[Save Life Photos] Step 3: Prepare Your Tools

Guest Post from DigiDaddy

“A craftsman is only as good as his tools.”

You need to prepare two tools: One is a digitization tool, and the other is a cleaning and assistive tool.

Digitization Tools

Generally speaking, there are three ways to digitize old photos:

  1. Recreate  with a smart phone or digital camera.
  2. Send them to a photography studio who digitize them for you.
  3. Purchase a scanner and scan them yourself from home.

You can refer to my article [Save Life Photos] Step 4: Retake or Scan Old Photos? to compare the pros and cons for yourself. Think about your situation and needs, and then make the best choice for yourself.


Cleaning and Assistive Tools

8_Saving Life Photos Step 3-1

Most of your old filmstrips and photos are probably faded, discolored, dusty, and stuck to each other. To receive optimal digitization results and to keep those memorable filmstrips and photos properly preserved for years beyond, handle them with extreme care. Examine each photo and each frame of films, and do some basic cleaning.

Here are a few notes I have summarized:

  • Use soft and lint free cloth (e.g., glasses cleaning wipes or a lens cloth) to gently clean stains on photos. DO NOT  use household cleaning wipes.
  • If you can’t remove the stains with the glasses wipes, you can dampen cloth with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol (available at drugstores or large chains) or methyl hydrate (in the paint aisle of the hardware store).  DO NOT use a 75% ethanol alcohol that is commonly used in the disinfection and sterilization of housewares, as it contains a lot of water and will leave residues or streaks on the thing you clean with it. Never use a rubber eraser, water or a general household cleaner to wipe your photos.
  • Use a manual air blower to blow specks of dusts. You should never use your mouth to blow dirt away from the photos or films, as acids in your breath can damage the coating on them.
  • When taking out the photos and films, you should keep both your hands clean. Wear clean, lint-free cotton gloves to avoid leaving dirt, grease, fingerprints, and other pollutants on their surfaces.

8_Saving Life Photos Step 3-2

  • Avoid marking (signing) the photos. If necessary, use a soft core pencil to write lightly on the back of the photo.
  • If you don’t feel easy to remove the filmstrips from their film bag while wearing gloves, you can use a tweezer (which can be replaced by an eyelash curler) to gently remove them.
  • The storage containers or albums of your old photos and filmstrip might have gathered quiet a lot of dust over time. I would recommend wearing a face mask when you take them out and clean them.
  • Finally, I would recommend replacing the old film storage sleeves with brand new ones to store the newly cleaned filmstrips.  This will prevent any further deterioration in the future from dust, mildew and other residue. You then can use an oil-based pen to write on the film sleeves some brief instructions such as the date and theme. I would suggest to use ring binder folders to organize and complete the filing of the filmstrips. Generally, the use of an acid-free (cellophane) sleeve and an acid-free box is the best choice, the same way is also great for storing photographs.

8_Saving Life Photos Step 3-3

I created a checklist so that you can get your tools ready before you begin scanning or recreating your old photos.

A. Cleaning Tools

  • 99% isopropyl alcohol
  • Soft and lint free cloth (e.g., glasses cleaning wipes or lens cloth )
  • Manual air blower

B. Assistive tools

  • Clean, lint-free cotton gloves
  • Soft-core pencil
  • Tweezers (and clean eyelash curler)
  • Face mask

C. Preservation and Storage Tools

  • Filmstrip storage sleeves
  • Film album, binder, or photo album


Do not think that these preparations are overly cumbersome. Scanning, then editing digital photos becomes much easier when you have done these necessary preparations, not to mention that not everyone can afford to buy Photoshop or manipulate Photoshop like an expert. We might as well clean the dust and stains off the films and photos before scanning before we start to scan them.

This guest post was originally written in Chinese by DigiDaddy and localized into English by Plustek Connect digitization expert team with the author’s permission.

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