08 November 2011

Tech Tuesday: Scanning Documents - Getting it Right the First Time

October was the first time I participated in ScanFestScanFest takes the drudgery out of scanning as you chat while you work and since much of the work of scanning is done by the computer, it is nice to have someone to 'talk' to while you wait. It is particularly fun to see images of the photographs that people are scanning!  November's ScanFest will be on November 20 at 11 am PST.

My goal at ScanFest was to scan some archival original letters and family documents.  Since there are many of these that will need to be scanned, I also wanted to set up a scanning profile that would give good results without needing to do touch-ups later in photo-editing software.  This is not a strategy recommended for photos.

One of the more important tips came from Brett Payne of Photo-Sleuths who suggested using a backing sheet when scanning photos.  This technique was also invaluable for scanning documents as it makes the edges of the paper more prominent removing any doubt that the scan might not be a complete image of the original.

Most scanners have profiles that can be set and saved for a particular task.  For archival documents, the base settings I used were:

Output resolution: 300 ppi
Output Type:  Color
File Type:  TIF
Save to File:  My Scans > Date
Base File Name: STR_DOC_00001 (with automatic incrementing set for subsequent scans)
No sharpening

In the scanner software, I was able to make these settings the default for one of the scan buttons.  Scanning in color was recommended by the other participants in ScanFest and also in Ctein's Digital Restoration from Start to Finish.  A relatively low output resolution was used since it is unlikely these items will ever be used in a print publication - the few that might were scanned at 600 ppi.

The TIF file format was chosen because it is a popular loss-less format that is likely to be supported by most applications.  Should I wish to post to the internet, converting the file from a TIF file to a JPG file is easily done in Lightroom and most other photo editing and cataloging programs.  Since I use cataloging software to manage my digital collection, I chose not to use descriptive names for the items.

Without making any other adjustments, the settings resulted in the following scan (converted here to jpg and 75 ppi):

The image fairly closely matches the original but is actually lighter and brighter! Navigating to the Lighten/Darken settings in the scanner, there were several corrections being automatically applied by the scanner:  Highlights 35, Shadows -16, Midtones 0, Gamma 1.8.  Resetting highlights to 0 produced an infinitely better image.  Resetting shadows to 0 had minimal effect. 

Gamma optimizes the contrast and brightness of the midtones in the image.  From past experience, changing the gamma settings can often make it easy to read even the lightest documents without overly darkening the entire image.  Small adjustments to gamma settings can make big changes in the image.

Resetting gamma to 1.5 (.3 lower) and all the other settings to 0 produced a much more legible image and removed the glare that was present in the default scan.  The image below is nearly identical to the original.  For this scan, it would not have been necessary to reset the gamma.  The ink had faded more in some of the other documents and the gamma had to be set even lower to get a legible scan.

The remainder of the documents were scanned by resetting the automatic corrections to 0 and adjusting the gamma to make the document legible - no subsequent image adjustments required!

If you have any tips or tricks to make scanning archival documents faster, better or quicker, please share them in the comments!


  1. Sounds like a fun time to me. My scanning of such things are done pretty quickly right on my own computer through the printer....this is my most favorite printer ever! It does everything I need it too...and now with joining in on Sepia Saturday I am scanning things right out of family albums ....or if I get copies from the Minnesota History Center I just scan the photo and presto it's on my computer or I can delete it too!

  2. Karen, You should join us at ScanFest! The documents I was scanning needed a lot of help. They were too faint to produce a legible copy and benefited tremendously from a little boost.

    My son has a combo printer/scanner that typically creates pretty good copies/scans. I like the extra control and features I get with my standalone scanner - especially the trays for scanning slides.

  3. I never thought of the possibility of viewing each other's work during scanfest. How do you do that so all can see? Are you on google+? Just can't visualize.

  4. Kathy,
    It is a chat that runs from the AnceStories blog. You can attach a scan to your comment and it shows up in the comment feed. Great fun!

  5. I love the hint about the backing sheet. I'm going to use that for my Flip-Pal scans for the Simple Gifts Genealogy Blog Hop and see how it works out. I should join the next scanfest, it sounds like fun!

  6. Heather, Scanfest is great fun. You should definitely join in! Your Flip-Pal project looks interesting. I think I will use the Flip-Pal to scan the diaries. Since the Flip-Pal stores the photos as JPGs, I'll need to remember to convert them to TIFs on import. Hope to see you on the 20th.

  7. I LOVE my Flip-Pal. I also have a flat bed scanner. Now I'm trying to explain to my husband why I also need a scanner with a paper feeder, that will also upload to Evernote. No, I'm not high maintenance....at least not in the usual sense.

  8. Lauren,
    Oh my! I had to laugh when I read your comment. I am truly afflicted - flatbed, wand, flip-pal and Canon P-150 portable sheet feed scanner. Each has its own unique purpose.

    The Canon P-150 handles photocopies really well and doesn't make the annoying adjustments that my flatbed scanner does. But, there is no way I would put an archival document into the sheet feed scanner. :)

    Loved your post on organization structures and incorporating NGS recos into your digital organization system. I am almost entirely digital now but I also have copies of almost everything in paper files as well. There are too many crashed hard drives in my past.


Comments welcome!