Getting the Best Scan in Grayscale

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By an Angry Lesbian

Part 0: Intro to the Wonderful World of Scanning

So, you just drew something on a fresh piece of paper and wonder how to get a good scan of it? Wonder why everything you put into the scanner turns out a burnt pile of dusty pixels? Well, look no further, this tutorial will get you something decent. Sure, there's other methods, but this way makes sure your image gets the darkest lines, the smoothest transitions, and the whitest canvas.

I assume you have a run of the mill flatbed scanner, and a copy of Photoshop (not Elements! Get the fakeo crap outta here!). Painter and competition are fine too. If you don't see the options listed, look for similar terms and places. Most of this stuff is standard image manipulation. You can also fudge around with image viewing programs like Irfanview. We're only going to use two main tools, Levels and Curves.

Part 1: Scanning

Use the default scanning software with default Grayscale settings at 300 dpi. That's the sweet spot. We leave the editing to Photoshop. That's it's job. The tones should be natural, the lines kinda hazy, and paper grain visible. That is to be expected. Scan it.

Part 2: To shrink or not to shrink..

Now we have two options. We can either keep it as is and work on making the lines clean and crisp, or we can shrink it down first, then work on those lines (since the image is very large). If you want to use this for print later on in life, keep it large and shrink it only when preparing for the Web.

Part 3: Level Panel


Whatever you chose in step 2, we're now going to prepare our line art. We want nice black lines and white dead space with all those delicious tones inbetween hugging closely to the lines, giving meaning to soft inked hair, tapered lines and the like. Open up the Levels panel under Image>Adjustments. Click on the 'auto' button (1). That'll never be enough, so take the arrow on the left (the black one) and drag it to the right slowly till your black lines look right (2). Don't go too far or your image will look 'burnt'! Once you've eyed the results, say 'OK' to that (3).

Part 4: Curves Panel


Now you have nice, dark lines, but everything that's not looks drab and smudged. We are going to work on getting nice white, grainless 'dead space'. Open up the Curves tool. It's right next to the levels one. You'll see a grid. 'Alt' or 'Option' click it to get more increments on the grid. We want to take the bottomleft dot and move it without interrupting all the other tones, so first place points along the line where the lines intersect.. 10%.. 20%.. 30%.. all the way up (1). That'll keep them in place. Now, take the bottomleft dot (or create a new dot right next to it) and slowly move it down and to the right (2).. Do you see the paper grain turn to white, leaving just the crisp lines behind? Keep moving it and eyeing it until it looks clean. Don't go too far! You don't want to 'bleach out' your picture! When it looks nice, say 'OK' to that (3).

Part 5: Finishing up (and shrinking)

Now you have a perfectly clean lineart! If you want to get anal, you can erase the remaining bits with the eraser or lasso tool. Save as psd (or whatever) as a working file. If you haven't shrunken down the image, you can do that now if you want to save it for the web, if not, you can keep it as is. Now, here's a small bit of info on shrinking: Since we scanned it at 300 dpi, screen size is 'around' 30-34% of that. So make it that if you don't have a specific size regiment. Use "Bicubic Sharper" for best quality. If you don't see that (you must have an older Photoshop), use just "Bicubic" instead. Saving for the web use the highest quality jpg/png your source allows. 85% quality or 300kb is the 'sweet spot'. Don't panic if it goes over a bit on exceptionally large or detailed images.

Part 6: Enjoy!

That's it! You're done! Too bad this does nothing to improve the actual art, but at least you have something that's the closest to what you have on paper!

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