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How to scan artwork

By in How To


Introduction to scanning artwork

Apart from photographing artwork, scanning is another method for converting your art into digital images. You can pay a scanning bureau to scan your work with a drum scanner, but you can often achieve good quality results with a flatbed scanner at home.

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Professional drum scanning

Generally, drum scanners are of an impressive size and correspondingly expensive, costing around as much as a car or a small house. These are used by pro labs to scan your film, so it is hardly surprising that a high-resolution scan can cost £25 to £50 a time. The drums used are typically a metre or so long, and a number of images are scanned at the same time, each negative being held on a small part of the drum’s surface.

The light source is in the middle of the drum and the photocell outside. As the drum rotates, it scans every point on a circle around it. The light and photocell then move a fraction parallel to the axis of the drum for the next line to be scanned. The curved drum keeps the film to light source distance constant, and avoids problems with reflections.

How to scan artwork with a flatbed scanner

Before you start

  • You need a flatbed scanner installed and connected to a computer system.
  • Before use, carefully clean the scanner glass with a damp cloth or glass cleaner and dry.

Prepare the image and software

  • Put the print face down on the glass. Ensure that the actual print area is parallel to the edges of the scanner.
  • Start the scanner software. On some scanners there is a scan button, or there may be an import function on your images processing software, or a separate scanner program.
  • If your scanner software does not automatically run a preview, do so (unless you are using VueScan — see Tips below.)
  • If your picture is skewed, adjust the alignment and repeat the preview.
  • On the preview, use the mouse to outline the desired scan area.

Choose colour and resolution

  • If you are going to use Photoshop (or other image manipulation), scan all images as ‘millions of colours’. Otherwise use this for colour and grayscale for black and white.
  • Adjust the scanner resolution to give an appropriate file size in pixels. For printing, scan to get 300 pixels per inch of final print size. For web, create a scan with largest side around 900 pixels.
  • Try the auto-exposure button if there is one in the software, then adjust brightness and contrast if needed. On some scanners, resetting to default will give good results.
  • For colour pictures, set any colour controls to the default values unless you are scanning direct to a printer.
  • If your scanner has a setting that allows you to improve shadow separation, use it.

Finally, scan and save your artwork

  • Scan the images, saving in TIFF, BMP or PCX, but not as JPEG.


  • Always set the size measurement on the software to read in pixels when making a scan, unless you are scanning directly to a printer.
  • Third-party scanning software may produce better results than that supplied by the scanner manufacturer.
  • Never scan at a higher resolution than the actual optical resolution of your scanner. Never use any ‘sharpen’ command in the scanner software.

Scanning work larger than your scanner

  • Take the cover off the scanner
  • Place artwork face down on scanner.
  • Scan the first quarter at a resolution of at least 300 dpi, preferably higher, taking great care to align the artwork squarely.
  • Continue to scan all four quarters with exactly the same settings and again, take great care to align the artwork squarely.
  • Open each of the quarters of the painting in Photoshop.
  • To remove any canvas pattern, etc. optionally:
    • Apply Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian blur, have the radius at between 5–10 pixels
    • If you scanned at more than 300 dpi, reduce each quarter to 25%
  • Go to Image
    • Go to Image Size – the window will look like this (Note: Make sure that Constrain – Proportions box is checked: Image Window
    • Change inches to percentage by pressing the triangle next to the word inches.
    • Change width to read 25% (when the Proportions box is checked, both the width and height will be reduced by 25%).
    • Press OK.
  • Make each of the quarters 25%.
  • If necessary, go to Image -> Rotate, and select the correct number of degrees so that it will be right side up.
  • Now it is time to put your painting together.
    • Go to Image -> Canvas Size, change the width to 5 inches and the height to 6 inches. This will give you enough room to assemble the painting.
    • Next, add 3 more layers to the image, one for each of the quarters.
      • Make sure the Layers Palette is open.
      • If it isn’t, go to Window -> Palettes -> Show Layers to open it.
      • Press the triangle until the menu pops out and choose New Layer.
    • Using the Marquee tool, move the bottom left side of the painting to the bottom left side of the screen.
    • Copy each of the remaining quarters and paste it into its own layer in your assembled image file.
    • You can now move around each of the quarters until they all match up with each other by selecting the layer that it is on and using the Move Tool (tip: you can use the arrow keys) to move each section by a very small amount).
    • When you are happy that all the quarters line up, go back to the Layers Palette and press the triangle again. This time choose “Flatten Image” and your quarters will now be pasted together.
  • At this point, you can handle this image like any others you have edited, however you might need to trim it a little, sharpen it, adjust the colors, change the size to fit your web page, etc.

