Archival Quality Scans of Photos

[Editor’s note: The following guest post from Gary Clark, Founder of, discusses how you can create archival quality scans of family photos with the compact yet powerful Flip-Pal mobile scanner]


While exhibiting and presenting a session on dating 19th century photographs at the August 2010 Family History Expo in Sandy, Utah, I had the opportunity to take a first-hand look at the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and give it good test. I was very interested in the capabilities of the Flip-Pal mobile scanner, especially for archival-quality scans while traveling.

First, a little background. As the founder of, I have digitized over 3,000 19th century photographs using a variety of techniques and products and along the way I have developed some expectations of scanning and copying technologies. publishes an online database of 19th century photographs and has developed processes to date them—both online and using printed publications. Additionally, we perform photo restoration, requiring high-resolution digital copies of the original image.

We digitize photographs either with a high-end flatbed scanner or by copying the image with a high-resolution digital camera, using a copy stand and custom lights. A 12 megapixel Nikon D300 camera with a 60mm macro lens is used. All of this equipment costs more than $2,500 and is very bulky. The flatbed scanner also requires an attached PC, cables, power source, etc.—not a real nimble set up.

When traveling, I usually don’t have the luxury of bringing my scanner or all of my photography equipment along, but I still need to frequently create high-quality scans of newly discovered photographs.  Because of this, I have been seeking a high-resolution portable scanning solution.

Back to the Flip-Pal mobile scanner test. During a lull in the second day of the expo I introduced myself to Ben Kimbell in the Flip-Pal mobile scanner booth and explained my activities and scanning needs.  Despite my skepticism, the size, ease of use and price seemed very intriguing, if too good to be true—and you know what they say about things being too good to be true. So I gave Ben a challenge and had him scan a really nice 120 year-old cabinet card that was very crisp and had a great tonal range.

Ben scanned the picture at 600 dpi and I took it back to my PC to open with Photoshop. Voila! Most people wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the Flip-Pal scan and the master copy I made with my Nikon camera—which was also made at approximately 600 dpi.

When zoomed in as much as 300%, both images exhibited nearly identical sharpness, with differences being mostly a matter of opinion at that point. The scanned image did have some detectable noise and some JPEG compression loss. To be honest, you really had to look for them, and both of those were in acceptable ranges—especially when you compare the JPEG file size of 1.8MB for the Flip-Scan versus the 24MB of the original Photoshop file. The Flip-Pal can also scan at 300 dpi, which we did. The results were very good and ideal for most user applications.

Original image

Flip-Pal scanned at 600dpi

The Flip-Pal mobile scanner is certainly up to all the scanning tasks that a genealogist could have—and more. I will use it as an archival tool when I don’t have access to my studio or can’t bring all my equipment with me. The small size is also a great benefit to the traveler—it’s half the size of my iPad and the image quality is superb.

Gary Clark, Founder, Contact: gary[@]

About provides numerous services and tools to genealogists of all levels as well as collectors and historians, that guide them through the process of dating 19th century photographs and helps them preserve their valuable photographs through restoration, reproduction and archiving techniques.

Tools include an online gallery of more than 1,000 dated images in over 50 categories to compare with undated family photos. Viewing documented examples similar to family photos can help establish the probable date of a photograph. This web site, which includes an extensive history and description of 19th century photographs, is freely available to the public.

A series of easy-to-use unique publications for the genealogist and other 19th century photograph enthusiasts are forthcoming from Available in e-book and print, these highly illustrated sample-based guides provide the most in-depth explanation of photograph dating techniques ever published.

In addition, offers expert photograph restoration and enhancement services—ensuring that damaged photos will not be lost forever, but can be restored and recreated as beautiful artwork. For a comprehensive source of 19th century photographic information visit

Images courtesy of Gary Clark,

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