Q&A: How To Restore Old, Faded, Original Prints

Old fading wedding photo and digitally corrected version.

I received this question via email from a person worrying about old, fading prints in her scrapbooks:

“I have noticed some of my older photos look like they may be degrading; if I only have the photo itself, what is the best way to restore the print? Do I just take another photo and send it in to reprint? And one other thing, your opinion of Walgreens photo quality?”

My email answer follows along with the three links I sent to her. (I added the photos, which were not in my email, and I added the comment at the end.)

Eventually, all prints fade over time. Unframed, prints last from 5 years to 26 years depending on the type of paper, the chemicals, and the care used by the lab technician. The best paper is Fuji Crystal Archive, processed in Fuji chemicals by a quality lab. My second choice is Kodak Edge Generations paper. See the first ink below.

Film also fades over time, so I have been making digital copies of my most important photographic prints.

I would suggest you make digital copies of your fading prints before they fade any more. You can boost the quality of a digital copy of a fading print by using Photoshop or other image editing software to boost the contrast and saturation, and adjust for colors that have shifted. Then send the digital files off to a quality lab to have new prints made. See the second link below.

I periodically test local labs (Walgreens, Walmart, Costco and others) to check the quality of their prints. They range from good to awful, no matter which brand of store, lab, or drug store.  One Walgreens lab might be good and another Walgreens lab might be awful. In a nutshell, I don’t trust any local lab that I have not tested.

You can test a local lab for yourself.  Pick a favorite digital photo with lots of colors and have your local Walgreens (or any other local lab) make an 8×10 print. Send the same digital file off to MPIX and Printique and have them each make an 8×10 print. Then compare all three prints. FYI, MPIX and Printique are my two favorite labs. I don’t send important work to anyone else.

Test prints from three high rated national online labs.

I recently tested several labs and received varying quality results. Then I sent several prints to the best three labs based on my preliminary test to see how they did. See the third link below for the results.

Additional comment:

In my email reply I did not go into how to use Photoshop to color correct old faded photos. To color correct the wedding image at the top of this article I used the adjustment sliders in Adobe Camera Raw. You can see an example of how to use those sliders in this article.


How Long Will Your Photo Lab Prints Last Without Fading?

How to Get the Best Results from the Best Online Photo Labs

Testing Photo Labs, Part 3