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Can I Make Prints From Old Negatives?

Photos hanging to dry in darkroom

At one time, unless you had a darkroom, you would need to send old negatives to a photo lab to have prints made. Now, with personal computers, desktop scanners and digital images, it is possible to make prints from old negatives without stepping into a traditional darkroom.

Convert to Digital

Vintage family photography

The first step is converting the negative to a digital format, such as a JPEG. Once it is in digital form, you can print off as many copies as you want from your desktop printer, or send the digital image to a photo publishing company or email it to family and friends, and they can print their own copies. This is an excellent way to share old family photographs, which were once very costly to reproduce.

Home Scanning

35mm film ready for scanner

If your computer system’s hardware includes a scanner, it may be equipped to scan negatives. Even inexpensive models include this feature. Some have a separate slide attachment or it is built into the scanner’s lid. After inserting the negative, per the scanner’s manufacturer’s instructions, use the control to scan negatives or transparencies and then follow the menu that typically pops up on the computer monitor. It is best to scan the negative at 300 ppi or higher.

Process

Photo contact sheet

Just like in the dark room, the negative should be free of dust before scanning. Normally, the shiny side should be facing the scanner’s glass. If you are unsure what direction you need to place the negative, remember the final image will be mirrored if the wrong side was turned to the scanner glass. If scan quality is a significant concern and you intend to scan a great number of negatives, consider investing in a more expensive scanner designed specifically for scanning negatives.

Scanning Services

If you don’t have a desktop scanner, there are photo labs and office supply stores that will scan negatives to create digital images. If you are concerned about the possibility of the lab loosing your negatives, you may want to look for an office supply store or lab that will scan the negative while you wait.

Editing

Retouching damaged photo at the Hulton photo archive in England.

Another advantage to converting the old negatives to digital form before printing is the ability to edit images in a photo editing software program, such as Photoshop, before printing. If the original image was scratched you can repair the digital version. Using editing software is also helpful if you missed a speck of dust during the scanning process.

About the Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.