Part 3

Scanning Palooza & Keeping It All Straight


This is the third installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing artwork of all stripes for print.

We have only been able to put this together because of the support of our patrons, both subscribers on Patreon, and by one-time donators to our Living the Line Paypal account. Thank you so much for your support! We couldn't do it without your generosity.

If you haven't done so yet, please go back and read the previous installments.

Come on now. I asked nicely...


Because of the slow pace we're moving in this series so far, I'm going to be a bit more didactic and a bit less expansive in the next few installments.

Okay! When last we met we had purchased (borrowed)(stolen!) a scanner to convert all of your giant stack of paper into ones and zeds. Now we need to use some software to operate said scanner.

But hey, doesn't this scanner come with software?

Yes, your scanner most likely comes with some kind of limited utility that can in all likelihood produce good scans. But for maximum flexibility, and ease of naming and image adjustment and calibration and all kinds of other goodies, you'll want a copy of one of the big two names in scanning: Vuescan or Silverfast. If one of these two came with your scanner, you're good. If neither of them did, I'd recommend Vuescan, as it's the more affordable of the two.

So we've connected our scanner, we have our artwork in a neat, orderly pile on our desk, and we've fired up the ol' Vuescan. What now?

I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail here—that's what manuals are for—but I will hit a few highlights.

Vuescan has a few different tabs, and each of these tabs has a plethora of options to choose from, to change every conceivable thing that can be changed about the input of your scanner. This is much more flexibility than, say, EpsonScan, the utility that comes with all Epson scanners, which tries to manage your image in a lot of ways that can interfere with upscaling or batch processing. (At least, SOME versions of EpsonScan do this. There are more versions of this software than there are Epson scanners themselves. Suffice it to say, these built-in utilities are much more limited than a dedicated piece of scanning software).

Here in Vuescan, all of those potential options are laid out for you, and are tweakable, which can make it a bit intimidating at first, but also makes it an extremely powerful tool.

If you're scanning "line work", however, what we're currently discussing — scanning artwork that will end up as black and white bitmaps, this is actually a pretty simple task, as we don't have to worry about color calibration or anything like that. We just need to scan our artwork, every page at the same exposure level. (Notice that last important detail!)

As discussed in previous installments, it's best practices to scan detailed art materials that will be reproduced at-size (photo negatives, print scans) at 1200 ppi (the exception being documents solely with text, which you can often get away with scanning at 600 ppi and upscaling later, to save scan time). And I generally scan original artwork (which was drawn at a much larger size than the finished book) at 600 ppi.

I'd also recommend always scanning in COLOR versus grayscale, even though the files will end up lineart/1-bit images. Why? A color scan takes the same amount of time as a grayscale scan—the grayscale scan is just the scanner scanning in color as normal and arbitrarily throwing out two of the color channels. Scanning in color gives you maximum flexibility for how this grayscale conversion happens, and that conversion can happen as part of your script/"Action". Have a red ink spill on your artwork? Use blue-line pencil under your inks? These are easy to eliminate from a color scan and could require some serious work from a grayscale scan. (For one page of the Cerebus restoration project, I actually eliminated an entire watercolor-painted overlay to a page of original artwork with the Photoshop "Black and White" tool, taking a page that would otherwise have been completely unusable and looked perfect afterwards. This was only possible because of the color scan).

Plus, you might find use for your color scans in the future. Art books? Promotional materials? Crazy enlargements on the side of a building? You never know when you might want to return to the source, and that piece of artwork might not always be as accessible as it is right now.

When we get to negatives, we'll discuss bit depth again, but for your original destined-to-be-line-art artwork, 24-bit depth (i.e. 8 bits of depth for each of the three color channels) is more than adequate.

(Also—this won't be a problem if you're using Vuescan, but I want to reiterate it anyway—DON'T SHARPEN YOUR IMAGE while you're scanning! Is there an "Unsharp Mask" box somewhere? Uncheck it. We will do sharpening at the next stage, in a controlled way, AFTER we've upscaled, to avoid any possible negative effects. (This is one of those things that can be totally fine, depending on a whole host of things—but best to do it in a purposeful way rather than whatever arbitrary radius etc the scanning program wants to apply.)

The Epson 10000XL/11000XL/12000XL, which is the scanner used by everyone scanning original artwork for the Cerebus restoration project, has an oddity that needs to be taken into account— it has a variable focus to accommodate scanning artwork that can't be flush to the glass. Because of this, you need to make sure it's in focus before starting a big batch of scans. Hitting Control-F in Vuescan should cause the focus to adjust. If Vuescan crashes and defaults to the standard settings, you'll need to focus again.

Lastly, we need to set the image output type. I'm a big supporter of AVOIDING lossy compression (i.e. JPEGs) for image files, so I've settled on TIFFs with LZW compression, which is capable of reducing the image sizes without any loss of image quality. Hard drive space is cheap and only getting cheaper. Treat yourself!

Now, run a test scan on a portion of your image, and very carefully analyze it up close and personal. How does it look? Is it all crisp? Any parts of the scan look soft? If all looks good, you're ready to go. While each scan is progressing, carefully examine the previous one for any flaws. After the first few, you're good—crank up the music and try to zone out and enjoy yourself. Because just sitting there watching the status bar move can be pretty painful.

Go ahead. I'll wait!


While you're scanning, a brief detour on organization...

The bigger your project, the more important it is that you obey some common-sense rules about organizing your scans, at every step of the way.

The Cerebus restoration project, especially the first half-dozen books, would have been a real maze without the organizational structure provided by Dr. Mara Sedlins, who worked with me to restore the first few books. That's because the books are so long, and the sources of the artwork so varied. Scans from two dozen people on some of the books, all scanned on separate scanners. Original artwork, negatives, print copies, production pieces of original artwork prior to having been photocopied or shot with a stat camera... so many items to keep track of.

This was made a heck of a lot easier by Mara's spreadsheets, designed on Google Sheets so we could both share and edit them simultaneously and remotely. The sheet had cells for type of artwork, for source of artwork (scan donations by art owners, etc) and for notes that would be relevant to later stages (see far right column). This is a relatively simple section of the book from a file source standpoint.

The further I've gotten in the restoration efforts (5,XXX pages down out of 6,000 or so), the less sources for scans, and thus the less complicated the spreadsheet is. At this point it's mainly used to keep track of what original art pages are missing, so that the negatives or printed pages can be scanned for just the missing pages alone.

The less sources of scans, the simpler this part of the job is from an organizational perspective. If you were to be working on a book with ALL original art, from one source, it's even simpler. But there's still room for error when you're dealing with that many pages. Below is a thumbnail view of a portion of the Jaka's Story pages, organized by type. Almost four hundred scans. You want to limit the amount of time you have to spend wading through this looking for something.

As I said, the longer and more complex your project, the more this matters. But on the most basic level, make sure your scans start with the name of the book, and follow that up with a number that identifies the page of the volume. You'll thank me later.

(And if you REALLY want to get organized, check out Bulk Rename Utility.)

Ta until next week, and happy scanning! (And, hey, need a folk-rock soundtrack to your scanning? Check out [shameless self-endorsement ahead...] my new album, Mismenagerie.