5 Ways to Digitize Polaroids

In general, the types of photography can be divided into digital and analog (or film-based). Polaroid skips the use of film and prints out a photograph instantly. Instant films like Polaroid cannot be duplicated by reprinting using film negatives and can’t be altered as easily as digital images. For these reasons, you may want to digitize your Polaroid images. 

Digitizing offers a great opportunity to maintain your Polaroid for a long time as well sharing it on social media. There are five simple ways to digitize your Polaroid photos:

  1. Take a picture of it with your smartphone
  2. Use specially designed apps like the Polaroid App
  3. Use a document scanner on your phone or tablet
  4. Use a flatbed scanner
  5. Use a digital camera

These 5 ways give you options for turning your analoge Polaroid into something you can save or share online. Digitizing offers a great opportunity to maintain your Polaroid for a long time without worrying about your Polaroid from fading. After reading this post, you will be able to determine the digitization option that is best for your photographic and stylistic needs.

1. Take a Picture on Your Phone

A picture of a Polaroid with a smart phone while holding it in your hand
A picture of a Polaroid with a smart phone while holding it in your hand

By far, this is the easiest option. Just open your camera and take a picture of the Polaroid. Even though it is the easiest, there are a few things to consider. 

Here are the issues you could experience when taking a picture of your Polaroid with your phone:

  • The distance from the print and the angle or perspective of the camera can cause distortion.
  • Glare or reflections can show up if you don’t angle the phone just right
  • It can be time-consuming to get the perfect angle
  • Colors in the image may not be correct because of the light you are photographing in
  • You do need to manually crop the image
 A Polaroid digitized with an iPhone X
A Polaroid digitized with an iPhone X. Even with cropping and zooming in it was difficult to make the edges straight and there are reflections also present in the image.

This option does allow for some creativity in choosing an appealing background and other features surrounding the photo that may be captured. It is also the fastest, especially if you are not too concerned with glare or reflections. You do need to manually crop the image since the camera in the iPhone doesn’t automatically crop the image to the white border like other options does.

2. Apps to Convert Polaroids to Digital Images

Many photographers opt for an app that will reduce the amount of time taking the photo, automatically fix angles, and gives more editing options. Three apps that can be used in digital photo editing are Polaroid Originals App and Impossible Project. These apps all have their strengths and weaknesses, which are discussed below.

The Polaroid App by Polaroid Originals

The Polaroid App
The Polaroid App on Apple Apps Store and Google Play
  • Free with options to buy and connect other Polaroid products
  • Easily scan your Polaroid – no glare or weird angles in the final image
  • Share right from the app
  • Works best with i-Type, 600, SX-70 and Spectra film
  • Available for both iPhone and Android

I found that The Polaroid app is the simplest of the three apps to use for digitizing Polaroids. It has a great tutorial on how to use the scanner. However, the scanner is the only part of the app you can use for your already printed Polaroids.

4 Steps to Use the Polaroid App

  1. Download the app to your phone from Google Play or Apple App Store.
  2. Open the scanner and angle your camera to take a picture without glare. 
  3. The app will alter the perspective of your shot to capture the essence of a Polaroid image without any distortions. Then, it’s time to crop!
  4. After you’ve perfected the crop, save and share your digitized Polaroid. 

The Impossible Project App

The Impossible Project App
The Impossible Project App on Google Play or Apple App Store.
  • Free
  • Two major features of the App: 
    • Scan and digitize photos (don’t need to connect to the camera to digitize photos)
    • Control the Impossible I-1 camera
  • Scanner is somewhat difficult to use because you have to manually crop the Polaroid to the border
  • Does not reduce glare
  • App Scanner works with all Polaroid film (i-Type, 600, SX-70, and Polaroid Go)
  • App Scanner has the option to turn the camera flash on or off
  • No automatic crop (like the Polaroid App) but let’s you edit the crop
  • Available for both iPhone and Android

This app is made for you to control the Impossible I-1 instant camera but has a built-in scanner to scan polaroid taken with the camera. It provides a video tutorial on how to avoid glare. However, this app doesn’t eliminate glare or unwanted reflections in any way.

 4 Steps to Use the Impossible Project App

  1. Download the app to your phone from Google Play or Apple App Store.
  2. Scan image with the scanner. Choose to turn the flash on or off.
  3. Select the film size and crop the image only to include your Polaroid and no background.
  4. Save and share!

