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A Not-so-Quick and Dirty Guide on How to Do a Proper Cover Art Scan (WARNING: VERY IMAGE-HEAVY)

NOTE: This is very much something where your mileage may vary with equipment, software and overall photo editing abilities, so please use this as a reference rather than as a bible for scanning.

 

So you want to scan some cover art? Some people come to that predicament for various reasons: some because it's their only option for, say, album art, and others because they're sadistic and they enjoy wasting hard drive space like me. But whatever your reason is, it's never a bad idea to learn this skill if the need ever arises.

 

Prerequisites:

  1. Scanner (of course)
  2. Cover art source (preferably of something in good shape)
  3. Your preferred scan software (preferably one with descreening functions; I'll cover descreening in a photo editor here)
  4. Your preferred photo editor (I use GIMP so that's what's being used here)

 

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Setting Up the Scan

Making sure you can scan something optimally is always a good idea. Make sure your scanner is as dust-free as you can rationally get it so that as little dust as possible creeps up in the scan. I'll split this into two parts after this, though: one where you only have a basic scan to go off of and one where you have a scanner and scanner software to do some heavy lifting for you.

For my example, I'll be scanning the cover art for the PlayStation 2 version of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie with an Epson Perfection V30, because of course I am. I'd also recommend straightening out the art in question, as it'll make editing it a little easier.

Hdszh.png

Here's the preview of the scan I'll be presenting for a reference.

 

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Scan Recommendations:

  • strongly recommend scanning at 600dpi, especially if you plan on downscaling your scan.
  • If descreening and dust removal are options in your scanner's software, please use them. As suggested above, it lets you remove some of the heavy work in art scanning. I'll be showing how you can work with basic scans and scans that have been descreened and dusted.

From there, you're ready to scan! I recommend scanning your image either as a high quality JPEG or in PNG. I personally scan as a 100 quality JPEG as I like to go the PNG route for my finished scans rather than wasting that effort on a scan that's going to be edited anyways, but you do you here.

 

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Editing an Unaltered Scan

If you went the route of editing an unaltered scan (which, there are legitimate reasons for doing so), then this is the area for you. I personally use GIMP here.

HdsFX.png

This... won't cut it if you want a scan to be presentable. It's overly bright and dim at the same time. It lacks contrast... plus the colors are a little off. So how do we go about fixing that? Well, it's not as hard as it looks.

First, let's fix the issue of the scan not being correctly cropped. This is simple: just rotate and crop the scan as you see fit. No need for an example here but you'll know how you like it there. Try to crop off as much of the white area as possible and as much background imagery that isn't part of your targeted area as possible.

But how do we go about fixing the colors and the contrast? Well... you see the Brightness and Contrast tool in GIMP? Using it helps in fixing the contrast. While I can't say what you should specifically look for here, try to compare what you're editing with the actual cover art paper you have and use that as a reference. Here's a before and after with the contrast and color editing I'll do, using the aforementioned Brightness and Contrast tool, the Hue tool and the Curves tool.

 

Before:

 


HdsLs.png

After:

HdsN2.png

 

Now the colors and the contrast are fixed! But this still isn't good enough: you still have dust and descreening artifacts.

Actually attempting to descreening can be tough without dedicated descreening plugins, but there's efficient enough ways to fake it... such as using the NL filter and the Selective Gaussian Blur options.

This is what I tend to use for the NL filter in terms of settings:

HdsP1.png

It's strong, but that's fine. This is what I tend to target for my Selective Gaussian Blur settings:

HdsPN.png

After doing that...

 

Before:

 


HdsN2.png

After:

HdsQd.png

 

Just look at how much better Patrick looks specifically.

 

Now, if the dust in the actual scan doesn't bother you too much, you can stop here. But some of it bothers me, so I'm gonna go a step deeper: I'm gonna use some pieces of the image to clean up other, blemished parts of the image, like so:

Hdt03.png

Which is, to say, at this point, I'm finished with the scan and hopefully you are, too! We went from a grainy, grey and ugly mess to something that actually looks presentable, if not attractive! If you don't care to see the shortcut half of my scan exposé, then you've reached the end of this thread as relevant to you. And hey, it only took me 30 minutes to do this, so it should be easily doable for you in under an hour.

