Artwork Scanning and Preservation Tips

One of the most common questions I receive is that of how do I scan the artwork for the Flesk books. A recent email from a young artist prompted me to write this blog with my knowledge on the subject. Before I offer my suggestions and dpi settings that I use, I would like to share a bit of advice geared towards the young and new artist, and any artist who does not currently archive their work.

First off, I’m not an artist. I am a publisher who understands what I need from an artist to put together a book collection of their work. Because of this, I will incorporate business advice. I will go over three things. Why should you scan or photograph your art, followed by scanning tips, and then how to backup the scans.

In my opinion, one of the most important things you can do as an artist is preserve and record your work for future use. Even if you keep the originals this is a good idea. Having your art scanned or photographed can benefit you for the rest of your life (and your family and legacy once you are gone). There are many reasons why this is smart. Here’s a list of examples. You sell the original and no longer have access to it. The artwork gets damaged. You used some cheap watercolors, or some other weird thing happened where the art degraded. You don’t want to ship the original to a publisher or client (send them a scan or transparency instead so you don’t have to worry about loss or damage). Plus, there are the financial benefits. You have a permanent record to use for book collections, prints, posters, ads, magazine articles, etc., that you can continue to use for your benefit forever. If you don’t have the art, and no scan or photograph, then you may be stuck when an opportunity arises to utilize past art. Remember you are an artist and a businessman. If you want to survive as an artist, you need to have a plan for your future.

As an example, I spoke to an artist who I highly regard, who has had a long distinguished career and is nearing sixty. He mentioned a publisher was putting together a collection of his work, but was having a tough time locating artwork for the book. The artist sold the majority of his originals, and never kept records.

Another example, I spoke with another artist who is at retirement age. He had had many of his paintings professionally photographed during his entire five decade career. Who knows where all the originals are? But, he has the next best thing–preserved film to reproduce the art.

Now on to scanning. As a general rule for halftone printing purposes, I recommend scanning your art at 400 dpi in RGB. This goes for black and white art, too. I have found the blacks are preserved better in color than in a grayscale scan. You can always convert your RGB file to grayscale. Scanning any higher is unnecessary for print.

For pure black and white reproductions (bitmap files, no halftones) scan at 1200 dpi in grayscale. Never scan as a bitmap. You want to make the bitmap adjustments in Photoshop yourself, rather than letting the scanner make the decisions for you. And that goes for all adjustments. I never use my scanning equipment to make lighting, or color, or threshold adjustments, when I have Photoshop to use for complete control.

When saving your files, save them as either a PSD (Photoshop) file, or Tiff file. Never save them as a jpg. I often see people save their art as jpg’s, and editor’s use jpg’s for reproduction. I never understood why, especially when tiff files are far superior. Jpg’s produce hard edges on the art, and don’t preserve the colors or details as good as a Tiff file. I see no advantage to using jpg’s.

I’m not going to get into the details about photographing art, but I will mention when you want to photograph versus scan art. I have found that scanning paintings on canvas looks terrible. The intense bright light of the scanner oftentimes makes bright pinholes of light in the nuances of the canvas, and washes out the colors. I prefer photographing paintings while controlling the light. I used medium format film up to two-three years ago, but shoot exclusively digital now. Digital cameras are finally providing affordable equipment with excellent results. For a long time they were expensive with poor results.

Now for backing up your digital files. I keep a second disk online as a mirror, so if one disk fails, I just keep on working. This has happened to me twice in the last six years. Disks are mechanical units and will fail at some point. Another option is to burn your files onto a CD or DVD and file away. You can even keep a second copy at a friend or family member’s house in case of a fire or catastrophe. Whatever you do, do some sort of backup.

That’s it for now.