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How much does Digitisation cost?

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One of the most common questions we are asked by archivists and other collection holders when speaking to them about our digitisation services is:

“How much will it cost to digitise my collection?”

Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer when it comes to digitisation pricing because there are a lot of factors to be considered when it comes to heritage digitisation projects, such as the format of the analogue items to be digitised, the equipment used, and the desired image outputs.

In fact, in his 2010 report for the Collections Trust titled, “The Cost of Digitising Europe’s Cultural Heritage”, Nick Poole noted that the per-page cost of digitising archives ranged from as little as £0.27 (€0.36) to £2.97 (€4.00). More recently, our own quotes for digitising bound book collections last year ranged from £0.20 to £3.90 per page with £0.67 to £3.90 for photograph collections.

In the remainder of this blog we will look at the key factors likely to impact the cost of your digitisation project. This will open up the process and enable you to gain a better understanding of what to expect with regard to costs. We have broken this down into 7 main areas that you will need to consider:

The Cost of Digitising – Key factors

  1. The Format of Material to be Digitised
  2. The Condition of Material to be Digitised
  3. Archive Composition - Quantity and Content Type
  4. Digitising On-site versus Off-site
  5. Image Capture Resolution
  6. What Metadata will be Captured Through Digitisation
  7. The Final Digitised File Formats

1. Format of Material to be Digitised

The format of the analogue material to be digitised has the most impact on cost per scan. This is because the media format dictates which equipment we use to digitise the material. So, for example, the cost of book digitisation might be more (or less) than the cost for, say,  newspaper digitisation. Material type influences the set up time of the equipment and the average throughput rate (scans per minute).

For example, scanning a bound book on our medium format planetary scanner might allow us to digitise 200 pages per hour, whereas scanning loose photographs on our flatbed scanner might be significantly less than this, so your material type plays an important part. Although, as noted below, other factors influence throughput rate beyond simply the archival medium and equipment used.

Newspaper, photo, & book archives in disrepair


2. Condition of Material to be Digitised

Our technicians take great care when handling all of the items that we digitise. But with particularly fragile and timeworn collections, which are more susceptible to damage, they naturally take an extra special level of care. This extremely delicate and conscientious approach does take a little extra time and so does result in a slightly higher cost per scan.

It is also important to note that in the case of extremely fragile items, we always recommend having the collection appraised by a conservator prior to digitisation to assess if any conservation procedures are needed to stabilise the items.

3. Archive Composition - Quantity and Content Type

With larger collections, and particularly where collections are composed predominantly of items of similar formats and sizes, setting up digitisation workflows and calibrating equipment between scanning batches takes much less time. This time saving and economies of scale reduce the cost per scan.

Conversely, as you might expect, digitising collections containing materials in a variety of different formats and/or sizes, involves a greater amount of set up and calibration time (likely utilising a variety of scanning equipment) – resulting in an increased cost per scan.

4. Digitising On-site versus Off-site

We scan the majority of collections at our specialist digitisation studios in Northamptonshire. This provides the most efficient and, therefore, the most cost effective solution for our clients.

Our staff personally collect the archive material from the client’s premises and transport this to our studios for scanning. This material is then safely returned to the client once the digitisation process is complete. Charges for this service cover the cost of staff time and fuel.

Alternatively, we also offer an on-location scanning service for organisations that hold collections that they would like to digitise, but which are too fragile or valuable to be transported off-site.

With this service our imaging technicians travel to the clients premises with specialist scanning equipment and perform the digitisation on-site. This on-site service incurs additional travel, accommodation, and labour costs, increasing the cost per scan. 

Consequently, there is a decision to be made as to the appropriateness of on-site versus off-site digitisation for your collection, given the related costs involved.

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5. Image Capture Resolution

For the majority of digitisation projects, as standard, we produce 300dpi uncompressed RGB master TIFF image files, together with 80% quality surrogate JPEG images.

The exception to this is when digitising photographs, 35mm slides, and glass plate negatives using our flatbed scanning equipment. When capturing these items to resolutions of 600dpi or higher, the scanning time is increased, resulting in a slightly increased cost.

6. What Metadata will be Captured Through Digitisation

To quote JISC Digital Media “Metadata creation can be very time-consuming: it will usually take longer than the time required to capture and edit the digital content”.

Simply naming the digital image files in a certain way, such as sequentially in order of capture (i.e. TWA_Img001, TWA_Img002) or to reflect the physical collection/volume of which the images are a part (i.e. TWAmag2015_Jan_pg001, TWAmag2015_Jan_pg002), is a service we offer as standard.

However, having additional descriptive metadata (such as names and dates from records, or notes on photographs) transcribed or printed text documents put through an OCR process to make them keyword searchable can involve significant time, increasing costs.

7. The Final Digitised File Formats

For the most part, creating image outputs in different file formats has no effect on cost, even when producing multiple different file formats as part of a project (including TIFF, JPEG, PNG, BMP).

The main exception to this is when combining digital images into multi-page Adobe PDF files – which does present an increased cost due to being a longer production process.

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Further Resources

If you are keen to get an estimate of how much your digitisation project might cost then why not use one of our Digitisation quote calculators? These are very popular resources and are a quick and easy tool to use as part of your project planning. Of course, you can always contact us if you have any questions at all, or you would like to know more.    


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If you are planning a heritage digitisation project you may wish to consider our Heritage Digitisation Consultancy Service. You might also find our Best Practice Planning Tips helpful or, if you are looking for funding for your project, our Sources of Funding Guide can help you navigate the financial help available. You can even sign up for our Funding Resources Pack