July 27, 2021

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Free Dust and Scratch Removal software saves your scans

Unretouched image

Scan of 1968 Kodak Instamatic negative produced this. Not bad for a cheap, plastic lens camera, but even at this reduced size you can see it is loaded with dust marks.

Tip of the Week: This week’s tip involves a free piece of software from — surprise — Polaroid Corporation. (PRDCQ) You’ve no doubt heard that Polaroid recently stopped production of their instant film stocks. That is a sad event for those enjoy shooting with Polaroid cameras; but I’m more concerned with the survival of Polaroid software. More specifically, Polaroid’s free Dust and Scratches application.

If you are anything like me, you probably have a fair collection of film negatives. Even if you shoot nothing but digital today, some of your best work may have been captured on film.

image with mask applied

Red marks indicate the mask created by the Polaroid software. When you clean the image, only the red areas will be effected.

If you want to use some of those older film images in today’s digital world, you basically have two choices. You can pay a lab to create digital images from your negatives; or you scan the negatives yourself. Professional scanning tends to be expensive, so if you have more than a handful of images, a film scanner may be you best choice.

Negative scanning, however can be quite labor intensive. One of the biggest problems, particularity with older negatives, is dirt and scratches. Even tiny particles of dust will be magnified when the resulting scan is enlarged to a usable size. You can clone out the dust marks with a program like Photoshop, but if the dust spots are numerous, retouching becomes extremely time consuming.

Scanner manufacturers usually incorporate some form of dust removal in their scanners. These systems can be effective, but you don’t usually have much control over a hardware based dust removal system.

Before and after image

Image on the left shows a portion the image as it came from the scanner.

As you can see it would take hours to spot all the dust marks. Right image shows the same area after cleaning with the Polaroid Dust and Scratch Removal software. There is still work to be done, but more than 80% of the spots are gone. Tweaking the settings might eliminate even more marks.

Enter Polaroid’s Dust and Scratches Removal software. In the past, Polaroid manufactured a number of film and flat-bed scanners. I’m not sure if they are still producing this equipment, as according to the Polaroid website, most of the scanning equipment is no longer in production.

Fortunately, much of the software is still available online.

“So what?” you say. “I don’t own a Polaroid scanner.”

I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t own a Polaroid scanner either. But I use Polaroid software with my Minolta Dimage Scan Dual III film scanner. I also use it with my Microtek flat bed scanner.

I first discovered Polaroid Dust and Scratch Removal Software a few years ago. I was scanning in a number of old 126 negatives taken when I was in my early teens. Besides being over 40 years old, it appears the original drug store processing lab wasn’t very concerned with cleanliness. The negs were a mess.

The Minolta Dimage III isn’t designed to scan 126 negatives, but 126 and 35mm negs are exactly the same height. So I was able to insert the 126 strips into the Minolta’s 35mm film carrier.

Because the carrier is not intended for the 126 format, I lost about 1/8″ at the top of each frame. That was no a big deal. What was a big deal was the hundreds of dust specs sprinkled over the final scans.

Editing the dust and scratches mask

Of course there will be times the software thinks a crucial part of the image is dust or dirt.

Notice how the cleaning process has removed some of the lettering on this race car (left.)

After reverting the image, I use the select tool to make a loose selection around the effected letters. Now there are no red marks around the lettering, so the cleaning process will ignore this section of the image.

Retouching all those dust mites was out of the question, so I started to cast around for some sort of chemical cleaner. I doing so, I came across Polaroid’s software.

I wasn’t expecting much from Polaroid’s offering. I’ve used other dust removal software, including the despeckle filter in Adobe Photoshop. All of the applications I tried in the past remove dust specs by applying a soft blur to the image. This eliminates the visible dust, but you lose overall sharpness. The decrease in sharpness isn’t overwhelming, but I am of the opinion that any loss of sharpness is unacceptable.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Polaroid D&S software worked differently then the old “blur the image to hide the dust” applications. In the first stage of the process, the application analyzes the image and creates what appears to be vector mask of the image. Anything that appears to be a dust or scratch is flagged. You have a great deal of control over the masking process, so you can eliminate flaws of various sizes, as well as dark and light dust marks.

Because the program could identify small parts of the image as dust, Polaroid allows you to edit the mask. If the program confuses fine lines in the image with dust, you can edit the mask to protect the fine details.

Once the image mask is created, you can “clean” the image. This removes the masked imperfections without touching the unmasked zones. If you aren’t happy with the results you can adjust the settings and clean the image again.

The program is fairly fast. On my Powermac G5, creating a fairly detailed mask took about 30 seconds, while cleaning the image took another 40 seconds. Not exactly speedy, but far quicker than spotting hundreds of dust specs one by one.

The application does involve a bit of a learning curve, but once you learn how the settings work, it is simple and straight-forward.

The price tag for all this high-tech magic? How about zero. You can download the Dust and Scratches program for free. Not a demo or feature limited sample — you get the full working application with no restriction.

Want more? It is available for both Mac and Windows. In addition, you can choose between a stand-alone application or a Photoshop plugin. Because you load your images into the program after you have scanned them, there is no hardware compatibilities to be concerned with. As long as your scanner can create a standard TIFF or JPEG, you can use the software to clean the image.

The only problem I have experienced is that some images won’t load into the program. I use Vuescan as my scanner software for both my slide and flatbed scanners. For reasons I don’t understand, most of the scans saved out of Vuescan aren’t recognized by Polaroid’s software. Opening the image in Photoshop and re-saving as either a TIFF or JPEG generally fixes the problem. Sometimes I have had to save files several times before I could get the Dust and Scratches program to recognize images.

This isn’t Polaroid’s problem, as the software is designed to be used with their own scanning hardware. They offer no guarantee that it will work with a Minolta scanner. Polaroid should be congratulated for offering the software to anyone who wants to use it. If there is a problem with files created with non-Poloroid software and hardware, that should not be Polaroid’s concern.

image with all dust marks removed

The final step is to clone out any marks the software didn’t find and to color balance the image.

Even with the file opening hassles, I find Polaroid’s Dust and Scratch Removal software to be a huge time saver. Poloroid is still in business and they are even said to be on the verge of releasing a new digital camera with a built in printer — continuing the “instant print” legacy.

Despite this, you can’t count on the dust removal software being available in the future. My suggestion is that you download the software now, even if you don’t have a need for it right now. If you find yourself with a box full of dusty, scratched negatives, you will be awfully glad you did.

Download http://www.polaroid.com/service/software/poladsr/poladsr.html Poloroid Dust and Scratch Removal Utility

UPDATE 10/25/2009: The original links for the dust and scratches software have gone dead, and I was afraid the software had become unavailable. Thankfully, Alphatracks reader Jurek Woźniak discovered links where you can still locate copies of this software. Remember, there is no support for the D&S software, so don’t bother the folks at Polaroid if you run into difficulties.

Woźniak’s links are:

Download Dust and Scratches for the Windows PC:

Download Dust and Scratches for the Mac

Follow the comments stream below to find links for the appropriate read me files.

Thanks Jurek! You’ve made a lot of photographer/scanners very happy!

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