How to Scan Artwork

Artwork scanning is a great way to copy any art piece digitally. In addition to making a copy, it is the perfect way to preserve historical pieces and ensure archival value. The process of artwork scanning is pretty simple. In fact, it can be done with any standard scanner. But there are other specialized scanners for artwork scanning as well.

We’ll go over the different types of scanners and how to scan artwork in this article; interested in learning more? Follow along to get the complete information.

Appropriate Artwork to Scan

A scanner is essentially a camera that captures whatever is placing on its surface. However, the most scanner comes in a standard A4 size that isn’t particularly suit for scanning artworks. Any artworks that are A4 or below can scan with a traditional scanner directly. So does that mean larger artworks cannot scan on a standard scanner?

It can be, but that would require specialized post-processing called stitching, which we will discuss in the next point.

Returning to the original question, what types of artworks are best suitable for scanning? Before answering that, you need to understand that a scanner works the same way as a camera. Except here, the subject or, in this case, the artwork is placing on a bed and pressed for the scan. As a result, flat artworks are more appropriate for scanning.

There are a few additional aspects to scanning an artwork. For example, an acrylic painting has a lot of texture to it. Whether it’s the color or the depth effect created by the protruding paint, these features make the artwork difficult to scan. Scanning works best when the artwork sits flush with the scanner bed.

So what to do with textured scanners? Most professionals completely avoid scanning textured pieces. Instead of scanning, textured artworks can photograph with a professional setup. Granted, the cost associated with professional art photography is higher than scanning, but it simply works better than scanning.

Types of Scanners for Scanning Artwork

types of scanners

Scanning an artwork is similar to scanning any other document. It can both color or black and white. It depends on the print the artist is looking for. Considering the similarity of the process, most leading scanners can use to scan artworks. Here are some of the notable types.

Flatbed Scanners

Flatbed scanners are the most common type of scanners out there. They were the first types of scanners develop to complement the traditional printer. In this type of scanner, there is a bed made of glass. The scanning document is keep on the glass flush with the bed.

There is an optical sensor just beneath the glass bed. The sensor scans the document and makes a digital copy of the same. This is essentially the process of taking a drawing to the computer.

The flatbed scanner works strictly based on the optical sensor’s photo reflection principle. As a result, flat documents are suiting for this type of scanner.

Automated Document Feeder

The automated document feeder is, as the name suggests, a document scanner. This was developing for fast and reliable scans without physically changing documents every time.

The problem with a flatbed scanner is that you have to scan page by page manually. But with an automated document feeder, a large volume of documents can scan as it happens on a rolling basis.

The automated document feeder works best for bulk prints in offices. It isn’t particularly suited for scanning artworks.

Overhead Scanner

The overhead scanners are probably the best suited for scanning artworks. We already know that a flatbed scanner cannot scan large or textured paintings. To overcome the size and texture issue, the overhead scanner was developed. The working principle of the overhead scanner allows the scanning of artworks of any size, texture, and composition.

There are a couple of overhead cameras set over a base. The base acts as the bed for the artwork. The camera then captures multiple images of the bed and processes them to get the best possible print.

The overhead scanner is essentially specialized photography of the artwork. It is the most common scanner using for artwork scanning.

Handheld Scanners

We imagine large and chunky machines that often resemble a photocopier whenever we talk about scanners. But that all changed with the handheld scanner.

The handheld scanner was developing to make scanning a portable process. It works similarly to the flatbed scanner. The working process of a handheld scanner is also very simple.

The subject needs to be laid down on a flat surface with sufficient lighting to scan documents or artworks. After that, the handheld scanner needs to have hovered above the subject piece. The scanned print is storing in the digital memory.

The scanner starts printing the document after it has completed scanning.

Slide Negative Scanner

This is also another prominent type of scanner used for scanning negative slides. The use of negatives isn’t very common in artworks. As a result, they aren’t used much.

In fact, the use of slide negative scanners has drastically dropped after the invention of the digital camera. Before that, it was prominently used for scanning the negative reels from a traditional camera.

A slide negative scanner works by using a light source on both sides of the negative simultaneously. While one side lights up the negative reel itself, the other side uses the LED to make a digital print. Because of its nature, slide negative scanners are highly limited to analog photography.

Big Format Scanner/ Drum Scanner

When it comes to scanning your artwork, the big format scanner is the ultimate heavy-duty scanner. These are especially developing scanners to scan large papers. Typically artworks and other construction-related blueprints are scanning through the big format scanner.

Big format scanners are knowing for their high-resolution prints. It uses a barrel roll technique and pixel-by-pixel scanning method to scan the document. Due to precision scanning capability, the scanner can produce the highest resolution copies, unlike any other scanner out there.

