The first step in creating high-quality prints
With a bit of time and patience its possible to create professional-quality art scans anywhere, with minimal investment. If you are located in south Mississippi, our Cooperative also offers art digitization services to handle all of this for you.
In this article we will cover both the equipment and techniques for creating “raw” scans of 2D artwork.
We will not cover scanning 3D works or artwork with impasto or other 3D elements in this article. We will also not cover how to edit the scans to prepare them for printing or anything beyond just getting the scans onto your computer. Both of these topics will be covered in later articles.
Please note, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which earn our Studio a sales commission if you make a purchase.
What you need
Any size artwork on paper, poasterboard, canvas, or other 2D surface. Acrylic and oil paintings, graphite sketches, watercolors, photographs, collages, and many other mediums lend themselves well to the techniques here.
Acrylic and oil paintings should have less than 1/8″ (0.3cm) of texture, paintings with more texture will need to use different methods than described here (we will cover this in a later article)
Pictured here is Pelican by Mississippi-based artist Lucinda L’Enfant. Prints are available in our store and were created using the equipment and processes outlined in this guide. At the time of writing this article, the original is also available for purchase.
These pictures show the level of detail we are able to achieve – here is an image showing how it looks zoomed in on this little area where the wing and body meet.
Virtually any Windows or Apple computer made within the last 10-15 years will work. If it runs Windows 7, 8, or 10, then it will work, you do not need a fancy computer just to scan artwork (if you want to edit your artwork yourself that is a different story). If you already have a computer, skip to the Scanner section below.
If you need to purchase a computer, any of the Windows 10 computers currently sold at Walmart or Target will work just fine. The 2019 Lenovo IdeaPad on Amazon is inexpensive and is powerful enough to handle not only scanning but also some light image editing. If you are less budget conscious and maybe want to do your own editing, this Dell Gaming laptop is a good choice. “Gaming computers” usually have better graphics performance and more memory so they are often a good option for creators.
Prefer a processor (CPU) that starts with “i” like i3, i5, or i7. A “Celeron” or “Pentium Gold” processor is ok for scanning but the “i” series will make your computer more useable in general. Try to get at least 4GB RAM, but 1GB or more is ok. Lenovo and Dell are better brands than HP. If you get a computer that uses Windows S Mode you will need to switch out of that by following these instructions. If you are trying to stay on the budget side the big thing to look out for is make sure it runs Windows 10 (not Chromebook OS).
Any scanner is better than no scanner – but the scanner you use makes a big difference in the quality. The good news is top-notch quality is extremely affordable.
By far, no question, hands down the #1 scanner we recommend is the Epson V39.
Don’t let its small size or price fool you – this scanner is more than capable of creating professional-level results for artwork of any size.
Using the techniques described below, this scanner can be used even with huge 8ft x 16ft (or larger) canvases and can produce scans of high enough quality to enlarge the work by 2-3 times.
The next scanner up from this one in terms of quality is the Epson 1200XL. Models in between offer additional options for scanning traditional film and negatives and are not as good for art scanning.
If you already have a stand-alone flatbed scanner, such as the Canon Lide 300, then this will work but most scanners have worse scanning software and non-removable lids. If you need to scan large works, the Epson lets you take the cover completely off but the Canon (and many other scanners) don’t.
If you have an all-in-one scanner/printer then you are probably ok-ish if you are scanning works that are smaller than 8.5×11 / A4 size. Most all-in-ones have much lower quality scanners than the stand-alone models, non-removable lids, and “lips” around the glass that get in the way of scanning large works. A stand-alone scanner (like the Epson V39) is night-and-day better compared to almost all all-in-one scanner/printers.
Wand scanners are basically a “no-go”. They are fine for scanning receipts or business documents but they are difficult to use and can damage your artwork. For watercolor or ink works they are better than nothing, but for acrylic or oil they should not even be considered.
Scanners are focused on their glass and, generally speaking, the closer to the glass you can get, the higher quality scan you will achieve.
To maximize the area of the artwork that is in direct contact with the glass you will need some kind of weights to put on the back of the artwork. This is especially true for canvases and for works that are larger than the scanner.
