Thursday, September 1, 2016

Scan Pastel Paintings for Better Prints

A recent question from an artist friend asked about how I get good image files for making prints:

"I wanted to tell you that I think your art is beautiful and inspiring. I work with pastels also. May I ask you a question: If you do giclees, what is the best way? Is there such a thing as scanning the art, do you take a photo?"
Here's my answer (with a few revisions to make a better blog post!)

Yes! Scan it!
I do scan all my artwork, whether I make prints or not, so that I have an accurate, high-resolution image file for my records. I highly recommend scanning artwork (and pastel is perfectly fine being placed down on the glass.) My current scanner is an Epson V700; it's been the best one I've had so far, and has lasted the longest.
Scanning small works are easy, as they fit well in the scan bed:

I've also learned not to be TOO picky with getting an exact color match on the print (I had a cheap little hp scanner years ago that really captured exact color - except couldn't separate the very darkest values [has to do with D-Max rating]) Every scanner will be a little different and you just get used to learning how to get the best out of it. This Epson came with Silverfast SE software which I really like.

Scan vs. Photo 

Sometimes I will just photograph a painting if I'm away from home and need a quick post. The best way, in my opinion, to photograph artwork (if, like me, you don't have all the expensive photography lights and meters to balance everything perfectly) is to set the painting on a shady porch in daylight and, standing right over it, aim straight down with your camera and zoom in to just around the painting, making sure the edges are squared with your viewfinder. (If the painting is too large to stand over, lean it against the house instead.)
Cameras with better lenses will capture better quality images of your art, but there can be variations in temperature that are hard to manage without professional lighting and know-how. And, in my own experience, the clarity and crispness of the tiny details always seems to fall short through a camera (at least with pastel anyway.) Usually, a good camera photo will be sufficient for an image posted online, what with all the variances in other people's monitors anyway, but I really prefer a scan when I want to make a print.
To show you an example of a painting that I photographed and also scanned, here's "BFF" (16x16 in.) in both images. The slightly warmer image on the left was from the photo. The other is much more accurate tone and clarity (scanned.)
This is even more noticeable at full resolution, which you can see in the cropped images below (click and zoom in for a better comparison.)

Large Pastels on Small Scanner?
And yes, the scanner is just a normal desktop size, but with larger work I scan in sections and splice it together in Photoshop. I actually lay the scanner on the floor, move the painting carefully between scans without dragging, and wipe off the glass every few scans. (A heavy book comes in handy when weighting edges and corners to keep the large painting on the scanner bed.) It is labor intensive but still MUCH cheaper than going somewhere that has one of those huge flatbed scan things. (It's also much easier when working on a stable surface like gatorboard or some other board. A large work on paper would really need to be mounted on a firm surface to keep it flat over the scanner.)
Here is what one of my large paintings look like right after I scan it, and before it's put together. Each of the separate parts is one scanned area. In Photoshop this would be 16 separate layers.
The extra section with the nibbling ear is the first section I scanned. I always start with an area that has the highest contrast so that the scanner can get the greatest range of lights and darks accurately metered. I also overlap each section to give myself leeway when assembling the whole. (And also because when the painting is face down on a scan bed, it's hard to see where its scanning! So I move it in short increments to be doubly sure I'm not missing any parts.)
Then, after it's all put together (that might be info for another post...) ...Voila! A 300dpi full-sized image ready to print.

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