Business Overview


Are you a master of digital photo editing? Do you have a passion for history and family stories? A photo restoration service combines all your passions while helping your customers rediscover and preserve their past through transferring beloved snapshots, photo albums, and old wedding images into a digital format and repairing damage caused by time and light.

Who is this business right for?

You will actually enjoy working on your business if you like correcting many tiny details, working independently, are self-motivated, and are always learning how to fully employ the latest digital image editing software. In order to be successful, you do need some serious background in image manipulation before you open your doors to the public.

What happens during a typical day at a photo restoration service?

Your business may employ a few people or be your sole responsibility. On any given day you might:

  • Talk to new clients and explain to them your services, rates, and set reasonable expectations for the final product
  • Scan still print images or video to transfer them to a digital and editable format
  • Use software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, ACDSee, Apple Aperture, and Corel Paintshop to correct damage in order to restore the image
  • Use your artistic eye to return faded images to original appearance through adjusting each pixel while maintaining shading and perspective
  • Compile restored images into digital slideshows or videos per customer's requirements
  • Research the time period and location of images in order to provide accurate colors when retouching

What is the target market?

The most likely person who decides they should spend money on restoring old photos is an empty nester. Their children have left the house and their parents are aging. They have extra income that is ready to be used to bring back some fading memories while building some new ones for the next generation to cherish. Libraries, historical societies, and newspapers are also good contacts to cultivate that may provide extra work from time to time.

How does a photo restoration service make money?

You are charging your customers for your expertise in the use of photo editing software. Most of your services will be flat rate and may include scanning images onto disc, retouching each picture, transferring video to new file format, printing to create a new keepsake, and production of slideshows saved on disc or jump drive.

What is the growth potential for a photo restoration service?

While restoration represents a specific part of the image editing market, expanding your skills to include creating images for commercial applications such as product placement, entertainment, and the media are an excellent means of reaching new clients while taking advantage of your skill set. Also, with the Internet and reliable shipping options, you can expand your customer reach without operating a physical storefront in your hometown. As your reputation grows for fast and accurate service, there is no reason that you wouldn't be able to bring on additional digital artists to increase business or even franchise a successful platform.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful photo restoration service?

If you love tweaking images you capture on your phone using quick edit buttons, realize that is the only first step toward developing an artist's skill for digital image editing. Before you open for business, you will need to have an in-depth knowledge of and extensive practice using a professional photo imaging software suite such as:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Lightroom
  • ACDSee
  • Apple Aperture
  • Corel Paintshop

It would be a good idea to take some college level courses on graphic design and digital photography to better understand the nuances of restoring an image. Working as a touch-up artist for a local photographer who does student yearbooks for a summer will give you valuable insight into the business. Don't forget, you will need all the basic business knowledge to keep your checkbook balanced.

What are the costs involved in opening a photo restoration service?

Your office and computers will be the backbone of your ability to conduct business. You will need a professional-grade digital scanner that is capable of transferring slides, negatives, film stock, and print photographs into a digital file. You may need a scanner able to handle large format prints. Your computer will work best with dual monitors of the highest resolution available and the latest processors able to work long hours with graphics intensive programs. Expect to invest up to $50,000 for your hardware, professional software and workstation. There will be additional expenses for operating your website and marketing your business. A start-up investment for the first year of $100,000 is a reasonable expectation.

What are the steps to start a photo restoration service?

Once you're ready to start your photo restoration service, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your photo restoration service is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your photo restoration service keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a photo restoration service?

Your biggest challenge is finding your customers. Most people only discover faded family photos when they are cleaning out the attic, holding a reunion, or gathering for milestones such as weddings, graduations, and even funerals so they aren't looking for your business 99% of the time. You will want to develop relationships with photography studios, wedding planners, seniors centers, libraries and historical societies such that your business card is available when your customer discovers they need you. You may wish to offer to retouch large portraits that hang in public buildings as a means to generating goodwill and chatter.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market a photo restoration service

The first thing you need is a portfolio to demonstrate your abilities. Whether you provide a free restoration in exchange for using the image as part of your marketing campaign, or perhaps use your own family photos, it will take some time to achieve. Build your website by using your portfolio, placing before and after images for easy comparison. You may wish to attend antiques shows and sales as a vendor, allowing you to spend some time with potential clients. Of course, you will need to employ viral marketing techniques, use direct mail campaigns, and possibly radio spots to increase customer awareness of your business.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

It will be your aggressive marketing campaign that will generate your first sales as people begin to discover your business. They will want to see an attractive website, easy to understand pricing schedule, and a description of your services that make sense. Don't try to fully explain every step in the restoration process, stick to the end results. Most customers will have a single image they want restored, but when they love the final result they will likely bring you more. Excellent customer service helps to generate word of mouth and positive reviews.

How and when to build a team

You may not need a team when you are first starting out. As time goes by and demand for your services begins to outgrow the hours in the day, it will be time to hire an administrative assistant and perhaps a second artist to keep up.

Legal Considerations


State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a photo restoration business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a photo restoration studio:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a photo restoration business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a photo restoration studio:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your photo restoration business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Trademark & Copyright Protection

If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.

Learn more about trademark and copyright protection

The nature of legal requirements in distance education is ever changing, especially in regards to copyright laws. Here is a frequently updated resource, which can help keep you aware of the legal requirements.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

You will be able to charge about $2 for transferring a single print photo onto a digital file. Should they wish for the image to be restored, you will charge between $15 and $30 depending on the size of the original and the time it will take to complete the job. You may wish to create bundled packages that scan entire albums for a flat rate with a few special images receiving retouching.

What are the ongoing expenses for a photo restoration service?

Your operating costs will pertain to maintaining your computers, scanners, printers, and software. You will want to stay current on the application of new imaging software. When you set aside $5,000 to $10,000 a year for capital expenditures, you should be in good shape.

How much profit can a photo restoration service make?

You can expect to earn about $60,000 a year above your costs for income when you have a steady stream of paying clients.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Scanning images can be time consuming. Adding an automated feeder for your scanner designed for photography could save you many hours of grunt work, leaving you free to work on the more profitable restoration work while the machine takes care of business.

Next Steps

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