Even if one never picks up a tablet or draws one stroke on the computer, a commercial artist will still need to know how to turn paint into pixels. In an industry that is becoming increasingly dependent on e-mail and websites, learning how to digitize artwork can be a great asset for an illustrator.
So, to start things off, here’s a few things to consider when you go to buy your new scanner. Don’t be confused by all numbers and the features. Just keep a few things in mind, and you will end up with the right tool for the job.
Scanner Features to Consider
When going to buy a scanner, you are always going to be looking at these options:
Size – The majority of scanners you will find in your office supply stores will be around 8.5″x11.7″. However, if you can find a flatbed scanner with a larger area, it will only work to your advantage, especially if you like to create large paintings.
Resolution – The specs on a scanner will include a number that represents the maximum dpi (dots per inch) that the scanner can scan at. Sometimes, they give you two numbers that look something like 1200×2400. You will be looking at the lower number. For a good print quality, you will be scanning your artwork at about 300-600 dpi. For bitmap line work, you will need to scan at least 1200. Most good scanners will have a resolution of 1200 or more. If the specs have several confusing numbers, or the numbers seem impossibly high, make sure you are looking at the “optical” resolution, and it doesn’t say things like “software-enhanced” or “interpolated’ next to the number.
Design – Will you be able to lay your artwork flat on the glass, or is the scanning area surrounded by a raised edge that makes it impossible? Does the scanner have any protruding elements that prevent you from scanning large pieces of artwork?
Dedicated vs. All-in-One – Generally, a standalone scanner will work better than those included on “all-in-one” printers. However, they are getting better as technology improves. If you are looking to get both a printer and a scanner, and you are on a budget, an all-in-one may be the option for you. If you can afford it however, it will probably be best to get a dedicated scanner.
Speed – You are going to get really frustrated if your scanner takes forever to make a 300 dpi color scan. Look at how your scanner connects to your computer. Usually this will be USB or USB 2.0. You are going to want to get a scanner with a USB 2.0 connection if speed is an issue for you. If you find one that connects via Firewire, even better.
Other Features – Will you be scanning slides or transparencies? Some scanners will come with an adapter that will let you digitize these as well. Also, take a look at the software that comes bundled with your scanner. You may also want to check its fax and copy capabilities, if this interests you.
My Current Scanner
The scanner that I currently use is an HP ScanJet 4670 See-Thru Vertical Scanner. This scanner is unique from other scanners because of its design. It does not lay flat on your desk, but consists of a single panel that you can take and put anywhere over your painting. The glass lets you see exactly what you are scanning, which is great when you are scanning a large image.
This scanner has worked well for me, and is a fair scanner with 2400 dpi resolution. Unfortunately, I believe this model has been discontinued. But I let you know about it in case this design feature is appealing to you, and you can find a used one for sale somewhere.
Which Scanner Would I Buy?
As much as I am satisfied by my current scanner, I will probably end up upgrading within the next couple years. The image quality is okay, but not as great as other scanners. I am also not fond of the software that came with it. When coming up with tips for this article, it got me thinking what I would buy if I were to go out and get a new scanner today.
The best scanner you can probably get is an Epson scanner. I have no personal experience with these scanners, but the Epson brand is highly regarded among professional photographers, and their scanners generally produce really good image quality. I would probably end up going for either the 4490 or 4990 models. The deciding factor would be the price. The two models are listed at $199.99 and $599.99, respectively.
If you have any further tips for buying scanners, or you have come across one that you really like/dislike, share your experiences with other readers by leaving a comment on the website.