I usually use a couple slate tiles. I prefer having 4 6″x6″ (15cm x 15cm) slate tiles as it gives a lot of options and covers most needs. For cases these don’t provide enough weight (like the edges of large canvases) I will use sandbags.
Whatever you choose to use, exercise caution when placing the weights that you do not damage the artwork. This is especially true for works on paper or posterboard; you have to be careful not to add bends or creases to the work.
Raw scan files can be extremely large. If you are scanning large works of art it can take more than 10GB to store these raw files. We highly recommend purchasing some form of removable storage medium for this, otherwise your hard drive will fill up quickly. Here are a couple options:
- SD Card and Card Reader – this option is inexpensive and flexible. 16GB and 32GB SD cards are especially affordable and sufficient. Many computers have a built-in SD Card reader which can save you that cost as well.
- USB Stick – slightly less flexible than an SD Card but usually a little bit cheaper, especially for larger sizes.
- External Hard Drive – if you will doing this a lot an external hard drive will provide the most storage on one device for a reasonable price. For comparison, 1024GB is 1TB.
Now on to the fun part! For this article we will show screenshots of the Epson Scan software for the Epson V39. Most scanning software has similar options but they may have slightly different naming.
Ok I lied about the fun part thing – first is the part that confuses most people and is kind of boring… setting up all the correct scanner settings. Don’t worry this guide should help demystify things a little.
Switch to Professional / Advanced mode
For creating the highest possible quality scans we are going to switch our software out of its default automatic mode. For Epson Scan the mode we want is “Professional Mode” in other scanner softwares there is probably an advanced options tab or similar that has most of the important settings that we cover below.
Now in Professional/Advanced mode you will be presented with a ton of options – don’t worry we will go over them with you here.
The “Original” section is mostly for scanners that have special film/negative hardware or paper feeders. For the Epson V39 only the Auto Exposure Type can be changed. You will want this on Photo. The Document option is for scanning things like business documents, receipts, letters, etc.
Next in the “Destination” setting is Image Type. 24-bit color is the default and is almost certainly the option you want. The grayscale and black and white options will produce smaller files but their results may not be what you expect since they work with pure grays and pure blacks and gray and black in most artwork are not true gray or black.
Resolution is one of the most important settings. “dpi” stands for “dots per inch” – you can think of this as the number of pixels correspond to each square inch of your work. The higher the dpi, the higher the quality.
High-quality giclée prints are usually 300dpi and this should be the absolute minimum that you use for scanning.
For our professional scanning services we use 1200dpi which allows an artwork to be enlarged 2-3 times without losing quality. Above 1200dpi one will experience diminishing returns. 600dpi is an ok middle ground. Because there is a certain amount of inherent detail loss going from original to prints 600dpi scans are what you should use for making 300dpi prints.
So why not just always use the highest quality possible (9600dpi)? A couple reasons – first is time. The higher the dpi setting you use the longer the scan will take. Next is file size – the size of the generated files will increase a lot with each higher dpi level. (a single 1200dpi scan can be half a gigabyte) Third is technical, the sensor in the Epson V39 can only do 4800dpi and really there is only a small amount of visible difference in a 1200dpi and 4800dpi scan on this scanner. Note: Some all-in-one printer/scanners max out at 300dpi, even if their software says 600dpi.
Once a scan is done, you can always make the resulting file smaller but you can’t enlarge it without losing quality, so seriously consider 600+ dpi as standard.
Document size we will get to momentarily. The only other option in this window you should worry about is “Unsharp Mask” and selecting this one or not is a bit of an artform. This option sharpens the resulting image using an interesting technique borrowed from traditional photo developeing.
Here is the basic rule: Check it for photographs, works on posterboard or paper. Uncheck it for works on canvas if the texture of the canvas is visible in the work, especially if you plan to make canvas prints. For very large canvases (ie 24×48) check it unless the texture of the canvas is extremely visible.
Don’t stress too much about this option, if you choose the wrong one it can be corrected reasonably well later on during editing. Other than possibly Unsharp Mask, leave everything else at the bottom unchecked.
