Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 5

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A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world
Part 5
Scanning Palooza & Keeping It All Straight


This is the fifth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

Come on now. I asked nicely...

Because of the pace we're moving in this series (four installments in and we haven't scanned anything yet!) 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 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. 

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.

In our case, scanning artwork that will end up as black and white line art, 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.

As discussed in previous installments, for the Cerebus restoration project, in general, we scan materials that will be reproduced at-size (photo negatives, print scans) at 1200 ppi (the exception being documents solely with text, for instance, the notes to Going Home, which were scanned at 600 ppi to save scan time). And we scan original artwork (which is of a much larger dimension 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 gray conversion happens, and that conversion can happen as part of your script. 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. 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 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, 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 output type. I'm a big supporter of not using lossly 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 going, 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!

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 Mara Sedlins, who helped 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 non-complex section of the book.

Now that we're further along in the work, the spreadsheets are only used for the scanning stage, to keep track of what artwork's missing so that Sandeep only has to scan the negatives that will absolutely be used.

The books I'm working on now, Minds and Jaka's Story, are comparatively simpler from an organizational perspective. 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 laid-back orchestral-y folk soundtrack to your scanning? Check out the [shameless self-endorsement ahead...] new Summer Januaries album.)

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at


Dave Kopperman said...

Awesome as usual, Sean. Have you tried Adobe Bridge? It does a lot of the back end stuff beautifully (batch rename, file organization, comp sheets, etc).

Sean R said...

Hey Dave, thanks for the kind words! I have never used Adobe Bridge, but thanks for the suggestion. always thought it was an integration/cross-platform tool--never realized the organizational aspects. I have a CC subscription but almost all this work has been done in Lightroom (for rotation and adjustment prior to scripting), Photoshop obviously ;), and Indesign for the layout stage. Kind of intimidating to think of changing the work flow at this point :) All of the file management stuff is handled through the way the directories are set up. Will get to that in the layout section...

Please chime in anywhere you see alternate or better ways of doing these things! These programs are so feature-laden that I'm amazed how often the best tool for a task is completely invisible, waiting there to be discovered...

Unknown said...

Is there some way to do all this on a FAX machine instead?

Just kidding.

Jeff Seiler said...

Hey, Sean, fascinating gobbledy-gook (to this Luddite), as usual.

I read all of "Down in the Hole: the unWired World of H.B. Ogden" Monday night, in one sitting. Very entertaining, especially for this fan of The Wire who thinks it to be The. Best. TV. Show. Ever.

It even initiated a third-time through of binge-watching for me. Thanks for making me aware of it.

Now I guess I gotta get those cd's...

Sean R said...

Hey Dave,

Sure! Lesse, I believe your faxes come in at 200 scan lines per inch. So we only need a 600 percent enlargement of the image on your end before delivery. Maybe the production negatives hooked up to a transparency projector exposing really really large photo paper for a 600 percent enlargement? Then faxing the result one 8 x 10" area at a time? And I can stitch together the result at the other end... hmmm...

Hey Jeff, really glad you enjoyed the book! If you have a minute to write a review in some of the usual places (the Big A, Goodreads) that would be outstanding. As for the music, next package I send you (your books back?) I'll slip in a few items for your listening.

Jp Poll said...

Hi Sean-

Following along in your guide, would "Anti Alias Image" be the same as "unsharp mask" and be something I would want to toggle off? Thanks!


Sean R said...

Hey JP!

Sorry I never saw this! Anti-aliasing--turn it off when scanning for line art. It's softening the finest details (on the theory that they're not getting captured by your scan res.)