How to Prepare Scanned Documents for Digital Editing

How to Prepare Scanned Documents for Digital Editing
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10. Clean Your Scanner Bed

First and foremost, if you haven’t done it in awhile, clean your scanner bed. Think of all the times that you’ve accidentally touched it with your fingers, or all the dust that could build up from every time you’ve opened or closed it. And let’s not get into smudged ink, paper debris, and every artist’s personal enemy: eraser crud. Scanners work their best when freshly cleaned, so go ahead and grab your favorite glass cleaner, spray it on a lint-free cloth or paper towel and give it a good wipe down. After all, you don’t want to have to edit out dirt with Photoshop, do you?

9. Prepare Your Document By Flattening It…

One of the most crucial things you can do is to properly prepare your document for scanning. How do you do this? Well, there are actually a number of different steps you can take to make sure your documents are at their best before you scan them.

Make sure all papers are as flat as possible, as wrinkles are hard to edit out even for experienced designers. Not to mention, this can create uneven lighting on your document, making it harder to edit even the simplest of things. To do this, simply flatten your paper under some heavy books for a few days prior to scanning them.

8. …And Making Everything Visible!

Black Ink

Also, whenever possible, take a look over handwritten documents or printed documents and darken in areas that might be too light for a scanner to pick up. You’ll want to use a steady hand and a little patience here to help keep the integrity of the documents, but it’s well worth it! Obviously, this can’t be done in all cases (you wouldn’t want to write on a historical document or old family journal), but for things like backup copies of important paperwork, it’s best to make sure everything gets recorded accurately.

7. Prevent the Backlight Problem

Sometimes there’s a gap between the top of the scanner bed and your document, especially on older scanners. This sometimes allows the light to pass through your paper and add a weird back-lighting effect that can pick up on the scanner lid, things that may be written on the other side of the paper, or just give the whole document a strange, fuzzy look. Fortunately fixing that is as easy as placing a few sheets of clean, white printer paper behind the document to stop the light from passing through. Voila! Your scans are now as crisp as they should be.

6. Scan Your Images At High Resolution

Close Up of Writing

Now that we’ve got a clean scanner bed to work with, let’s talk about how much size really does matter. When you scan your images, make sure that you scan them in at a high resolution - the bigger the better. Why? It’s easier to edit something when it’s larger, rather than straining your eyes or relying on an in-program zoom feature. Besides, all image editing programs offer the ability to scale your image down later, so there’s no reason not to go bigger now.

5. Scan Your Image in the Correct Format

Whether you’re scanning photographs. paper documents, scrapbook layouts or filled out forms, there’s a right format for everything. When scanning photographs, TIFFs are fantastic. These are high quality bitmap files that don’t get that annoying artifact effect that JPEGs get. When scanning written documents, TIFFs are also a fantastic choice, but JPEGs aren’t bad if you’re using a grey scale format either.

4. When to Rely on Auto Scanner Settings


A lot of scanners, scanner software, and third party software offer up auto-settings that you can select based on the type of document you are scanning. These are actually a pretty good thing to utilize, but don’t think that they’ll shoulder all the work for you. Try out a few different auto settings with the scanner preview mode (more below on preview mode), and see which ones work the best. All of the modes should offer up some custom settings, such as contrast and brightness, which can help you fine-tune your documents and photographs with no problem at all.

3. Preview, Preview, Preview!

I can’t say it enough! One of the most important things you can do for scanning documents to be edited is previewing your scan. This will save you a lot of headache when it comes to editing later on. By previewing, you can fix alignment problems, see things that you can fix before scanning (such as wrinkles or missing text), help you fine tune your scanners settings, learn about problem areas on your scanner that you can fix (or sometimes just avoid), and it gives you a good idea of what you’ll be in for when it comes to editing.

2. Save Your Files Locally

When you begin scanning, it’s always a good idea to save a copy of your unedited document at full size (or larger) on your hard drive. This will help you keep a spare copy in case you forget to save or dislike the edits you make to the original document.

1. Choose Your Editing Program Wisely

Now once you finally have a scanned document that is ready to be edited, you’ve got to choose your program wisely. For general purpose editing, you can get pretty far using programs like GIMP, which is free, or Paint Shop Pro which is a lower-cost alternative to more expensive programs. If you’ve got the money or the access to it, Adobe Photoshop can be used to edit pretty much anything you may come across. Not to mention, Adobe Photoshop has a lot of options integrated into its scanning software to help you improve your scans before you even begin editing.



All information based on the author’s personal experience in graphic design.

Image Credits:

New Scanner by Brandie Heinel

Academic Book Stack by Phonono

Bottled Inks by Michael Randall

Ink by Gaius Valerius Flaccus