How to get your Artwork into a Digital format
Scanning vs Photographic
The best results for getting your artwork into the digital domain is by scanning. Even a low cost Epson or Canon A4 scanner will give excellent results however, there will usually be some tweaking needed in a graphics program after the scan.
There are 2 types of scanner in general use. Flatbed & Drum.
There are many types of flatbed scanners on the market, many incorporating print facilities that will print multiple copies of the scan. Although the scanner can produce good results these machines are generally aimed at an office workflow. Some of the higher end models are good enough to scan and produce acceptable prints or greetings cards of your work. However, if all you need is to scan your artwork at a high resolution then for our purposes I would recommend a dedicated scanner, one that has only one job, scanning!
Whether you go for A4 or A3 depends on your budget. At some point however, you will need to ‘scan and stitch’. If your latest creation has been done on A3 paper and you have an A4 scanner, then you will need to scan separate halves of the painting and use ‘scan & stitch’ software (usually supplied with your scanner) to reassemble the two halves into one complete picture. (More on ‘scan & stitch’ later).
It’s possible to scan an A2 picture on a A4 scanner but acceptable stitching results are not always guaranteed.
Understanding Image Resolution and how it affects what scanner you buy
You will no doubt be familiar with the term dpi, which stands for dots per square inch. Some prefer to use ppi, (pixels per square inch). Without getting into the technicalities of the subject for our purposes it’s better to concentrate on what you intend to do with your painting. Do you only sell miniatures, or do you routinely have your work enlarged to huge canvas sizes? Or somewhere in-between, A3 prints for example?
A standard PC monitor displays text & images at 72dpi, which is why we don’t need huge 300dpi 10Mb images on a website. They would look exactly the same as a tiny 72dpi 100k. Text & images produced on a lithographic printing press (the print standard before digital printing became established) are scanned in at 300dpi and this resolution is perfectly fine for all manner of printed materials such as brochures, business cards, letterheads, leaflets etc.
However, when we have the need to greatly enlarge a scanned image then we also need to scan in at a higher resolution. For instance, if we have an A4 image in Photoshop and we want to print it out at A2 the software will have to ‘interpolate’ the image. It picks a coloured pixel and surrounds it with a determined number of similarly coloured pixels. Done with every pixel colour of the image it is then ‘enlarged’.
The main downside to this technique is the image will have lost some clarity/sharpness which will then have to be dialled in to compensate. Which brings us back to which scanner to choose. A scanner will be sold showing the ‘Optical Resolution’ (it’s true dpi) and a much higher figure which will be it’s ‘Interpolated Resolution’. The important resolution for us is the Optical one. Always try and set your scanner to scan at this resolution for the best results.
A typical specification sheet for a scanner is shown below. Note: the ‘Selectable Resolution’ is the interpolated figure.
So, if we take 2 regular low cost scanners, one with an Optical Res. of 1200dpi x 1200dpi and the second one (slightly more expensive) at 2400dpi x 2400dpi it really depends on what you are intending to produce from the scan, as mentioned earlier. If you are never intending on going larger than an A3 print then the lower res. one will be fine. An A2 canvas obviously would benefit from the higher res. scanner.
These are expensive and aimed at professional use. However, if you create fine art and need as close to a perfect reproduction as possible, then sending your artwork to a drum scanning agency makes sense. Prices are approx. £25 for a 1 off A4 and nearer £30 for an A3. However, the difference in quality between a drum & flatbed scanner is often huge. As long as your artwork is flexible enough, in other words not mounted in any way, and has limited texture then it will fit onto a drum scanner.
Using a camera to capture your artwork
If your budget doesn’t run to the latest Hasselblad large format camera and studio lighting then don’t worry, acceptable results can be achieved with the most basic equipment.
Sit your artwork as near to vertical on an easel in a very well lit room out of direct sunlight and check for any shadows falling on the artwork. A porch or conservatory can work well when the sun is out of the way.
Whatever camera you use, just stick to prime focus, in other words, don’t use the zoom function. Just position yourself as close as necessary to get the whole artwork in. If you have access to a tripod, then that makes the task a little easier. Also make sure the camera has not been set to ‘up’ the vibrancy or any other special effects.
You want as natural a capture as possible.
Whether you have scanned or used your camera to capture the artwork you are more than likely going to need some image editing software to ‘fix’ the image.
For instance, you may have created a watercolour on some fine art paper that is off-white, bordering on cream. A scanner will pick up this background hue and give the overall feel a slightly gloomy look. Image editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, can remove background ‘noise’ and also get rid of left-over pencil marks and ink splodges etc.
You may have what seems to be a perfectly lit room but often a camera can produce dull looking results. However, what needs to be recognised is the fact that whether you’ve used a scanner, or taken a picture using a camera, the colour information will have been captured, and you use your image editing software to ‘bring it out’.
Another issue that can crop up is if you are taking a picture that is not quite vertical. The perspective may get altered and again, this can be fixed in software. See before & after below:
Example 1 – fixing perspective (click on images to view larger version)
Example 2 – straightening a skewed image (click on images to view larger version)
Adobe Photoshop is arguably the best image editing software around. Many thousands of professionals and amateurs alike use this software to digitise their artwork. The beauty is, you don’t need the latest version to fix any picture. The original versions of the software have all the necessary tools to make your artwork pop and also get rid of blemishes etc.
Usually, adjusting the Levels or Curves is enough to fix most pics. The tools are easy to learn and are replicated on other image editing software.
Photoshop CS5 and upwards also has its own version of ‘scan & stitch’ called ‘Automation’ which does a fantastic job of stitching multiple images together.
Obviously I’ve only scratched the surface on How to get your Artwork into a Digital format so if you are reading this it would be great to hear how you go about it. Scanning? Photography? Any other equipment? Share your tips below in the comments section below.