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The Magic of Digital Restoration . . . Hint: It’s Not Magic

Restoration Color Explosion
Shana Scott

by Shana Scott

If you watch police procedurals like I do, then you’ve seen the most grainy and blurry photos and videos magically render themselves back together thanks to digital restoration. Like many things on TV, the reality of digital restoration doesn’t match. There are limits to what can be enhanced or restored using digital editing techniques. Let’s take a look at what digital restoration can fix and what is too far gone to help. 

What Is Digital Document Restoration?

Digitally restoring images can give new life to your document and photos. For many, the goal of digital document restoration is to make the digital image best match the physical copy as it was originally made, while others want to enhance a document that is difficult to read or faded.

Digital document restoration takes a digital copy and changes it from the condition the physical item is in to a better, more useful representation. The best part is that the physical document isn’t damaged by the process in any way, and a faithful digital copy can be retained in addition to the restored version.

Digital restoration can

  • Remove water damage (or a pet’s markings)
  • Remove tears, creases, or blemishes
  • Remove ink blots, dirt, and mold
  • Lighten yellowed backgrounds to make text more readable
  • Enhance faint text
  • Enhance colors
  • Restore underexposed or overexposed scans to a more natural appearance
The original Proclamation, bearing Tommy the cat's mark on history.
After Anderson Archival's digital restoration.

These amazing transformations aren’t feats of magic, although programs like Photoshop can sometimes make it feel that way.

Often, the key to digital restoration is a matter of time, patience, and zooming in very, very close.

You Can’t Restore What Isn’t There

Sadly, magic only exists in the realm of fantasy, so not everything is capable of being restored—physically or digitally. We need usable material to work from to perform digital restoration. If the text on the original is gone, no amount of editing can bring it back. The same is true for low quality digital images. Just like with physical documents, once the information is lost, it’s gone forever.

What can’t be digitally restored, then? Here are some examples of jobs we couldn’t take, because there was nothing to bring back.

Blank Bitcoin

Item to restore: A receipt with a bitcoin locker address

Owner wanted: Restore worn off text

Problem: The document had been kept folded up in a wallet for years. Some of the text had gradually worn off from the folded paper rubbing against itself. By the time it came to us, there was no ink, markings, or indents left in those areas to enhance.

Black and White Disaster

Item to restore: A low-quality black and white digital export of a poorly microfilmed document

Owner wanted: Enhance text in the copied document to be able to read

Problem: There are several techniques we can use to enhance faint text, but they rely on manipulating the colors, highlights, and shadows in images. The exported file was already in pure black and white, so no color information remained to manipulate.

Not Enough Left

Item to restore: An official certificate

Owner wanted: Restore damaged areas, creases, and water straining for reprinting and display

Problem: The document was considerably damaged with intense folds, tears, and pieces ripped away. It was discolored from both water damage and age, and a great deal of the damage surrounded already faded text.

In many restorations for display, healthy parts of the document are used as reference and replication in damaged areas. This document had very little healthy areas left to use as reference, especially within the text area.

Some restoration was possible for this document, but the end product would not have been a fully restored and cleaned reproduction. And, as I mentioned, digital restoration is a matter of time, patience, and zooming in very, very closely. The amount of time it would have taken to do even a partial restoration was unfeasible for most budgets.

I love being able to bring a document back through digital restoration. Seeing the before and after images together puts a smile on my face every time. When a client reaches out with a project that needs a miracle I can’t provide, it’s just as disappointing to me as it is to them. We can’t perform magic, but Anderson Archival will do everything we can to give your documents a new digital life.

Unsure if your document can be digitally restored? Contact Anderson Archival for a free consultation.

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