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.

19 comments:

  1. Hey, Rita-- I also scan as much as I can, but I'm curious about your scanner. Ages ago, I had an HP, and after that an Epson, both of which had wonderfully flat surfaces that allowed for the multiple-scan technique you note, above. However, the last two scanners I've owned put the glass slightly below the surrounding bed, not flush. This makes it impossible to scan anything larger than the glass without pressing it into that slightly depressed area. Otherwise, it's out of focus. So, if you're mounting your paper to a stiff surface, this technique will not work at all. Even with unmounted paper, pressing larger works into the glass risks damaging the paper. Does your Epson have the glass exactly flush to the rest of the surface frame? If not, how do you avoid the shadow/out-of-focus issues? I have considered getting a different scanner, and the Epson might be a good choice. Let me know! Thanks for the post.

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    1. Hey Mark, thanks for commenting! This scanner does have edges that are NOT flush with the glass, but I believe the way Epson made it allows it to focus on the surface anyway, because (as you can see on "BFF") it still gets excellent clarity regardless. I do most of my paintings on primed gatorboard so it's very rigid, and it a constant distance from the glass (1 mm or so, when it's a larger work)maybe that is key? Unmounted paper larger than the scanner bed would need to be fully mounted to a rigid surface. I remove the lid of the scanner when I scan larger works, and lay the painting fully over the scanner, in increments.
      Note: One delicate area is there are two little nubbins at the top edge of the scan bed frame (not sure what they're for, some kind of alignment thing) and sometimes they pick up pastel dust from the painting and deposit it on the next section of painting, so I've learned to wipe those off after each scan. Ha, but it's really not all as much of a headache as it sounds!

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  2. I have been fearful of putting the pastel paintings face down on the scanner, but I think I will give it a go and see what happens. Thanks for the tip!

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    1. My pleasure, Cate! As long as your pastel surface holds the pastel as it should (ie: you don't loose half the painting when you flick the back of it, lol) then you won't have anything to worry about simply laying it on some smooth glass. It can even slide a bit with no problem!

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  3. Thanks very informative Rita. I use a Grumbacher final fixative on my pastels. Do you use this? Think it's a good idea before scanning?

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    1. Hi Rich, I don't use any fixative. IMO, if the surface holds the pastel as it should, no fixative is necessary. I really aught to make another post just about "to fix or not to fix" (lol) I knock the back of my paintings when they're done to release any loose dust. After that, simply setting the painting face onto smooth glass is not going to do anything to it. :) It can even slide a bit with no problem.
      I do, however, wipe off the glass after each scan, because minuscule particles might remain, and I don't want those on the next painting.

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  4. Rita, You are always so generous with your knowledge. Thank you so much!

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    1. My pleasure, Gaye! thanks for the comment!

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  5. Great post! I have been doing the same for about 5 years now, thank-you for sharing your process....so enjoy your work!

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  6. Rita,
    when the painting is smaller than the scanner area, do you put something else ? like a blank sheet to fill in the whole scanning area?
    Just wondering.

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    1. I figured out that my scanner has a feature to pre select the scanning area. Thanks for all the tips!

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    2. Rita, this has been a wonderfully helpful post for me. A good scanner and printer are definitely on my list of tools to buy. For now, I am still going the route of the camera, and finding out what works best with what I have. One question I would like to ask is how do you eliminate the background or mat from your photo when the shape of your painting doesn't fit the viewfinder of your camera? Does some cropping occur, and is this allright? I usually leave a little bit of the mat in my photos so that I don't lose any of the image. I apologize if this is off the subject.

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    3. Thanks Hedda! Yes, come cropping (done in Photoshop or any other photo editing app)is usually necessary when "cleaning up" a photo or a scan of an artwork. And yes, sometimes that means loosing a couple millimeters or a quarter inch off the edges of the painting. But think of it this way...a frame is going to cover 1/4 inch of the edge of a painting anyway. Also, if you're photographing a painting in a mat, why not photograph it before it's in the mat, then you can capture all of the painting, and maybe even more that what will show once it's in a mat?
      One thing I do know, is that competitions and other art juries don't like to see images of artwork that show any edges of matting or framing or backing or wall or anything like that. They just want to see the artwork alone.
      Hope this helps! :)

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    4. This does help a lot, Rita! Thank you for this information. I have always wondered just what to do, because it seems to me that cropping out part of your image, especially when entering a show, would not be a good thing either. I have often wondered how you get rid of that mat while retaining all of your image. Photos of my paintings showing some of the mat have gotten me into the yearly Anniversary Show at the Carnegie Arts Center (Alliance, NE) three times, but I realize that larger, national shows are very particular about presentation in entry materials. So it is good to know that in view of these particulars, cropping is okay. I guess the main thing is to just do the best we can, and keep doing it. Thanks again, Rita!

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