How to Start a Photo Restoration Service

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.

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Learn how to start your own Photo Restoration Service and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a photo restoration service by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your photo restoration service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

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 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.

Who 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.

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.

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.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Photo Restoration Service Name Generator

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:

  • Your state's business records
  • Federal and state trademark records
  • Social media platforms
  • Web domain availability.

It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your photo restoration service is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 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.

STEP 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.

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, read our article, 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.

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Photo Restoration Service will cost.

Business Insurance for
Photo Restoration Service

STEP 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.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

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.

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.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start A Photo Restoration Service In Your State

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

Is this Business Right For You?

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.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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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 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 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.

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Take the Next Step

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.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

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.

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.

Next Steps

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