The Snapseed App

The Snapseed Photo Editing App
The Snapseed Photo Editing App on Google Play or Apple App Store.
  • Free intuitive image editor by Google
  • 29 Tools and Filters, including: Healing, Brush, Structure, HDR, Perspective
  • Opens JPG and RAW files
  • Non-destructive editing (you can always undo what you did to your image)
  • Create presets to be applied to images later
  •  Selective filter brush
  • All styles can be tweaked with fine, precise control
  • Editor is not made specifically for Polaroid images

To use the Snapseed, you must have already taken a photo on your smartphone. It accesses your camera roll; there is no option to take pictures through the app. This app is mainly an intuitive image editor but not specifically made for editing Polaroid images. The Snapseed app is a really good image editor with editing tools mostly found on paid apps or on editing software made for desktop computers but it takes a lot to adapt to editing Polaroids and requires more time to create a cropped image that looks good and still resembles a Polaroid.

4 Steps to Use the Snapseed App

  1. Download the app to your phone from Google Play or Apple App Store.
  2. Select your image from the camera roll.
  3. Choose from many editing options and transform your photo until you are happy with the result. 
  4. Save and share!

Polaroid Digitization App Summary

Each app has similar features, but in my opinion, only one standout option. The Polaroid App is best for scanning Polaroids using a smartphone application. It allows you the ease of not worrying about glare and duplicates the original Polaroid very well. The Polaroid Originals app produces the highest quality image in the easiest and fastest manner when compared to the other two applications. I would also recommend using the Snapseed app for photo editing once you scan in your images using the Polaroid App.

3. Document Scanner Apps On A Phone or Tablet

A document scanner uses your phone’s camera to act as a flatbed scanner without the hassle of needing access to a computer with a flatbed scanner. Usually, these are used to transform a printed document into a PDF quickly and easily, but you can also digitize your polaroids easily using the following document scanner apps:

Notes App on iPhones

Notes App from Apple. Can scan documents such as Polaroid
  • Free
  • Quick and easy to use
  • No-fuss scanning
  • Limited editing capabilities
  • Saves as PDF
  • No easy way to convert to a photo file other than a screenshot
  • Only available for iPhones

3 Steps To Scan A Polaroid Using the Notes App on an iPhone or iPad

  1. Create a new note in the notes app on an iPhone or iPad.
  2. Choose the Scan Document option that comes up
  3. Use your camera to scan the Polaroid and make sure you have even light over the image. The app will only take a picture of the Polaroid, straighten the edges, and scan the Polaroid. It will also cut out the background around the Polaroid so you don’t have to edit it out later.

(Source: Get Polaroids on Your Phone)

Google Drive

The Google Drive App on Apple App store
The Google Drive App on Apple App store
  • Free
  • Quick and easy to use
  • No-fuss scanning
  • Limited editing capabilities
  • Saves as PDF
  • See this article on how to use Google Drive to scan your documents and search for them
  • Download the app to your phone from Google Play or the Apple app store

Adobe Scan App

The Adobe Scan App on Apple App store
The Adobe Scan App on Apple App store

  • Free
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Allows for flash or no flash scanning
  • Similar to the Apple Notes app but with more controls
  • Edit color, crop, and clean up scan within the app
  • Saves as PDF or JPEG
  • Share a link, a file, or a copy while in the app
  • Download the app to your phone from Google Play or Apple App Store.

CamScanner App

The CamScanner App on Apple App store
  • Free
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Easy to share on social media
  • Clear and sharp images
  • Download the app to your phone from Google Play or Apple App Store.

Similar to the other apps discussed above, the steps for all of these document scanning apps are generally straightforward.

Here are the steps to use document scanner apps to digitize your Polaroid:

  1. Download or Open The App on your phone or tablet
  2. Choose your settings
  3. Point and shoot.
  4. Crop and edit. 
  5. Save and share.

Document Scanner Apps On A Phone or Tablet Summary

If you have an iPhone, the built-in Notes app is the best option. The Notes app is the fastest and easiest of the document scanning apps to use for scanning instant film like Polaroids. It will straighten out the Polaroid for you as well as cut out the background around the Polaroid automatically. If you have an Android-based phone then Google Drive is the best option. The second-best option for both operating systems is Adobe Scan because of its enhanced editing options. 

4. The Flatbed Scanner

There are several scanners on the market. Depending on your computer and processor, you may opt for a specific brand of scanner. Below are three options that vary by price. The more you spend, the better quality your final scans will be, especially if you want a high-resolution image or to print large. 