How to Scan Artwork

beautiful artwork

While we discussed different types of scanners in the previous point, we will focus on a detailed approach to scanning an artwork. You may think it’s just placing the artwork and clicking a few buttons. But there are some other aspects that you should consider to get the perfect scan of your artwork.

Flatbed Scanners

There are a few limitations to getting a perfect scan on a flatbed scanner. The first is that flatbed scanners cannot produce a high-quality scan. The second is that the size limit to just A4 at max.

However, artwork can still scan, provided it doesn’t have much texture to it. The scan parts of a large artwork can combine through the stitching. We will outline its steps on the next point.

To get started, follow the below-mentioned steps.

  • Make sure the glass bed is clean.
  • Make sure the edges of the artwork align with the edges of the glass bed.
  • Check the preview of the scan on the computer.
  • Make sure the piece is not skewing on the edges. Make necessary adjustments.
  • Put the art print face down on the flatbed area.
  • Make the scan and save it in TIFF format.

Overhead Scanner

As mentioned earlier, the overhead scanner is the best type of scanner for taking drawings to the computer. It is mostly use for scanning textured art pieces, but it works well with any large-scale artwork as well.

An overhead scanner doesn’t require stitching like a flatbed one and can go directly from the scanner to file. Instead, the camera’s distance can adjust to fit the required size of the piece. Here is a detailed guideline to use an overhead scanner.

  • Position the artwork on the designated bed of the overhead scanner.
  • Use the marking on the bed to make sure the artwork is aligning with the designated area.
  • Overhead cameras come with their own set of lights, so do not worry about the illumination.
  • Once aligned, turn on the scanner.
  • Click preview of the scanned document using the computer.
  • Make sure the cropping is correct.
  • The computer application should have an aligning tool to get the correct measurement.
  • Once everything is aligning, click on the scan button.
  • Save the file in TIFF, BMP, or BCX format.

Big Format Scanner/ Drum Scanner

The big format scanner or the drum scanners are the best when it comes to scanning artwork. It provides the highest resolution with precise print. The drum scanners are also very expensive as they are specializing types of scanners.

Among all the other leading scanners, the drum scanner is the most complicated and sophisticated scanner, requiring precise measurement and placement. Follow the steps below to get the perfect scan.

  • Turn on the big format scanner first.
  • Open the barrel area and check whether it is completely clean or not.
  • Carefully roll up the artwork in the barrel.
  • Make sure the alignment is correct with the barrel.
  • Check the alignment on the computer with a single spin of the barrel.
  • After that, turn on scanning.
  • The high-precision cameras will scan the artwork pixel by pixel, producing a high-quality scan.
  • Save the scanned file in TIFF format.

Scanning ArtPieces larger Than Scanner

We talked about before how flatbed scanners cannot scan any pieces larger than A4 size. Other than the specialized scanners for scanning artwork, almost no other scanner can make a single shot scan. But does that mean it cannot scan larger pieces? Of course not.

 All you have to do is “Stitch” the individual scans together. There are a few scan artwork apps that can get it done. But it is not as precise as a photo editor. The detailed guideline is outlined below.

Step 1 – Scan With Overlapping Sections

The correct way to scan an art piece for stitching is to make equal parts of it. For example, make 4 different quadrants out of a single art piece and scan each part individually. Make sure that each of the scans overlaps with the adjacent scans.

Step 2 – Set Up the Layers in Editor

We suggest using Photoshop to create the layers for stitching. Add all the layers to a base layer and align adjacent to each other.

Step 3 – Reduce Opacity and Merge

The next step is to reduce the opacity of each layer. We suggest getting it down to 50%. After that, use the mouse to bring the pieces together. The final pixels should align with the arrow keys for precision.

Typically, after combining, the overlapped parts will show up at 100% opacity. Remove the parts and set the opacity back to 100%.

Step 4 – Combine the Image

Use the “Flatten” option to compress the scans into a single scan. This way, it is easily possible to scan large files without a hassle.

Best Practice While Scanning Artwork

The process of scanning an artwork is fairly simple. However, some minor mistakes can easily destroy a perfect scan. Here are some of the things you should keep in mind while scanning your artwork.

  • Always make sure that the scanning bed is clean.
  • Always double-check the alignment.
  • Avoid saving the scans in JPEG format. Always use TIFF, BCX, or BMP format.
  • Check the preview before scanning.
  • Make sure the room light is similar to the scanning light for overhead scanners. You can dim out other lights.
  • Avoid using a flatbed scanner for textured artworks.


Artwork scanning is an essential process of digitizing and storing artwork. While there are different types of scanners out there, not all of them are best suited for scanning artwork. We tried to highlight the different types of scanners and how to scan artwork with the best ones for artwork scanning.

We also outlined the process of stitching partial scans for large artworks along with a few best practices while scanning. While scans would never take away the charm of the original, it is still a great way to store and view artworks at convenience.

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