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I'm trying to digitize a stack of old, small, but very much curled photo prints on a flatbed scanner. I find it hard to keep them straight while closing the lid and pressing them down onto the glass, so in most cases I need to straighten the images in software afterwards. Is there some magic trick to avoid that extra step?

Alternatively: is there a way to 'uncurl' those prints, perhaps by soaking them in a water bath and then have them dry pressed between pieces of cloth? The prints do not necessarily have to be preserved after scanning.

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If the prints are known to be fiber based photographic paper: Wash the print in running water. They will soon lose their curl in just a few minutes. Prepare a print flattening solution, 2 ounce glycerin + 30 ounces of water. Soak the print in this solution for about 3 minutes. Lay the print out on a clean white terrycloth towel. Cover with a second terrycloth towel. Place a large book atop the sandwich and allow to air dry, about 2 to 4 hours. You can procure glycerin at the grocery or drug store. Glycerin causes the print to retain some moisture. Glycerin is thus a “humectant”. You should know, photo print paper is a multi-layer construction. This mixture of materials swells when wet and then shrinks as it dries. The problem is, the various layers have different shrink rates. A humectant can help by reducing the paper’s tendency to curl. You will find glycerin at the drug or grocery store.

  • Great answer Alan, is there a chance that the texture of the terry cloth towel will be pressed into the paper emulsion? – Alaska Man Feb 8 '18 at 17:44
  • @ Alaska man -- Not much chance however blotter paper was the material of choice. Likely not easy to find. – Alan Marcus Feb 8 '18 at 22:16
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You don't need to close the lid. Leave it open and use a large book to press the photo. Don't choose a too heavy one or the glass will bend slightly.

With the lid open the only difference is that empty areas are black an not white.

You can MAYBE soften the prints by leaving them in a very humid (I mean almost saturated) container, but avoid condensation because it would ruin them or make them stick to the scanner glass.

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When mounting photographs on Matt board i use a Hot mount press. They are not an inexpensive item so you could improvise by taking a couple pieces of Matt bored and a sheet of release paper and sandwiching the print between them then using a clothes iron. The release paper goes on the face of the photograph and keeps it from sticking to the mat board and or some of the print bleeding onto the mat board . Check with the local photo framing and mounting store or supplier or by searching online for Hot mount photo release paper and Matt board.

The hot mount press gets to about 200° If I remember correctly, and pressure is applied for about 60 seconds at that temperature to adhere the print to the mat bored with the adhesive paper. ( you will not be using an adhesive photo mount paper )

I would start with the Iron on a medium setting and gently running it back-and-forth on the mat board so that it never sits in one place but is always moving and applying moderate pressure, covering the entire area of the print. It may take a few runs of trail to figure out how long to iron it, and you may not get them completely flat but you will be able to get the majority of the curl out enough that it can sit in the flatbed scanner. You may also want to take the warm prints and sandwich them between a couple pieces of matt board and wax paper between each of the photos and put some books on it to sit overnight.

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