but here are some general quality issues, cleaning and handling tips, and best practices for digitizing:

Common Issues with Aging Media

  • Dust can obscure the images and affect scan quality
  • Fading from sunlight can make the images dull
  • The decay of materials can ruin the paper, film, and dyes that hold your memories
  • Rips and scratches can ruin images and need repair

How to Clean and Handle Your Vintage Formats

  • Gently wipe with dry, non-abrasive cloths or brushes.
  • Use gloves! Try to avoid touching the images with your bare hands whenever possible.

How to Digitize

  • Use a scanner that offers the right resolution, measured in dots-per-inch (DPI), for your media. More dots mean more details.
  • Handle your items with care while scanning.
  • Save the images as JPEG or TIFF files.
  • Organize your digital files into folders.

Each format also has its own quirks and risks to consider for photo book prep:

Vintage Photos

old photographs

Your parents’ old pictures are amazing photo book material. The chance to re-see the sights from their first date through the golden years would make a great anniversary gift! 

Common Issues: fragile paper, warping, yellowing

Handle: By the edges or with gloves when possible. Skin oils can damage photos.

To Digitize:

  • Use a flatbed scanner. Others have moving pieces that can harm old prints.
  • The ideal scanning resolution for printed photos is 600 DPI.
  • If your old prints are falling apart, moving them to a flatbed scanner and pressing the lid down might make the damage worse. Mount a digital camera on a tripod and shoot a photo straight-on (not at an angle) for the least risky approach.
  • Google PhotoScan and other apps are easy to use, but not recommended for making print-quality scans.


old slide

Color slides produce beautiful scans in vivid detail. You can scan them at high resolutions to make enlarged prints for a photo book. It’s a clean, practical way to enjoy your family vacation slides without setting up the projector.

Common Issues: mold, discoloration, bent and broken mounts

Clean: With compressed air for any dust that’s left after wiping

Handle: By the cardboard or plastic mounts – don’t touch film with bare hands!
To Digitize:

  • Use a flatbed scanner that can shine light through transparencies while scanning.
  • Use trays to hold slides in place and keep the digital images straight.
  • A good slide scanning resolution should not go below 1600 DPI. Slide film holds much more visual detail than printed photos. You can scan at higher resolutions like 3200 DPI to save even more detail if you plan to print larger than 5” x 7”, but a higher resolution won’t magically sharpen a picture that was blurry from the start.

Letters and Documents

old letters

Love notes, telegrams and college acceptance letters enhance your photo book by adding more context to the images. Include these items to make your design project even more unique.

Common Issues: fragile or folded paper, yellowing, damage from envelope adhesives, illegible handwriting

Handle: Gently and with gloves, especially when dealing with fragile paper.

To Digitize:

  • Flatbed scanner lids can press your letters against the glass for the best quality scans.
  • 300 DPI is a sufficient scanning resolution for text, which doesn’t have much visual detail.
  • Scan envelopes with important info like addresses and postmarks. These details can tell you where people lived, when they sent these letters, and where you should place these items within the larger context of the photo book’s story.


old scrapbooks

Photo courtesy of EverPresent

Albums and Scrapbooks

Sometimes an old scrapbook just needs to be copied. Or maybe it’s time to put a fresh spin on an aging classic. If you’re turning old albums and scrapbooks into family photo books, you’ll be able to relive each memory the way the bookmaker intended in a more modern & durable way.

Common Album and Scrapbook Ailments:

  • Brittle or warped covers, crumbling binding and stuck pages
  • Magnetic album adhesive can trap and harm photos

Handle: With both hands, carefully supporting the binding and pages during use.

To Digitize:

  • Set the scan resolution to 600 DPI for the printed photos inside your scrapbooks.
  • Clean the debris that falls out of your brittle albums during scanning so you don’t capture extra dirt in your final scans.
  • You can scan each full page to preserve your albums’ photos, handwriting, and overall layout.
  • You can also crop each photo individually and not worry about trying to remove them from the album.
  • If there’s important information next to your photos and memorabilia, you can copy those captions into the filenames or metadata of each digital image for easy sorting.

Now you’re photo book ready!

mother and daughter making AdoramaPix photo book
Mother and daughter watching their photos on a computer

Now that your family memories are digital, get your aging prints and albums from the attic and turn them into a coffee table crowd pleaser. Your friends and family might get jealous of your photo book, so be sure to order some extra copies!

Blog article by Vanessa Boucher from