Now click this little icon with a folder near the bottom of the Epson Scan window. In other scan software this may be in a “File Options” tab or settings group.
After clicking this you will get the File Save Settings window (as shown below).
You can set Location to anywhere you like, this is where the program will save your files. If you are using a removable device like SD card or external hard drive you can set this use by selecting “Other” and pressing the [Browse] button.
File Name (Prefix + 3 digit number) is used for automatically naming the files produced. “img” and “000” is fine, but you can change this if you want. If unsure just leave it at the default.
Image Format – after Resolution this is the #2 thing that affects the quality of your scans. TIFF (.tif) is the format you want. If you are familiar with the concept of RAW files in photography, think of this as the scanner equivalent. Unlike most formats, TIFF files retain all of the information about every single pixel in the scan. The files are much, much larger than JPEG but allow the maximum flexibility while preparing your image for prints. If you are extremely storage-space constrained then its ok to use JPEG but the scans will be lower quality. Absolutely do not choose PDF or BMP. If your sofware offers PNG, that option is ok but prefer TIFF.
Once you have TIFF selected, press [Options] and ensure the settings are as shown below. Set Byte Order to “Windows” even if you are on Mac OS X, the Macintosh byte order is for old 1990’s Macs. Make sure compression is “None” for both color and B&W. Embedding the ICC profile will help ensure accurate color reproduction later, so you generally want this checked.
Ok now finally to the fun part!
Going back to our artwork and scanner – we can see that the artwork is too large to fit completely on the scanner – that is totally ok it just takes a bit more time and effort. What we will do is scan the artwork in sections, these can be stitched together later during the editing process (which we will cover in a later tutorial.
Even if your artwork does fit on the scanner, you may want to remove the lid and use weights on the back of your artwork instead.
Now we flip the artwork over and line up one corner with the corner of the scanner glass.
Being careful not to add any bends or creases, we gently place the slate tiles on the back of the work.
Now back in the Epson Scan software press the [Preview] button near the bottom of the window. This will cause the scanner to kick into action and pop up a window like the one below. Just make sure everything looks basically reasonable.
If your work is smaller than the scanner, use the mouse to draw a box around your work (as in the example blow where I scanned one of the slate tiles). This will reduce the time and file size needed. Our work is larger than the scanner, though, so we wont do this.
Looking at the main Epson Scan settings window now the Document Size and Target Size options will be available. Since our artwork takes up the whole glass, 8.5×11.7 is our size (this is the size of the glass on the Epson V39 scanner) You almost certainly want to leave Target Size on the “Original” setting.
Now we are all ready to press the [Scan] button and sit back. The higher dpi you chose in your Resolution settings, the longer this will take. When its done, you will find the .tif file in the folder you defined in the settings above. Note this particular scan was 409MB – this is quite large because its a 1200dpi scan. At this size you can only fit 2 images on a CD-ROM (or one image across 350+ floppy disks). A 600dpi scan of the same image is only 102MB and took about half the time to scan.
Since our artwork is larger than the scanner, we have to scan it in sections. We could do this piece in 4 sections, but doing more than 4 by moving it just a little bit each scan and having overlap will give higher-quality results when stitching the image later. You want a minimum of 20% overlap. For this particular work we ended up creating 10 scans.
Note that you only need to Preview the first one, after that you can just press [Scan] after moving the artwork and carefully replacing the weights.
And that’s it for this article! If you are working with You’re Perfect Studio to distribute prints of your works, send us this collection of scanned sections of your work in TIFF format and we will take care of the rest.
If you are not working with You’re Perfect Studio and want to stitch your pictures together, you can try using Microsoft Image Composite Editor, Photoshop’s Photomerge feature, or the free and open-source Hugin application – all of which we hope to cover in future articles!
After stitching (if needed), you will have a huge file that can take a lot of memory to work with. Its normal at this phase to open the work in an image editing software and downsample it to the exact resolution needed for printing and apply any little fixes to color/white balance/etc. before sending it to a professional printing service.
If you need any help with any step in this process let us know!