High-End Option: Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner

Epson Perfection V600 Flatbed Scanner is great for scanning Polaroids and film negatives
Epson Perfection V600 Flatbed Scanner is great for scanning Polaroids and film negatives
  • Around $300
  • Allows you to scan documents, photos, slides, and film negatives
  • Up to 6400 x 9600 dpi resolution
  • Comes with photo editing software
  • Transparency unit that perfectly holds negatives and slides included
  • Options for scanning and copying with scan-to-email and PDF functions

Mid-Range Model: Plustek ephoto Z300 Photo Scanner

Plustek ephoto z300 scanner is great mid-range option for scanning Polaroids
Plustek ephoto z300 scanner is great mid-range option for scanning Polaroids
  • Around $200
  • Scans photos and documents (no setting for film negatives)
  • Two dpi settings: 300 dpi and 600 dpi
  • More efficient than a traditional flatbed scanner – quickly scan one after the other
  • Photo restoration editing software included

Budget Buy: Canon CanoScan Lide 300 Scanner

The Canon CanoScan Lide 300 scanner is great budget-buy option for scanning Polaroids

  • Around $90
  • Sleek, light weight, portable design
  • Fast, 10-second scanning helps you to quickly scan several Polaroids
  • Scan photos and documents (but no film negatives)
  • Connects directly to a laptop or computer via USB
  • Up to 2400 x 2400 dpi resolution

Each of these scanners is among the best rated in their price range. The amount of money you spend allows for more features included in the scanner package you choose to buy. Of the scanners mentioned, I recommend the Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner. Even though it is the higher-end option, the scans you get are consistently better and they usually need less editing to get the colors accurate. It is also a great and easy scanner for scanning film negatives.

5. Using Your Digital Camera 

Use a DSLR to photograph your Polaroid
Use a DSLR to photograph your Polaroid

Instead of a phone camera, you could capture your Polaroid using your digital camera. Using a similar method as you would a smartphone, using a DSLR or other digital camera will capture a much sharper image with a higher resolution, more contrast, and more colors range. However, like using your smartphone, the difficulty with this option lies in capturing a digital image without glare or reflections, as well as avoiding a strange angle. 

How it works:

  • Just like your phone, take a picture of the Polaroid using as close to 55mm – 85mm focal length as your lens allows.
  • Use a tripod to keep your camera steady and in the same place between shots. I also recommend using a tripod that will convert to hold your camera horizontally.
  • Use lighting and angles to get the best image. I suggest finding a area near a large open window with sunlight.
  • Capture a high-resolution image with correct exposure.
  • Upload to a computer for editing and cropping

Downsides:

  • Difficult to avoid glare, lens distortion, weird angles, and reflections
  • Multiple steps before you can easily post on social media, including editing the RAW file. Especially if you don’t have wireless connectivity to your phone on your digital camera

How Long Do Polaroids Last?

A Polaroid that has faded in sunlight
A Polaroid that has faded in sunlight

Polaroids are not archival and will not last forever. If kept out of direct sunlight, high humidity, and drastic temperature changes, a Polaroid can last 30 to 50 years. But for your Polaroids to last that long, you want to avoid alterations and take special care to preserve your Polaroids. 

To avoid visible alterations after your Polaroid has printed, do the following:

  • Allow the photos to completely dry during the first 30 days after exposure
  • This dry time allows the chemicals to set. 
  • Store in a cool, well-ventilated environment
  • Avoid direct sunlight

After the first 30 days of exposure, it should be safe to store your Polaroids in an album or archival sleeve. Store them in a dry environment away from sunlight and ultraviolet radiation. 

Photo Album for storing Polaroids
Photo Album for storing Polaroids

Here are some tips for taking care of your Polaroids:

  • Allow a dry time of 30 days allow development chemicals to set
  • Avoid extreme sunlight or UV exposure
  • Store in a cool, dry place
  • Avoid high humidity
  • Avoid drastic fluctuations in temperature

Some places you can store your Polaroids include:

  • Old shoe boxes
  • Archival sleeves (like these)
  • Photo albums (like these)
  • UV-protected glass picture frames (like these)

Turning A Digital Photo From Your Smartphone into a Polaroid

The Polaroid Lab can be used to make Polaroids from your smartphone
The Polaroid Lab can be used to make Polaroids from your smartphone

The easiest way to turn your smartphone images into real Polaroids is the Instant Lab printer by Polaroid. It works directly with your smartphone to print images in about fifteen minutes. The Polaroid Instant Lab starter set costs around $160 and comes 16 sheets of film: a pack of 8 color sheets of film and a pack of 8 black & white sheets of film along with an album for storing prints.

