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Scanning Photographs: A Guide

by Oscar Sodani
March 19, 2003

Oscar Sodani is a founder of Help2Go and owner of Help2Go Networks, an IT consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Oscar holds the CISSP certification as well as industry certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and Novell.

Seems like everyone has a scanner these days. Scanner prices have dropped to as low as $50, making them affordable for almost everyone with a PC. Yet, they're not the easiest things to use. How can you scan in that image of your child so you can e-mail it to friends and family all over the world? We'll show you how in this handy tutorial.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • What a scanner is
  • What you need to successfully scan pictures
  • A quick review of image formats
  • How to send those images off to loved ones

Scan Me!

Scanners are devices that turn images on paper into information that your computer can display on your monitor. They work very similarly to the Xerox copier you've used in your office or local library -- you place the paper or photograph that you want to scan face down on the scanner's glass surface. You close the lid, and use software to tell the scanner to scan. A bright light will pass over the paper -- this light helps the scanner capture every single little dot on the page. The scanner passes this information to the scanning software on your computer, which then works with the photo-imaging software to reproduce that information into an image on your computer screen.

Every scanner works slightly differently: in this article, we're going to show you how the great majority of flatbed scanners work. Use this guide along with the manuals that came with your scanner, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a scanning expert! If you need help getting your scanner to work, post your question in the Help2Go Q&A Forums.

What You Will Need

To complete this tutorial, you will need the following:

1) Your scanner should be hooked up to your computer, and the power should be on.

2) You should have installed the software that came with your scanner. This software should include a TWAIN driver (discussed below)

3) You need a photo-imaging software program, which is also usually included with your scanner. If not, Windows 98 and some versions of Windows 95 have a photo-imaging program built in (see below).

4) You need a photograph to scan in -- a photograph of a cute young relative always works best :)

Photo-imaging software

The first step is to start your photo-imaging software. These software packages usually have a name similar to "PhotoSuite" or "Photoshop" -- and this software is usually included on the CD that came with your scanner.

If you have Windows 98 or a recent copy of Windows 95, then your computer will have one of these programs built-in! It is called "Imaging for Windows", and you can find it by clicking on Start, then on Programs, then Accessories, and then choose Imaging.

Understanding TWAIN

Scanners are made by lots of different companies, and each company made their scanners to work in different ways. Photo-imaging software like "Imaging for Windows" can't possibly know how to communicate with every scanner in the world.

To remedy this communication problem, the companies that make scanners also make TWAIN software for their scanners. TWAIN software works as an intermediary between the photo-imaging software and the scanner itself. This TWAIN software also controls the scanner, telling it when to start scanning and whether it should scan in color or black and white. Once the TWAIN software has finished communicating with your scanner, it displays the captured image in your photo-editing software. You then use the photo-editing software to edit and save your new image.

Starting the TWAIN software

TWAIN software works from within the photo-imaging software you use. The command to start the TWAIN software is different in almost every photo-imaging application, but they usually fall under the File menu. For instance,

In "Imaging for Windows", you click on the File menu and choose Scan New...

In "Adobe Photoshop", you click on the File menu, then click on Import, and then select TWAIN_32...

Your scanner's TWAIN software will now pop-up on the screen. As we said before, TWAIN software is VERY different from scanner to scanner. At this point, you will need to consult your scanner's manual in order to figure out how make the scanner proceed to scan your image.

The TWAIN software will allow you to set some settings. When scanning in photos, we suggest you use the True Color (32-bit) setting and to use the 300 dpi setting. This will result in crisp, colorful images on your computer screen.

It Scanned In... Now What?

Now that you have successfully scanned in the image, you need to close out of the TWAIN software. This will bring you back to the photo-imaging software (i.e. "Imaging for Windows"). Your image should now appear front and center on the screen.

The next step is saving your image, but there are a number of ways to save it. Just as you can save a document as a Word file, or a WordPerfect file, or as a plain Text file, there are also a number of different formats you can save your images as. The two best formats are TIFF (.TIF) and JPEG (.JPG), and these are the two we will discuss.


TIFF is an image format that places image quality above all else. When you save your newly scanned image as a TIFF file, you will be saving it as is, with no visible degradation at all. The problem is that TIFF files take up a large amount of hard drive space. A typical photograph saved in TIFF format can take over 1 megabyte of space.

One megabyte TIFF files may be suitable for storing on your hard drive, but TIFF files are too large to send over e-mail. The other problem is that TIFF files are difficult to open if you do not have a photo-imaging program on your hard drive. Therefore, we cannot recommend that you use this format for sending images to family or friends. TIFF files are saved with a .TIF extension.


JPEG is an image format that places file size as the highest priority. When you save an image as a JPEG, the photo-imaging program will ask you what level you would like to save the image as. You can choose to have a tiny file size with poor image quality (Level 1), a larger file size with good image quality (Level 10), or something in between. When sending images over the Internet, I usually choose to save my images as a Level 7 JPEG. It provides a small file without too much image degradation.

If you are sending files over e-mail to family/friends, we highly recommend that you use the JPEG format. Any computer using Windows 95/98 will be able to open and view JPEG files with no problem. JPEG files are saved with a .JPG extension.

Save and Send

Now you can save your image file on your hard drive in the desired format: TIFF for personal images, and JPEG for images you want to e-mail to family/friends. We recommend that you save all your images in the My Documents folder on your hard drive, so that they are all kept in one place. Give the image a descriptive name, so you know exactly what photograph you are looking at.

The next step is to send the image file to a friend. Open your e-mail program and use the attachment function to attach your new file. Click on Send, and the photograph is on its way!


Scanning your photos is a great way to share your memories with family and friends that cannot be with you. Once you get the hang of scanning, it becomes a very simple process. With this guide, you'll be an expert in no time!

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