Scanner vs photocopy for illustrations

The recent scanner discussion triggered a question I had as I was looking for an oversize scanner that would give me 11 x 17 in or so but then I ran into a difficulty that is specific for my images. I am scanning illustrations from old children’s books, some with plates and a variety of surfaces. The main problem I have had is with gilded images that have reflective paint on them. These are not imaged correctly by scanners, which tend to show the gilded parts as black.

I was wondering if I should be looking more at a photocopy setup with a camera and side lights to take pictures of the images (though having a large setup like that would present its own issues for me) or if someone knows of another way of capturing these images. As most images do not have the gild, I could get by with an oversize dedicated scanner (my Canon scanner is only letter sized and many books are larger than that) and I do not want to be chopping and pasting the image together.

These kinds of images are nearly impossible to digitize with a flatbed scanner. The reflective inks produce nothing but glare. I see the same thing when trying to scan book covers that have metalic colors as part of the image - the metal regions all end up extremely dark and are nearly impossible to clean up in software afterward.

A camera/lighting rig will do the job, but it can be very hard to get consistently good results. You can do some searching for a “book scanner” or “overhead scanner” which will do the hard work of assembling all the pieces for you, but they are large and tend to be expensive.

I also don’t know what kind of Mac support (if any) they include, since I’ve never actually gone shopping for one.

Maybe someone else here has personal experience with this class of devices?

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I used ‘iPhone scanning rig’ as a search term and a fairly cheap commercial setup on Amazon and several reference Pinterest pages which you could examine for hints on other commercial and DIY setups.

My advice would be to manually try using your phone as a scanner for a few pages using your body as the rig and seeing if you get nearly acceptable results. If so, consider a rig.

Note that the iPhone can operate as a Continuity Camera and in that mode scan documents directly into an appropriate Mac App (see this support page). Although Preview is not shown as a supported application there, in fact, it is. I now use this capability for scanning docs to my Mac rather than my Canon All-in-one or older flatbed scanner.

We have a simple setup here at home… for photographing an archival collection of our local community newspaper. A tripod on a table, with one leg extending far off to one end of the table and tied off so that the camera hangs over the paper. The digital camera is connected to a laptop and we found software ( that will let us use the laptop as a remote shutter. On top of the nearby bookshelf we have some IKEA led lights (2 of the 5 gooseneck lamps…) pointing down at the paper. The bright lights made a huge difference in photo quality.

Photo, with voluntold child redacted, of the setup is available here:

We took about a hundred photos… and found that the setup is great, except for the creases in the paper. We’re going to order a sheet of non-reflective plexiglass to lay on top of the paper before taking a photo, and start over. Along with some very small bubble levels to get the camera parallel to the tabletop!

Once we have all the jpeg’s then I am looking at using Scantailor ( to help clean them up, then merge them into PDF’s (Automator probably) and run them through Adobe Acrobat Pro to do OCR. Final PDF’s will be made available to everyone through the paper’s website.

Feel free to ask questions!




This TidBITS article from a few years back might be useful:

I like the setup for this as the quality would be better than an iPhone and I would not have to dedicate an iphone, but have an extra camera and laptop. BTW, what is the make of the desk you are using. It looks very sturdy.

Thanks Ray! The desk is from IKEA… early 2000’s. Basically a slab of wood with 4 legs screwed into the bottom.



You might find one of these kind of tripods more stable and easier to navigate setting up - The centre column can swivel out and be a horizontal arm.

You might experiment with trying a polarizing filter on your camera to remove glare from metallic inks, adjusting the filter as well as the angles of your lights.

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Good info. Thanks