There are mixed reviews for the Instant Lab Printer

  • The image quality can vary between images
  • It can be difficult to use, depending on your phone. 
  • Scratches, dirt, or cracks on your screen will show up on the images
  • It is expensive per printed photo
  • Not compatible with smartphones that have screens smaller than 4.7 inches or less than 326 ppi density like the iphone 4, 5, and SE (2016). It is also not compatible with flip phones or the Fairphone 3.
  • Only compatible with iPhone 7 through iPhone 13 included with IOS 12.4 or higher
  • Works with most popular Android phones, such as Samsung, Google Pixel, Huawei, OnePlus, Xiaomi and LG with a screen size bigger than 4.7 inches and 326 ppi density. It also only works with Android 7 OS and newer.

One perk to having a portable Polaroid printer, like the Polaroid Instant Lab, is you do not have to carry around a clunky Polaroid camera. A smartphone camera is much easier to use during everyday activities or at special events. But does the aesthetic that you’re trying to achieve outweigh the cost?

Other options include apps to edit a Polaroid-like border around a digital image and many smartphone editing applications that can do this are free. However, the style and aesthetic are not the same as a genuine Polaroid image.

A Summary Comparison of Digitizing Options

Now that you know all about each of the five options to digitize your Polaroids, here is a comparison of each of the options based on their positive and negative attributes.

Pros
Cons
Take A Picture On Your Phone
– Quick and easy
Most phones have high-quality digital cameras built-in
– Rapidly post to social media
– May cause unwanted glare or reflections
– Difficult to find an angle that is not strange
– Distortions are sometimes hard to avoid with a phone camera and built-in editor
Specially Designed Apps
– Options for editing outside of built-in camera’s capabilities
– High-quality final image
– Can be pricy, depending on the app
– Some are good at reducing glare; some are not
Document Scanner On Your Phone Or Tablet
– Better control over final image specifications, like dpi and file quality
– Easy conversion for use in digital documents
– Can be saved as different file types
– Not all apps save as JPEGs
– Apps do not automatically eliminate glare
– Can require retouching of a digital image to erase any imperfections from scanning
Use A Flatbed Scanner
– Quality scans that can be edited right on your computer
– Obtain high-resolution images that will look good when printed at large sizes
– Can easily be transferred to a memory card or flash drive
– Can be expensive to purchase
– Requires access to a computer to use and for editing
– File type and quality dependent on scanner specifications
– Can have difficulty connecting, some require hard-line connections
Use A Digital Camera
– Similar to using a phone
– Saves to a memory card
– Easy to transfer to a computer for editing
– Obtain high-resolution images that will look good when printed at large sizes
– More steps to getting your picture on social media
– Still need to capture at weird angles to avoid reflections
– Must use special lighting to avoid glare
Chart Comparing the Best Ways to Digitize A Polaroid

Which Options Are the Best?

Depending on the amount of money you want to spend and the number of Polaroids you have to digitize, your choice between the five digitization processes may vary. The easiest option may not give you the best quality, so a breakdown of these choices is below. 

Overall Best Option: Using An Application

  • Polaroid Originals app is quick, and you don’t waste time trying to reduce glare and reflections
  • Notes app creates a quality, no glare scan right on your phone

Best Quality: Using a flatbed scanner

  • A flatbed scanner eliminates the possibility of glare and gives you a high-quality image you can edit on your computer

Cheapest Option: Using your camera

  • Using your cell phone camera
  • Using your digital camera
  • Using any of the apps suggested above (they’re free!)

Fastest Option: Using Your Phone’s camera or Polaroid Originals app

  • Point and shoot with any of the apps or your phone’s camera – all very quick
  • Polaroid Originals app is the fastest because you don’t have to fight glare or weird angles

In Conclusion

There are several reasons why someone would want to digitize a Polaroid image. These include:

  • To post them on social media
  • To share them with friends and family – Quickly send photos via a text or email
  • To preserve them – Digital files last forever, and you’ve “backed up” your hard copy
  • To duplicate them – Digital files allow for duplication and manipulation

Of the five ways to digitize your Polaroids (or instant film), the best way to digitize Polaroids is by using the Scanner in Polaroid’s app. There are ways to create a higher resolution and quality image, but you can’t beat the ease and speed at which you can digitize your Polaroid with the Polaroid app. 

Digitizing your Polaroids (or other instant film) enables you to keep a copy forever and easily allows you to convert to different file types. Based on your wants and needs for digitizing Polaroids, choose one of the five ways discussed throughout this post. Each option provides a different set of advantages and disadvantages for you to compare.

Lee

My name is Lee and I love photography and learning. I received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in 2010 and have worked as a university professor for the last 10 years in addition to being a working photographer. I started this website to learn more about digital and film-based photography and to provide a resource for all of my students.

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