Tutorial: Restore Scanned Photos in Photoshop

Original, scanned photo.

Original, scanned photo.

This is  a detailed tutorial with screenshots. Many of you probably have old photos lying in a drawer or shoebox.
The first thing you should do if you intend to digitize these images, is to clean the surface of the images before scanning them. It’ll save you a lot of post-processing later. For this tutorial I’ve scanned a typical summer photo and I’ll restore the photo using Photoshop.

These are the exact same techniques that I used in my previous post with the sexy beast that was eating ice cream.

01 find histogram - 02 all channels view

01 find histogram – 02 all channels view

  • Open your scanned photo in Photoshop.
  • Via the top menu you choose window – histogram. OR: click on the histogram symbol like shown in illustration 01 -find histogram.
  • Look at each color channel (RGB – Red Green Blue).Click on the little icon up in the right corner (marked red in illustration 2) and choose the option “All channel view”.
    This image is not too bad, but if you don’t know what to look for please have a look at the red circles in illustration 01: these are the problem areas and you want to get rid of some of the gaps.

So how do we solve this?

03 add levels layer - 04 blue channel

03 add levels layer – 04 blue channel

  • Add a levels layer from the layers palette (illustration 3)
  • Work on the color channels one by one. First adjust the red channel (click on RGB where it says channel and you’ll get a drop down menu with the individual channels – just above the histogram in illustration 3).Hold the Alt-button and move the black slider (or the white one – depending on your photo – illustration 4) untill you see a little bit of color, then pull it back so that the color disappears.
  • Use the same technique on the green channel,
  • and on the blue channel (illustration 04)

That’s it! The colors should now look better.

You can compare the changes you've made by clicking the eye next to the levels layer

You can compare the changes you’ve made by clicking the eye next to the levels layer.


Removing dust, scratches and color spots

This photo is pretty decent, but there are some minor problems with dust, scratches & color spots and we probably don’t want this to ruin our old family photos…

The first thing you do is to copy your photo layer by dragging it onto the new layer in the layers palette (illustration 7).

07 create new layer

07 create new layer and make sure that the changes you make is on this layer.

Remember to always make sure that you’re working on your copied layer and not the original. Like in illustration 07: in the layers palette the layer that you’re working on is marked blue. By default it’s named “Background copy” since you’ve just copied it.

There are several methods to remove dust, scratches & color spots. I’ll show you two of the alternatives. Often it’s a good idea to combine these two methods.

08 filter - noise - dust & scratches 09 radius threshold

08 filter – noise – dust & scratches 09 radius threshold

Alternative 1

  • Top menu – filter – noise – dust & scratches (see illustration 8)
  • change the radius and the threshold (illustration 09).

Note: If the threshold is too low, the image will be softened (this can also be used as an effective wrinkle remover). In my case I set the threshold to about 28 and kept the radius at 3, but you’ll have to find the best setting for your image. Feel free to experiment!

You can click inside the little preview window and move your image around in there to see the effects before you apply them.

Alternative 2:

10 healing brush (plus the clone stamp tool)

10 healing brush (plus the clone stamp tool)

  • Choose the healing brush tool (illustration 10) and choose a small brush size with a soft edge.
  • ALT-click on your image somewhere near the place with scratches.
    By Alt-clicking you sample some of the image information, so you want to Alt-click somewhere that has the same color that you want to re-produce. (I wanted to fix the forest on this photo, so I made sure to sample the forest).
  • Now let go of the Alt-button and brush over the scratch.

Remember to Alt-click and sample often. Make sure you clean up all the details.

If you want to zoom in on your photo while working in Photoshop: hold CTRL and + (to zoom in) or CTRL and – (to zoom out).

13 - Crop Tool

13 – Crop Tool

You can also use the clone stamp tool with this same method (sampling by Alt-clicking), but the clone-stamp tool creates a clone of the area that you’ve Alt-clicked.

Often it’s necessary to switch and use both these tools  – and both techniques (alternative 1 & 2) – on an image.

14 brightness & contrast layer

14 brightness & contrast layer

Combining Alternative 1 & 2 will make the process quick, but again: it all depends on your original photo and which kind of damages that you want to repair. Like I’ve already mentioned: This photo wasn’t that worn out and didn’t have a lot of damage. The colors weren’t too retarded either.

