Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scanning Your Family History

Scanning your family history
Bring the past into the present—and future

Converting your family memories into a digital format is an endeavor worth taking on. With your Windows XP computer and some additional tools you can collect, organize, reuse, and archive your memories for all generations, present and future, to enjoy.

A scanner is the key tool that you'll need to get you on your way.

Take your old family pictures, for example. Once you've got them on your computer, these photographs will no longer fade over time. They can be enhanced and fixed with photo editing software. You can quickly make copies, make new prints for framing, e-mail them around the world, and most importantly make archive copies of them that can be safely stored away in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.

You can also create some fun projects with these photographic memories by creating themed scrapbooks, calendars, refrigerator magnets, or slideshows set to music for viewing on your DVD player.

But why limit yourself to photos? You can scan all sorts of things to immortalize precious family memories. A scanner can be used to preserve irreplaceable historical documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, a child's drawings, newspaper articles, cherished letters, and sentimental keepsakes such as Grandma's favorite broach or Uncle Herb's pocket watch.

We've pulled together some useful tips to help you purchase the right scanner for the job and to get the most out of your scanning efforts.

Tips for choosing a scanner
Flatbed scanners are the most popular kind of scanner, and they're very easy to use. Before you start shopping for a scanner, consider what you plan to use it for. For most projects a scanner surface that's big enough to capture a standard sheet of paper (8.5 x 11 inches) is sufficient.

• For high-resolution scans, look for a scanner that can capture color images at a minimum of 1200 or 2400 dots per inch (dpi).

• If rich and vibrant color is a must, choose a scanner with 48-bit color depth.

• To scan 35mm negatives or old slides, look for a scanner that comes with a "transparency adapter."

• If you're in the market for additional office equipment and desk space is an issue, consider an "all-in-one" product that combines the functionality of a scanner, copier, fax machine, and a printer.

• If you plan to scan three-dimensional objects, such as a late relative's favorite necklace or other mementos, you may want to look for a scanner with a hinged lid that lets you fit bulky objects beneath it.


10 tips for successful scanning
The great thing about scanning pictures or family items is that you can experiment with your scan to ensure that you get the image you want. If you don't like what you've scanned, simply delete the file from your computer and start again.

Here are ten tips to keep in mind when you're scanning photos, documents, or objects.

1. Periodically clean the scanner glass-refer to your scanner documentation for recommendation on what materials to use. Also, be sure the underside of the lid is clear of dirt, lint, hair, or bits of paper.

2. When scanning a 3-D object, such as a watch or necklace, place a clear transparency on the glass to protect it from scratches.

3. If after scanning a 3-D object you have an image that's too dark, place a piece of white paper or a small white cloth on top of the object instead of closing the lid.

4. Never take scissors to your precious historical documents. If you only want to scan part of the document, then do the cropping, digitally, on the scanned image.

5. The .TIF (pronounced "tiff") file format is the format of choice for archiving scanned images because of its high quality and universal support. If you plan to send the scanned images by e-mail, however, you'll want to convert the files to .JPG (pronounced "jay peg") format, which is compressed to a much smaller and more manageable size.

6. Rename your scanned images to names you can easily find later. It will take you much less time to search your computer for a file called "grandma mary 1950.tif" than it will be to find a file named "CSX0001.tif."

7. For color items or photos, the higher the dpi resolution (for example, 2400), the better the quality of the scan. Set your scanner to 32-bit or 48-bit color for better quality over, say, 16-bit color. Be aware that higher dpi and color depth make for a larger file size on your hard drive.

8. Use the gray scale option in your scanning software to scan black and white documents or images.

9. Before you experiment with a scanned image, such as editing, cropping, rotating, or resizing it, be sure to make a backup of the original file in case you make a mistake. It's a good idea to keep the original scan in a separate folder on your hard drive or on a recordable CD or DVD.

10. Never force down the lid on bulky objects such as books or keepsakes as this could crack the scanner's glass. Instead, drape a black cloth on top of the object to block out light from above.

That's it! You now have ideas about what's needed to transform your family pictures, important documents, and treasured objects into beautiful, long-lasting digital images.

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