How do people print scanned photos in 2020?
October 12, 2020 6:53 PM   Subscribe

My father scanned a bunch of family photos in the early-2000s. If I wanted to print these photos to display, what's the best way to go about it in 2020?

First of all, I know that the best way to deal with those photos would be to re-scan them on a better quality scanner than what existed in 2007 and at a higher resolution, but I'm not sure if I could get my hands on those photos again. My uncle currently has them and he doesn't like to share. I haven't really spoken to him since my father died, but I did send a email to him to test the waters recently... so re-scanning could be an option in the distant future.

With this in mind, what would be the best way to get some of these scanned photos printed for display purposes? I don't think it would make sense to get them like blown up or anything, but I would like to be able to display the photos I like somehow.

My father scanned them all as *gulp* .jpgs, rather than .tiff files. So I know that's a disadvantage. And they're not very "big." For example, one particular photo of my grandparents that I love is 435 × 628 pixels and 117kb, ugh, I know! It looks FINE on my computer, but I assume printing it out decently would be difficult due to the quality! All of the ones I want to print are black & white.

Is there anyway to somehow print these photos so they don't look awful? If so, how can it be done? Ideally, I'd like to maybe email the photos I enjoy the most to a company that specializes in this (does such a thing exist) and they can print them to my size specifications and on decent quality photo paper (or whatever exists, I have no idea). Is such a thing possible?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you're willing to spend a little, you can certainly find a local expert who can do a good job with this. Print shops (locally owned, specialized) and photo studios that offer photo restoration services are good candidates. I think "photo restoration" might be your keywords; people who do this kind of work are very good at dealing with digital images and can likely do good work even if you don't have the original.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:08 PM on October 12

The pixel resolution is going to be your determining factor, agreed; a handwavy estimate is somewhere in the ~90-100 pixels per inch minimum, so your 435x628 photo is going to be good for a 4x6 but not anything larger without some level of intervention.

Someone else asked about decompressing a JPEG recently, and several answers referred to various upscaling services, so that might be a place to start. They were starting with an image exponentially larger than yours, though (12 MP resolution is 4290 x 2800 pixels), so YMMV.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:13 PM on October 12

I could accept 4x6 for the photo, so that is a relief. Larger would be nice, but if it's not possible it's not possible! I'll do a local search for "photo restoration" and see what I can find!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 7:55 PM on October 12

Regarding the fact that these are jpegs and not tiffs, it's fortunate that all the photos were black & white prints. Lossy jpegs don't matter so much in this case because there wasn't a bunch of color data to preserve in the first place.

I agree that 4"x6" is about as large as you can print, and that's kind of stretching it. 435 × 628 pixels is a little under 0.3 megapixels and gets you around 105 ppi at 4x6, which is pretty low. Generally 125 ppi is the absolute minimum a print lab would recommend for fair-quality prints, but you might eke that out with your files.

You can try to use software to re-size the files. Gigapixel AI and ON1 Resize are a couple that I'm familiar with, and they both have free trials so you can see if they produce results that are acceptable to you. Don't expect either of them to work miracles.

Paper quality won't make a big difference at this level. I'd recommend matte for black & white photos. The grain may be slightly more apparent with matte, but b&w just tends to look better on non-glossy paper.

I've also worked with reluctant relatives to scan old family photos and I know it's not easy. Good luck with your uncle!
posted by theory at 9:26 PM on October 12

Something you could experiment with is the use of AI algorithms to enhance the resolution of lower res photos. The promise is to give people a "zoom and enhance" that actually does some kind of good. A short review of some of the options here.
posted by rongorongo at 6:17 AM on October 13

Walgreens drug store’s photo website is among the best and most affordable for this. The interface online tells you if your uploaded image is likely to print in an unacceptably pixelated way. If you have a local location you can pick up the prints in a store, but they also ship prints.
posted by mortaddams at 7:02 AM on October 13 [2 favorites]

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