Cleaning Your Photo Scanner – 6 Tips to Better Resulting Scans

If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then the road to hell is paved with dirty photo scanners!

Dust & Fingerprints Just Waiting To Happen.
A dirty or smudged scanner glass may cause deficient scanning quality.

Scanning old photos and treasured documents offers up its own unique set of challenges. 

Dealing with items that can be very old often means they have been exposed to many kinds of conditions. Most have been left open to the disbursement of dust over their surfaces, particulate matter, and other debris at some time of other in their life's cycle. 

This dust or particulate matter can easily be transferred onto the scanner glass as the items are scanned. In addition, if photos or documents are scanned by hand it is very likely smudges fingerprints are also likely to be transferred onto the platen as sometime or another. All of these can create artifacts upon the scanned image resulting in a less than desirable outcome.

Start With the Scanning Area
Care should be taken to prepare all photographs prior to scanning away from the actual scanning area. This procedure helps to prevent dust and particulate matter from coming into close proximity to the scanning equipment. One tip is to keep a moderately powered hand-held black light around to help detect any undetected fibers lurking about your scanning area. While, ordinary dust will not jump out at you with the black light, depending upon the color of a fiber it certainly can.

Additional items can be incorporated into the scanning area to help minimize the presence of dust such as air purifiers, air ionizers, or simply providing a positive airflow away from the scanning unit. One other idea is to follow the guidelines for proper handling of photographs using proper handling gloves of either white cotton, or powder free nitrile gloves.

Scanner Anatomy
The majority of photo scanner equipment comes in 2 varieties. 

The first uses a fixed document table or glass plate, called a platen, upon which the user places the photographs onto it. The lid is then shut (can be optional) and the scanning mechanism travels below internally underneath the platen, with the photo laid out on top of it on the external portion of the glass, to digitize the photo.

The second type of photo scanner utilizes an automatic feed mechanism specially designed to advance the photograph through the scanner across the digitizing element. This type of unit can be formatted into a reversing automatic document feeder (RADF) that scans one side of a photo then flips it and scans the other side, or a duplexing automatic document feeder (DADF) capable of scanning both sides in a single pass.

Getting Started
It is important to identify the type of scanner you are using to digitize photographs and locate the platen(s) prior to initiating cleaning procedures. In most cases, cleaning should be performed with the unit unplugged. This may vary depending upon the type of device. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Recent developments with specific photo scanners developed by Kodak have eliminated the use of a platen in order to minimize the potential for dirty or smudged images being generated in the scanning process. Alternative cleaning methods should be used for these units. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

NOTE: Not all items listed below may be approved for every type of scanner used in digitizing photographs. Use of non- approved products can result in damage. It is important you locate and carefully follow the specific instructions on how to clean your photo scanner, as provided by its manufacturer.

