Genealogy: Print scans vs. film scans

Genealogy: Print scans vs. film scansBy Barry J. Ewell

You’re probably wondering if it’s better to digitize your prints or your slides and negatives. Scanning film, slides or negatives will almost always produce better digital images than scanning prints. Slides and negatives are the original. Prints are second generation copies of the original film and do not contain as much information or detail as the negative they were made from.

If you have the option of scanning a negative, instead of scanning a print made from the negative, scan the negative. However, if this is not the case, scanning your prints is a great alternative.

There are some limits to print scanning that you should be aware of. Most color prints from your regular photo finisher contain around 300 DPI of detail. There are exceptions to this 300 DPI rule. Depending on the quality of the print being scanned and how crisp the image is, scanning at 600 DPI may sometimes produce better results. It’s normally difficult to see much difference when comparing a 300 DPI print scan and a 600 DPI print scan; 600 DPI scans produce much larger files that are more cumbersome to work with but ensure every detail in your print is recorded in digital form. If you want to be sure as much detail as possible is captured during scanning, go with 600 DPI print scans; if you want files that are easier to work with, 300 DPI scans would be a better choice for you.

One of the benefits of digitizing your photo collection is that you have the ability to create new prints or enlargements from your new digital images. However, the quality and size of the prints you’ll be able to make from your scanned images depends on the quality of the original film or print that was scanned.  The charts below represent the quality of prints made from scanned images. The sizes displayed horizontally represent the size of the print being made from the scanned image. On the left side of each chart is the resolution of the film being scanned or the size of the print that was scanned. Film scans are the best way to create large prints from digital files.

The following are the type of quality you can expect to get from different types scans and DPI:

Printing Size & Quality Recommendations from Standard 35 MM Film Scans

  • Scan Resolution: 2000 DPI:
    • 3 x 5; Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Good
    • 11 x 14: Fair
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • Scan Resolution: 3000 DPI:
    • 3 x 5; Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Great
    • 11 x 14: Good
    • 16 x 20: Fair
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • Scan Resolution: 4000 DPI:
    • 3 x 5; Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Great
    • 11 x 14: Great
    • 16 x 20: Good
    • 20 x 30: Poor

Printing Size & Quality Recommendations from 300 DPI Print Scans
Size of Print Scanned @ 300 DPI: Below

  • Wallet Scan
    • 3 x 5: Poor
    • 4 x 6: Poor
    • 5 x 7: Poor
    • 8 x 10: Poor
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 3 X 5 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Good
    • 5 x 7: Fair
    • 8 x 10: Poor
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 4 X 6 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Good
    • 5 x 7: Good
    • 8 x 10: Fair
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 5 X 7 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Fair
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 8 X 10 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Good
    • 11 x 14: Fair
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor

Printing Size & Quality Recommendations from 600 DPI Print Scans
Size of Print Scanned @ 600DPI: Below

  • Wallet Scan
    • 3 x 5: Good
    • 4 x 6: Fair
    • 5 x 7: Poor
    • 8 x 10: Poor
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 3 X 5 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Good
    • 5 x 7: Good
    • 8 x 10: Fair
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 4 X 6 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Good
    • 5 x 7: Good
    • 8 x 10: Good
    • 11 x 14: Poor
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 5 X 7 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Good
    • 11 x 14: Fair
    • 16 x 20: Poor
    • 20 x 30: Poor
  • 8 X 10 Scan
    • 3 x 5: Great
    • 4 x 6: Great
    • 5 x 7: Great
    • 8 x 10: Great
    • 11 x 14: Good
    • 16 x 20: Fair
    • 20 x 30: Poor