The next step was to crop the photo to get rid of the small part with the boat (illustration 13).

As a final touch I added a brightness/contrast layer where I decreased the brightness and increased the contrast.

When you’re satisfied, flatten the image and save as a .jpg, .tiff (or whichever file format it is that you prefer).

The finished result.

Related articles

I hope this tutorial was helpful! Here’s all these photos (plus some) in a gallery:


46 thoughts on “Tutorial: Restore Scanned Photos in Photoshop

  1. This was a totally awesome tutorial. I worked on a really old and damaged photo the other night. I think it was too damaged. It had been bent too .. old sepia. Couldn’t do much good to it.

    Even after reading this excellent post, I still don’t understand the difference between the ‘Healing tool’ and the clone stamp.

    • In the photo that I’ve scanned in this article I’ve used the the clone stamp for cloning parts of the image, while the healing brush is used to sample a colour from one spot and smooth out another spot (mixing the colours in that area with the one you’ve sampled).
      Here’s an illustration:
      clone vs healing

  2. Cardinal, I don’t even have Photoshop -yet, but I hope to get it soon and when your hits go up on this and other tutorials, well, thank you in advance!

  3. I’ve been sharing this tutorial from you twice to some friends of mine. 🙂

    Thank you very much for sharing it, Cardinal. 🙂

  4. Pingback: 1970′s Ford from the Family Album | Cardinal Guzman

    • Thanks campanudellaanna. I hope the tutorial can be helpful and improve all those old family photos people have lying around. Some photos actually look cooler with that old look, but it’s always useful to get rid of scrathes and such. Thanks for the follow!

      • I’ve read there are bloggers who are willing to share to give a tutorial how to use photoshop. and that person is @Cardinal. Honestly, I don’t know about photoshop, swear. I have only Picasa, but picasa do not have a complete tool like photoshop, such as an example process above the blue sea. Really your article is very helpful. Thousand thanks my friend 😛 I will be looking to download photoshop

  5. WOW. Even I can understand this tutorial. Often, tutorials written by experts forget that there are those of us with whom they can’t leave out even the most elementary directions. You proceed through these tutorials in a clear step-by-step fashion that is easy to follow. Thank you very much!

    • Thanks George, I appreciate your feedback.
      I’ve also felt frustration over tutorials where the explanations aren’t thorough enough: often they skip small details becuase they assume that people already know, or because they just didn’t think about it. Then it can be difficult for the reader to complete the tutorial and you might end up with an unwanted result.
      With this in mind I tried to be meticulous when I made this tutorial, so that everyone, even a beginner, can follow the steps and learn from the process. For example: Instead of just writing “copy the layer”, I explained and showed how to actually make a copy of the layer.

  6. Thanks for the pingback. I’ve been reading through your tutorial and it makes sense. Easy to follow, plenty of screenshots with good explanation. Well done.

  7. What a great tutorial! I’ve never really thought about how I’d go about dealing with scanned images. I’ve had a few and maybe I’ll do more now that I know how to do it. Thank you!

    • It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually pretty quick. Normally you’ll scan several photos, so all the things in this tutorial goes on autopilot after you’ve done it a couple of times. The most time consuming part here is the actual scanning.

  8. Nice explanation and graphics on your dust / spec removal tutorial. I do not use the dust and scratches filter enough and waste so much time using the clone or patch tools. I am going to use this technique more often. Thanks … Frank

    • Thank you very much Mr Hardy. I find the dust & scrathes filter to be a very helpful tool that saves me time and work. I had a quick look at your blog earlier today and I liked what I saw, so I’ll definitely keep an eye on it.

      P.S. You should update the links in your gravatar profile.

  9. Very interesting post. I’m working on a bunch of older scanned photos right now and will try out some of your techniques, especially with the dust and scratches that show up on all my scanned photos no matter how careful I am!!

  10. I’d like to think I’ve progressed from beginner to intermediate and I wish to say thank you for this article.
    I use CS6 extended but would like to add a couple of points.
    When using the healing tools do so on a new transparent layer so as not to damage your original layer & always do these repairs at 100% or larger as it’s easier to fix the small things.
    Also where possible convert the layer to a smart object then you can make changes easily at a later time.
    All in all a great easy to understand article, thank you.

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