Preserving a Tintype as a Photograph

“How to Convert a Tintype to a Photograph” article from eHow

by Allison Fowler

published September 21, 2011.

“Tintypes, or ferrotypes, were a popular form of photography from 1855 to about 1900. Tintypes are pieces of metal coated with a photographic emulsion. They are fairly sturdy, but the emulsion and metal can corrode with handling over time. If you have a tintype, you should make a copy to display so the original can be kept safely stored. You can either scan a copy or take a photograph of the tintype. This is an easy way to preserve your family’s memories for years to come.”

Untitled, 1870s; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collection 94.521

Below is a summary of the materials needed for this project gleaned from Alison Fowler’s eHow article:

  • High resolution scanner
  • Clear plastic sheet (optional)
  • Archival Gloves
  • Computer
  • Photo editing software
  • Photo printer (optional)
  • High resolution digital camera
  • Tripod

In her eHow article, Ms. Fowler elaborates on two easy methods of converting your tintype to a photograph: either scanning the tintype or photographing it.

Here is a brief excerpt from the steps that Ms. Fowler recommends to take when choosing to scan a tintype (see article link below for complete list of recommended steps):

Step 1: Prepare the scanner, if necessary, by covering the glass with a sheet of clear plastic. The tintype is made of metal, and any jagged or warped edges may scratch the surface of the scanner’s glass.

Step 2: Look closely at the area around the glass if you are unfamiliar with the scanner. Most scanners have arrows pointing to the corner where you should line up the image. Lining the image up in the proper corner will save you the trouble of having to crop the empty space from around the image.

Step 3: Use your photo-editing software to enhance the image when it pops up, if desired. The tintype is laterally reversed from the original image that the photographer was shooting. You can flip the image laterally to view what the photographer saw, or leave it as an exact copy. Use functions such as “remove dust and scratches” with care, because they sometimes will make the image appear dull or fuzzy. Work slowly and save often when you are satisfied with your progress.

Step 4: Print the image, if desired. You can either use your home printer or bring the digital file to a store that develops digital photos.

WARNING: The oils and acids in your skin may damage tintypes and fragile photographs, therefore be advised that it is very important to use special ‘archival gloves’ when handling images and always hold images by their edges.

Visit eHOW to read Alison Fowler’s full article and to view her step-by-step guide:

ca. 1865; Smithsonian Institution Object #S/NPG.2007.24

2 Responses to Preserving a Tintype as a Photograph

  1. KIM PATERSON March 18, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    Thank you for putting this informative article on the net for me to find!

    It answered the very question that I had.


  2. Peggy Truax December 29, 2016 at 2:29 am #

    Are there studios who can do this for you?

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