Which scanner to buy

Scanner technology is improving all the time, so it’s difficult to keep current with recommendations. Apart from following recommendations, the main factors to consider are the optical resolution and bit depth, but any new scanner is likely to be able to produce acceptable results.

Some consumer review magazines/websites:


External Links

Related reading

How to photograph artwork

How to digitise your artwork: photography and scanning

This post was originally published in April 2011. Last update: November 6, 2020.

15 comments for “How to scan artwork

Rahj goldwin

October 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

Good Article ! Can u explain why we should not save as jpeg any scanned image ? I had a tough time scanning a gasket tracing into autocad, then tracing over it in autocad using circles and lines. i used 1:1 scale and printed it iut on laser printer (removed scale to paper option while printing) but the output was always off the actual gasket and couldnt match it. would happen at outer edges even 4 inches fron drg cenre. circles would become ellipses. it was torture to do the task. after 30 prints keen gave up !

chris kirkland

October 8, 2013 at 9:57 am

Although high quality Jpegs are very good, they are still lossy compression so some of the original scan data is lost. In this day and age ever decreasing storage prices, using lossless compression on the original scans would be the most sensible option. e.g. TIFF image format with LZW lossless compression.

Darcy W

January 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Very helpful tips! Using image enhancement software will also help improve the scanned artwork. See hee for a tutorial demonstrating how to remove glare and restore a scanned painting in Photoshop:

Lorraine Daranll

October 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Your article is very helpful! I am pretty sure I am going to purchase the Epson Expression1000XL GT, unless they make a higher end one. If you are aware of a better model, I would certainy be interested. I am excited to try it out on our next Giclee order! Can you explain how “stiching” the 4 parts of the image back together, you can eliminate any overlap?

thank you,

chris kirkland

October 20, 2014 at 5:16 am

For stitching there’s some tools out there to make it easier now.

Here’s a tutorial for doing it with photoshop:

Madlen Mundi

February 25, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for this article, it’s very helpful!


May 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Could you use a printer? Can’t afford a scanner and don’t know if I will be very good at it anyway LoL

Sarah Smith

May 19, 2016 at 11:59 pm

My sister is an artist and she wants to be able to scan her paintings so that she can display them online as well as in person. I had no idea that systems existed to scan large artworks. I’ll have to tell my sister so that she can either buy a large scanner or find a company to help her scan her artwork.

Robert Dockery

February 15, 2017 at 9:52 pm

I have an EPSON V600 Scanner and can’t get it to do a clean scan of my pencil art in grayscale because the background always gets a coating of gray. I’ve contacted EPSON and can’t get a straight answer. The scanner works very well with photos and line art.


November 21, 2017 at 11:13 am

Same problem as Robert above me, Epson perfection. I had this scanner recommended to me as it was supposed to be great for watercolour illustration, however its washing out light colours and as Robert said it leaves a greyness on white paper if I change anything. Any ideas? xx


March 2, 2019 at 7:47 pm

I want to create small pieces of fabric and stitching textile work, scan and print to create cards. Do you have any suggestions for me please? Thanks.

Thomas wayne

November 26, 2020 at 1:21 pm

informative blog.

Amalie Robinson

December 1, 2020 at 5:21 pm

Love this! Thank you for sharing such an insightful article!


October 21, 2021 at 5:31 am

This is really cool

Destech Creations

January 22, 2022 at 8:22 am

Thanks For this article. It very helps full!

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