Cleaning Your Machine - 6 Tools & Tips

  1. Tip- Blow: Vacuum/Blower (v/b) - Electronic equipment requires a specially designed v/b to help keep dust and debris from damaging it. These  vacuum devices have highly regulated volumes of suction/blowing, as well as special attachments designed to reach hard access areas. Use of a v/b that incorporates a flexible hose gives plenty of room to reach scanner components without putting undue stress on lid hinges, etc. Use of a lightweight v/b unit means the operator can quickly maneuver the device into position and take it portable with them. Along the same vein, another useful tool is the handheld bulb air blower cleaning system. These gadgets have a valve to prevent them from breathing in dust, yet allows them to blow out a stream of air. They made from silica gel, easily stowed into a pocket and extremely portable.
  2. Tip- Brush: Lens Brush - With an overall vacuuming complete, the next recommended action is to use a soft lens brush to gently remove dust and lint from the corners, crevices and hard to reach spots in and around the platen. This is often an overlooked step, however, it helps to ensure these areas remain artifact free. Use of anti-static dusting brushes can help remove dust and neutralize static. The conductive fiber blend of the brush is ideal in reducing the potential of the production static discharge between the photographic material and platen.
  3. Tip- Microfiber Wipe: Lint-free Microfiber Cloth - Now it is time to mop up any remaining micro fibers of dust on the externally accessible parts of your scanner. Wipe down the unit with a microfiber cleaning cloth to remove as much of the dust fibers as possible. Do this with gentle, soft, sweeping motions to prevent stirring the dust particles up into a fury and landing elsewhere on the unit.
  4. Tip- Carbon Tip Pen: Fingerprint Removal - Another issue in photo scanning is the resulting incidental transfer of oil from the fingerprints of an operator onto a platen. Use of a cleaning cloth more often than not simply smears the fingerprint, as opposed to removing. The use of a carbon tipped pen like the LensPen DigiKlear, specifically designed with a flat carbon coated adhered to a natural chamois or microfiber cloth designed to remove the oil from any remaining fingerprints, can assure no print residues are left behind. These pens are safe for all lens coatings and work for approximately 500 cleanings. (Remember to put the cap back on and recharge the carbon tip following each use, as specified within its instructions.)
  5. Protective Finish: Clean and Protect - The dust is gone and fingerprints are removed. The next best step is to incorporate a specially formulated cleaner and polisher to protect the high performance of your scanner by applying an anti-static protection and high-gloss finish that resists fingerprints. Brillianize is a two-step self-contained cleaning kit to ensure maximum production and highest quality in your photo scanning workflow.
  6. Miscellaneous: Specialty Tools - Manufacturers offer a number of specialty items to assist in maintaining the cleanliness of their photo scanner. These cleaning supplies include specialty items such as;
    • Staticide cleaning wipes to minimize static discharge.
    • Roller cleaning pads to clean the direct feed mechanisms used with photographs for automatic feeding type scanners
    • Transport cleaning sheets coated with a specially designed tacky substance that attracts particulate matter on the pathway photographs travel in an automatic feeding type scanner
    • Quality target test sheet pattern designed to establish a quality control benchmark. If a question later arises with artifacts being introduced onto scanned images, this tool can be used to reestablish current conditions, as compared to the benchmark.

Tools Not On The List
Perhaps it should be noted there are a number of items not listed. These included things such as;

  • Commercial eyeglass cleaner solution - These solutions have a tendency to leave streaks on platens without lots of rubbing and polishing.
  • Compressed gas duster (a.k.a. canned air) - These items contain highly charged compressed gas that “blasts”away dust and dirt at a discharge volume set at around 70psi. When this type of gas is under such high pressure, its adiabatic cooling property can cause a notable drop in temperature. You can notice that the surrounding air and the canister itself gets cold during use. This expansion of gas previously occupied in a small space escaping rapidly into a large space means that it takes in lots of heat from the surrounding area as it spreads out. That is what causes the icing to form on the spray can or areas where the discharge is concentrated in in close proximity. It is also reason you do not ever spray canned air onto your skin, as it can quickly cause frostbite.
  • Water – Wiping down any area of your photo scanner with water is guaranteed to leave a film on the surfaces wiped, caused by the particulates contained in the water. Should an area need to be wiped with water be sure to use distilled water applied onto a fresh, clean lint-free wipe pad designed especially for swabbing with liquid solutions.

A Few Final Words – Exterior Vs. Interior
Keeping your photo scanner clean will definitely take you a long ways towards producing high quality digitized images. All of the techniques and items mentioned above have referred primarily to dust and other cleaning techniques you can apply to the exterior components of a photo scanner. 

One of the facts of life associated with photo scanning is that unit construction typically rely upon the scanning element being housed internally and underneath the scanner glass. On occasion, dust can find its way into this cavity and ultimately cling to the underside of the platen. In order to remove and clean these particles it may often require expertise beyond the typical user’s capabilities. In fact, doing so may require the removal of items that would ultimately void your warranty. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations before attempting to access these internal components for cleaning.

Richard Lippert
Richard Lippert


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