Best way to make publication-quality, digital images of my artwork?
January 29, 2013 4:41 AM   Subscribe

I need to convert 16 pages of 14" x 17" artwork into digital images to submit to a book publisher. What is the best way to make high-quality digital copies of my artwork?

I have finished a manuscript and several illustrations, and am now almost ready to self-publish my first children's book. The trouble is, I now need to convert 16 pages of artwork into digital images to submit to the publisher. What is the best way to make high-quality, digital copies of my artwork? The illustrations are done in pastels and they're on 14" x 17" sheets of paper. I already tried scanning them using a book scanner in the library, but the scans were terrible quality. Should I look into scanning them at Staples or Fedex Kinkos, or is there a better option?
posted by Nematoda to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a service generally provided by either a professional photographer (for larger artworks) or a pre-press bureau (for flatbed scanning). The main issue isn't going to be the actual scanning/photographing of the work, it is going to be the digital post-processing needed to match colour and knock out the white background (if you're illustrating on white for print on white).

What I suggest before seeking out expensive services is perhaps a bit of try-it-at-home if you have a digital camera. Take your artwork outside on a cloudy day -- or a day with direct sunlight -- so the light is fairly even. Photograph each piece from directly in front so it is not skewed, tilted or misaligned. Then use a program such as Picasa to correct the white balance of your images, and adjust the brightness and contrast so that the white background (if any) is knocked up to pure white, and the rest of the image has good crisp colour and contrast.

(I provide this service, and my rates are on the cheap side at $15 per flat artwork. You might reasonably expect to pay $15-$30 per image for press-ready images at a fairly decent DPI if done by a photographer. If you get them scanned on a flatbed, which is going to be a bit challenging because of the pastel medium, you will likely pay more, but also get crisper images. Try it yourself, first, if you feel capable, and you can save a few hundred bucks and get something which is probably good enough for Blurb or whoever is going to be running your output.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:07 AM on January 29, 2013

Has the publisher given you any direction on how to generate usable digital images for their press? Artwork like yours is usually scanned on a flatbed scanner, or photographed using a special setup similar to a camera stand.

Generally-speaking, digital images for offset reproduction should be produced in cmyk at 300dpi, and done scaled to the final print size. There's also a host of color management steps that need to be taken in order to assure accurate reproduction. Is this a normal professional publisher/press, or is this for one of the "make your own book" sites, like Blurb?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Thorzdad; Get a professional to do this on a flatbed scanner. Color correction is essential if you want your work to be reproduced accurately.

I can recommend a great shop in Minneapolis...
posted by omnidrew at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2013

I scan my own stuff and I'm quite happy with the outcome. (At least, whatever merit there was in the originals, the scans are not noticeably of lower quality.) I'm using an ancient HP scanjet 3400c. You won't be able to get 14" x 17" originals on a consumer-grade scanner all at once, of course, so they'll have to be scanned in two or more passes and then glued back together on your PC.

The advantage of my old scanner, and the reason I haven't replaced it, is that the control program is very good. It's almost a baby photoshop--you can zoom in and check particular areas in a preliminary scan, you can control resolution, contrast, white point, and color balance easily. Even has sort-of-histograms. My practice is to choose the portion of the original that's most important and/or hardest to digitize correctly, zoom in there, and pick settings that do the best job. Then I WRITE THE SETTINGS DOWN (or actually do a little screen capture) so I can use exactly the same settings on all the other passes needed to get the whole thing digitized (in pieces.)

Gluing the pieces together: I started out using photoshop's autostitch function but IMHO it doesn't work very well. Then I tried manual stitching (flying the pieces in one by one, zooming 'way in, and overlapping the scan edges where the pixels exactly match.) Works, but is a pain. THE ANSWER to the problem was given to us by Microsoft a few years back. (Given! By Micro$oft! Props to them.) It's MS ICE, for Image Composite Editor, from the MS Research Labs. It was developed for stitching panoramic photos together but OMG it works like magic for any image that's in pieces but shouldn't be. Download for free at the URL given.

Sometimes the final stitched-together scan can use just a bit of tweaking in contrast or color balance, or a trace of sharpening. But I very rarely have to bring the scan into a full graphics editor. What I use to keep the heaps and piles of pics I have organized is Xnview, also free, and it's vanishingly rare to need more tweaking than xnview's on-board balance, contrast, and sharpening tools can provide.

Consumer-grade scanners are dirt cheap. I just bought an Epson Perfection V30 off craigslist for 20 bucks. I haven't tried this out yet but being 15 years newer that what I'm using, the hardware is bound to be better. My only concern is with the control software. I described the very satisfactory control program for my old 3400c up above, but we use much newer HP 5650 scanners at work and the software bundled with those is absolutely nothing but happy-fun-make-a-postcard stuff. Decent aftermarket scanner control software can be purchased and I may have to do that for the Epson if its bundled stuff turns out to be lacking.
posted by jfuller at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: Also recommending a professional. (Disclaimer: Mr metarkest is a professional who does this, and has such an excellent eye for color matching that it makes me slightly paranoid.)

Pastels can be delicate items - not sure if scanning them on a flatbed scanner would be wise. A professional photographer will use either a copy stand or mount the images on the wall so the illustrations aren't damaged.
posted by metarkest at 11:41 AM on January 29, 2013

Example of the old 3600c at work: Full scanned image, shrunk down to 14% (lanczos) in xnview to get it under Imgur's 1 Mb file size limit. Detail as scanned before shrinkage, 600dpi, with a trace of contrast uppage and edge sharpening, both done within xnview. The original was done on 11x14 paper (Canson XL recycled drawing paper 60 lb), scanned 600dpi in two parts, stitched together by MS ICE, final output 8200p thisaway 6450p thataway. (On Imgur, click both images to see what I uploaded.)

P.S. if you do decide to try this at home kids, and they're pastels, workable fixatif is your friend. But I'm sure you knew that.
posted by jfuller at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2013

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