How I Scan my Paintings.

Taking a break from the artistic side let's take a look at how I scan my artwork, making sure that it is identical to the original.

Scanning paintings is a reoccuring topic on social media. If you are an artist, it can be expensive to get someone else to scan your artwork so here's my guide to scanning it yourself using an A4 scanner and Photoshop. (This process should be possible with Photoshop Elements too with some adaptation and is a far cheaper proposition if you are going to buy just one piece of software.) What follows is a guide on how to do this yourself but is also an insight into the work that goes into preparing art work for printing.

While all of the following is perfectly possible using a mouse, the process is made a lot easier with the addition of a drawing tablet, as is pretty much everything on Photoshop.

My paintings are quite large, a lot bigger than A4 in fact, and as scanners larger than A4 become increasingly expensive, I have to make a number of scans and piece them together in Photoshop.

The first step is to scan in the painting. I use a CanoScan 9000F Mark II which was very reasonably priced but any A4 scanner will suffice. Starting in one corner of the painting, take the first scan at 300 DPI. It is very important to make sure that the edge of the painting lines up exactly with the inner lip of the scanner; this makes it easier to merge the scans together later.


After this take subsequent scans, moving the painting a little each time and ensure that there is plenty of overlap with the previous scan (I tend to overlap by a third each time).


Make as many scans as you need to cover the entirety of your painting. Normally I take 10 or 12 scans for a painting measuring 30cm x 70cm. When you have completed your scans open them in Photoshop.

Create a new document (File - New) about 10cm larger than the size of your original painting, this is where you are going to assemble your final image.


Go to your first scan and go to Select - All (or cmd A on an Mac, Ctrl A on a PC) and copy it using Edit - Copy (cmd C on a Mac, Ctrl C on a PC).


Go to your new document and go to Edit - Paste (cmd V on a Mac, Ctrl V on a PC). Click on the move tool and move the scan into roughly the right position (if you can't see this toolbar, click on Window - Tools).


Repeat this process with the next scan. There are two things that you will notice: it is hard to get the position of the two scans to match up exactly and you will be able to see the edge of the scan too. This is all due to the scanning process. As the painting can't be laid completely flat some slight warping occurs. Let's look at how we can sort it out.


Firstly let's deal with the position. You will see that you have now got three layers: the blank background and your two scans. (If you can't see the layers go to Window - Layers.) Make sure that layer 2 is selected and then reduce the opacity to 50%.


You can now see through the top layer to help you line them up.


Zoom in (View - Zoom - Zoom In) and use the move tool to get the scan in roughly the right place, then make fine adjustments using the cursor keys. You won't get all of it perfectly lined up due to the warping mentioned earlier, but concentrate on getting the important areas of the composition right.

Increase the opacity of the layer to 100%. Select a large soft-edged eraser (about 200 px is about right for my image but you may need a different size).



After checking that you are still on Layer 2, erase areas of the overlapping layer to reveal the first scan. You may need to undo if you make a mistake and erase too much. Keep going until you've got it how you want it to look. This can take some time but it's worth it.



Then repeat the process with the remaining scans.




There may be some tricky areas that you just can't get right when you do the erasing stage. In that case, scan just the tricky area again and repeat the process again. On my painting I had to do this with the head.


When you've finished you will probably need to make some tweaks to the contrast, exposure and colours using Layer Adjustments (Layer - New Adjustment Layer) to get it looking like your original painting. But that could be a post in itself. If you would like help with this aspect let me know in the comments section below and I'll write a post on how I get my scans ready for printing.

If you're trying this yourself and you would like to print this blog post on to paper to make it easier to follow, download a free PDF version at:

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