How to Scan the Negatives With a Flatbed Scanner

By Morgan Rush

A flatbed scanner is a terrific tool when it comes to manipulating and preserving old photographs and negatives. Photographers have been carefully storing negatives in archival quality sleeves and envelopes for years, but it's not a foolproof security method. Excessive heat or humidity can cause discoloration or flocking, according to Black and White Lab, an online photography resource. And an accidental house fire, flooding and theft can mean the negatives are lost forever. Fortunately, scanning the negatives with a flatbed scanner permits digital archiving and backup in case the originals become unusable. Digital copies of negatives also make for easier sharing via personal web pages or email.

Things You'll Need

  • Negatives
  • Flat-bed scanner
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Dry compressed air
  • Computer
  • Scanning software

Step 1

Clean the glass of the flatbed scanner carefully, removing any smudges or fingerprints from previous scans with a lint-free cloth. Such marks will scan along with the negatives, creating a muddy image. If working in a long, continuous scanning session, take a break every 50 scans or so to re-clean the flatbed scanner's surface, according to Scan Café.

Step 2

Clean the negatives, if necessary. Avoid touching the negatives with bare fingers or harsh cleaning supplies. Instead, use a soft cloth to gently wipe away any smudges or fingerprints, or use dry compressed air.

Step 3

Place the negatives on the flatbed scanner's surface, positioning it according to the scanner's printed directions. For example, some flatbed scanners may direct users to place items in the upper-left-hand corner of the scanning screen.Complete the scan according to the flatbed scanner's directions and any prompts from a personal computer's scanning or photo manipulation software. Most scans should be completed at a resolution setting of 3,000 dpi, according to Scan Café. Once the scan is complete, carefully review the image. If the image appears to be blurred or otherwise unsatisfactory, complete the scan again.

Step 4

Repair the image using a personal computer's scanning or photo manipulation software to remove any discoloration, scratches, fading or other flaws.

Step 5

Save the repaired negatives. Scan Café recommends saving files in a JPG format, although professionals may choose to save files in much-larger TIFF formats.

Tips & Warnings

  • It's possible to scan two negatives strips at a time if they're placed so that the flatbed scanner can detect that they're separate items, according to Scan Café. These can be saved as separate files.
  • Disable any photo manipulation software that automatically removes perceived scratches on the negatives scanned, as this will sometimes blur the negative. It's better to complete manipulations by hand.
  • Avoid blowing on the negatives prior to scanning in the hopes of cleaning them. The sudden humidity could damage the negatives, according to Scan Café.