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How to safely remove dust from your photos?

Dust is one of the silent killers of a photograph

Photographs are incredibly valuable for our lives, they are a communication channel with the younger generations and a way to preserve our history and pass on our legacy.

If you have plenty of photos stored in an old shoebox or in an album, you need to realise that wether you want it or note, these are degrading day by day as the pass of time do not contribute to preserve them, and dust is one of the major silent killers of a photograph.

Dust and particles contribute to the Physical or mechanical damage, which is one of the most common causes for photo deterioration, every time you get them out of their album or you scramble them in your hands a small amount of deterioration by friction is happening, sometimes not noticeable but progressively destroying your memories.

This means that dust and scratches, which may have built up over time, are a major obstacle to overcome, here are some tips on best practices to preserve your photos and deal with dust in a smarter way:

Halt! The Reason You Shouldn’t Simply Dust Off Your Old Photographs

Although it may seem like a good idea to just wipe the dust, particles or built up off a picture with a towel or tissue, doing so might actually do more harm to the original. The reason for this is because wiping a picture with a cloth or tissue might harm the photo’s fragile emulsion layer if dust particles are present, particularly if they are attached to the surface of the photo.

Use a soft-bristled brush or air blower to get rid of dust from an image. To remove loose dust without disturbing the emulsion layer, use a soft-bristled brush, such as a camel hair brush. Loose dust may be blown away using an air blower, such as a hand-held bulb blower or a compressed air canister, without touching the picture itself.

If the dirt or grime on the picture is too resistant to be cleaned using a brush or air blower, it may be better to have a professional conservator clean the photo in a safe and effective manner. 


hand with gloves holding a swap to prepare photo for scanning

Keep in mind that preventing harm to a priceless photograph is always preferable than attempting to restore one that has already been compromised and please DO NOT use Chemicals or alcohol based products.

A good scanner is handy, but good scanner practices are imperative!

Old photo scanning services

A Scanner provides a controlled environment to process your old photos, there are many options in the market to suit your specific needs, starting from mobile or home versions,  professional flatbed  scanners and up to aereal or drum scanners that provide museum quality results.

Assuming that you own a reasonable quality flatbed scanner you can do this at home following our recommended scanning guidelines including cleaning your scanner, setting up bith and depht, a 600dpi minimum resolution and always scanning in colour (Yes even black and white or sepia photos)

Alternatively you can contact us and send us your photos for a damage assessment or for bulk scanning (We know how to handle them with care) or visit our photo restoration price guide to get an idea of the services we provide 

Some picture scanners are better than others when it comes to digitising your old family snapshots. Better quality scans amplify the results of the restoration because of the increased detail and resolution and colour processing that comes from using a high-quality scanner.

If you want to preserve the quality of the original picture, you’ll can benefit from a scanner with a high enough resolution and specifications.

Effective scanning procedures are a massive part of the result obtained from the digitising operation.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Making sure the picture is completely wrinkle- and fold-free before placing it on the scanner bed.
  • Carefully removing, grease dust and dirt from the scanner glass as it may introduce new flaws into the digitised picture, so keeping it clean is essential.
  • Scanning the image from different angles
  • Use a proper configuration and software
  • Prevent and avoid vibrations on the scanners surface

Scanning is a good way to get your images digitalised and the first step to get your photos into photoshop to make them look they way they used to or even better, hence the importance to get this right since the beginning, (Check on our article tips to scanning photos or visit our blog if you are facing those nasty honeycomb paper textures)

What Causes Scratches in an Old Photograph?

An antique photograph’s surface may develop scratches for a number of different causes over time. These may include the photograph being handled improperly, being stored incorrectly, or being exposed to dust or harder surfaces or elements, even deliberately scratched.

Scratches are also possible to appear on a photograph if the emulsion layer has been scraped or damaged in any way.

It is essential to handle old photographs with care and to preserve them in a location that is both cool and dry to reduce the likelihood that they will get scratched or even cracked.

It is best to avoid exposing the photographs to direct sunlight or temperatures that are very high, since doing so might cause the emulsion layer to get damaged and result in scratches.

Additionally, you should avoid using any materials, such as sticky tape or other substances that can leave a residue on the picture.

Scratched photo of Australian aircraft - three RAAF Beaufort bombers

Do not add Dust!

When scanning a photo in a good resolution (starting at 600dpi) we are enlarging the area of the photo and therefore enlarging any issues therein contained, as these are going to be severely magnified, we o not wat to add an extra layer of problems by adding dust and other particles onto the scanning process, so make sure that your photo and scanner glass are very clean. 

Have in mind that there are recommended methods and products to clean your scanner so do not take this process lightly and abide to the manufacturer recommendations. Also have in mind that friction can damage your photo further so take the proper preventative measures to preserve them.

Best photo restoration results are often consequence of a good preparation of the photos, a clean scanner and resolution of at least 600dpi and 16 bit depth when scanning.

Man holding a magnification loupe to assess the damage of a photo prior estimating the photo restoration services
Black manual air duster or air pump

Air Dusting: A Safe and Effective Way to Remove Dust from Photos

In addition to using a good scanner and following proper scanning practices, clean surfaces are essential to achieving good results. Both the glass on the scanner bed and the photo itself should be cleaned thoroughly before scanning. Any dust or debris on the surface can be captured by the scanner and become part of the digitized image. Preparing the photo before scanning is also important. Any loose debris or dust should be removed from the photo with a soft brush or compressed air. It’s also a good idea to handle the photo by the edges to avoid leaving fingerprints or other marks on the surface

Using Adobe photoshop’s, Dust and Scratches filter.

Retouching photos may be accomplished with the use of Photoshop’s dust and scratches feature, which is a tool. It does this by minimising the visibility of flaws such as minor scratches and dust particles in a picture.

Although it has the potential to be a helpful tool, it is not without both advantages and disadvantages.

The capability of the dust and scratches function to erase minor flaws from a photograph in a fast and uncomplicated manner is one of the most significant benefits of using this feature.

When compared to the alternative of manually removing each individual scratch or speck of dust, it can save a significant amount of time. Additionally, it is a non-destructive tool, meaning that the original image is not altered and the changes can be undone if necessary.

photoshop interface showing, dust and scratches filter over the image of two girls being edited
image detail before dust and scratches filter is applied dust-and-scratches-supression-after

Dust and scratches filter limitations

However, utilising the dust and scratches feature does come with a few limitations that you should be aware of. One of the primary problems is that it often causes the edges of a picture to become blurry. This can result in a loss of detail and make the image look less sharp. In addition, using the function excessively can result in the image losing its texture, which can cause it to appear artificial. This issue can arise if the function is applied too heavily.

It’s possible to make too much use of the dust and scratches feature, which is another problem with it. It is possible that the picture may take on a “plastic” appearance if it is applied too thickly or too often, giving the impression that it has been over-edited. It is essential to make use of the instrument in a measured manner and only when absolutely required.

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