 

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Editing a Descreened and Dusted Scan

What if you're a bit lazier, like me, and would rather have software automate itself to do some work for you? Well you're in luck, because that makes scanning a whole lot easier... and more fun... But the starting point still isn't pretty, as we suffer the same issues from above concerning color and contrast:

Hdtaz.png

So how do you go from here? Simple: do what I've described above with Brightness and Contrast, Hue and Curves: adjust them to your liking until they match the cover art in question.

 

Before:

 


Hdtaz.png

After:

HdtcQ.png

 

Besides the slight adjustment to the image tilt from the Before image to the After image, it already looks way better. Now from here, all I recommend is just doing some extra dust cleanup, things that the scanner either missed or misconstrued.

Hdtm6.png

Which is, to say, you're pretty much done there, too! Check out the full-resolution completed scans here (for the full cleanup version) and here (for the already descreened and dusted version)!

 

If you've got any questions about anything, just respond to them and I'll try to answer to the best of my ability.

Check out my guide on how to scan cover art here!

Local asshole and 6th generation console enthusiast.

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Just now, pinksnowbirdie said:

I gotta say man, you sure do know your stuff about improving art scans 😛

 

I try. It's time consuming. It's not cheap. Maybe at some point I'll have a fucking Xerox machine just so I can fit a vinyl record sleeve on a scanner bed of one of those.

Check out my guide on how to scan cover art here!

Local asshole and 6th generation console enthusiast.

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1 minute ago, PlayStation 2 said:

I try. It's time consuming. It's not cheap. Maybe at some point I'll have a fucking Xerox machine just so I can fit a vinyl record sleeve on a scanner bed of one of those.

Lol that'd be an interesting purchase and yeah it's certainly not a cheap hobby lol but hey there's far more expensive hobbies people do.
like private aviation and collecting rare and exotic cars because at least with the latter, sure the idea is that it's a hobby and an investment but the people that value those cars aren't going to be around forever so the value on those rare and exotic cars depends on people valuing those cars still seeking those cars.
At least with this you have fun with it :^)

a Moo Floof connoisseur and curator.

:x@handymanshandle x @pinksnowbirdie || Jake x Brendan :x
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I have a couple of questions.

1.) Does color calibration of your monitor matter? I mean, your 'after' image looks good, and is especially noticeable in the black of the PS2 logo bar, but is a basic monitor good enough, or do you run the risk of futzing the colors/balance/contrast etc. all to heck and ruining the scan (obviously the end result is personal, but I imagine some of your work, in particular, can be seen in the VG Museum)?

2.) Is scanning at a higher resolution better or help any? Is 600 your scanner's highest resolution, or is it just the right balance of speed and detail?

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Just now, The1Dickens said:

I have a couple of questions.

1.) Does color calibration of your monitor matter? I mean, your 'after' image looks good, and is especially noticeable in the black of the PS2 logo bar, but is a basic monitor good enough, or do you run the risk of futzing the colors/balance/contrast etc. all to heck and ruining the scan (obviously the end result is personal, but I imagine some of your work, in particular, can be seen in the VG Museum)?

2.) Is scanning at a higher resolution better or help any? Is 600 your scanner's highest resolution, or is it just the right balance of speed and detail?

  1. This is something where I'd argue it depends on how far you want to take your scan. For my scans, they tend to stay relatively accurate to the colors of the actual cover art, maybe slightly off, but most people wouldn't notice. All I'd really argue here is to make sure that your monitor can represent colors accurately enough unless you really need an extremely accurate color presentation.
  2. Can it help? It depends. I've done more than a few scans at 1200 and 2400dpi (which is, to say, my scanner tops out at 2400dpi) and, to be honest, lots of them turn out better at 600dpi. It's less work to deal with, plus it's quicker and it tends to turn out better, especially in anything that needs descreening.

Check out my guide on how to scan cover art here!

Local asshole and 6th generation console enthusiast.

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