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Best Practice Scanning Techniques

When it comes to digital collage, scanning is a must-have skill. When students enter my Digital Illustration class, many do not know how to effectively scan anything. Scanning photos and found objects can be treated like a step by step process. The following example uses screenshots from the scanning workstation at the Hood College Library in Fall of 2010. But even if the library has since upgraded or if you have different scanning software, the steps are usually the same. It’s just that the software is arranged differently.

Steps for proper scanning

Step 1: Locate the scanning software

locate scanning software

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Every computer with a scanner installed should have software to accompany it. The good news is that while a company can have different models of scanners, they usually use the same software for all of their models. So all Epson scanners use the same Epson software, all Cannon scanners use the same Cannon software and so on. And in addition, operating systems (Windows and Macs) usually have scanning software built in. Whatever your situation may be, just finding a way to launch the software is step one. If you don’t see a desktop icon, check your Applications folder for the Mac, or your Program Files folder for PCs.

Step 2: Make sure you have full control

choose professional for scanner mode

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If you are prompted to make a choice between “auto” or “professional,” choose professional mode. You want to make sure you are in control of what is going on so you can configure the settings properly.

Step 3: Set the DPI and other settings

scanner settings

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Dots Per Inch (DPI) can get a bit mathematical, so let’s try and keep this simple. First, make sure you know how I set up a new photoshop document, because that is what my DPI technique is based on. You also need to know approximately what your output size for the graphic will be. If you are scanning a 5 x 7 photograph for a magazine that will print the photo at about 5 x 7, then set your DPI to 300.

But what if you plan to enlarge the photo? For example, if that 5 x 7 photograph was going to be used for an 18 x 24 poster, the 5 x 7 photo would be enlarged approximately by three. Multiply three times the base DPI (3 x 300 = 900). So in that example, you should scan the 5 x 7 photo at 900 DPI instead of 300. When you paste the 900 DPI image into your new 300 DPI Photoshop document, Photoshop will automatically do the math and enlarge your image while adjusting the DPI. This is not precise, but it’s a good way to estimate, and it’s a good way for beginner’s to get their feet wet while greatly advancing the quality of their scanning.

The other settings may differ among different scanning software, but hopefully they are common sense. Such as choose “color” if you want a color scan, and “grayscale” or “black and white” for a black and white scan. I would also turn off or avoid any color, toning or sharpening features. You can do that better in Photoshop; just focus on scanning the image for now.

Step 4: Descreen

scanner descreen

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Descreen is often overlooked, but can be a great tool for scanning photos out of newspapers and magazines. Sometimes it’s hard to find, and not every scanner software has it. Photos printed in newspapers, magazines or by any commercial printer will be printed with ink dots in a Moiré pattern. Scanning these photos without a descreen will magnify the dots and give you a result that looks very vintage (but sometimes this is a desirable effect). A descreen will help smooth out the dots so your scan will look more like a natural photograph.

Step 5: Preview, select and scan

scanning preview and select

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Press the preview button; this will show you everything that is on the scanner bed. Most scanner software will allow you to click on the preview image and draw a marquee. Whatever is inside of the marquee is what will be scanned, so only scan what you need or what you might use; this will help to keep your files sizes down. When you are satisfied with the marquee, hit the scan button.

Step 6: Save the image

save the scan

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One of two things will happen during this step. Either the scanning software will prompt you to save the file, or it will open in an application such as Photoshop. In either case, be sure to save the file (preferably as a maximum quality .jpg).

Step 7: Locate the scan!

locate the scan

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This does happen. Some people really struggle with computers. Try not to be one of those people. After you save a file, be sure you can locate it. If you have trouble saving and locating files, I do not recommend pursuing a career in digital imaging, graphic design or web development.