Quickguides: Scanning

Comics are all about reproduction, so scanning and preparing your work properly couldn’t be more important. Learn to do it well.

What you need for this tutorial:

  • a scanner
  • Adobe Photoshop ®
  • your finished comic pages.

Make a plan.

Your finished comic pages will usually be on paper that’s at least 11″ x 16″. If you’re lucky, you have access to an 11″ x 17″ scanner,  which means you can scan your pages in one go (and make us all green with envy).

However, most of us just have a regular 8.5″ x 11″ scanner. This means that you’re going to have to scan segments of your artwork and put them together in Photoshop. You should scan in as few segments as possible. If you have a page with three tiers, for example, you should scan the first two tiers in one pass, and the third in another, and then paste together the page between tiers, in the gutter.

Avoid scanning one panel in two passes, if you can manage it. It’s not always possible if you have a big splash page or if you don’t use panel borders—in that case you may have to merge scans in the middle of an image; not easy, as you’ll see.

Start off strong.

Line up your work as neatly as you can on the scanner bed (make sure the glass is clean, that always helps). Weigh down the top of you scanner with some books if possible, to make sure that your art lies flat.

Now let’s scan. You may want to scan directly into Photoshop (File > Import > YourScannerDriver (the name will vary with your scanner, but usually has a name that starts with “scan”), or use Image Capture or a similar program. Make sure you scan in the following settings:

  • Color/Color mode: Grayscale
  • Resolution: AT LEAST 600 dpi
  • Scale: 100%

Make sure you preview and select the right segment before you scan. Now scan!

Save: It’s a good idea to save the files right away. Save the image a a TIFF. Don’t be tempted by all those other familiar formats; if you save the image as a JPEG, when you edit the image, you will lose information that is crucial for printing. So, even if you currently plan to use your image on the web, save it first as a high-resolution TIFF in case you ever want to print it.

Make sure you select  LZW in the Image Compression box of the TIFF options. This will reduce you image file size considerably without compromising you image quality

Merging the pieces of your scan the manual way…

Once you’ve scanned all your sections, it’s time to combine them. There are two ways to do that. Let’s start with the more difficult, but straightforward way.

      1. Open your first file. Go to Image > Canvas Size. Change your canvas size to the dimensions of your original page or a bit larger. Use the little anchor schematic to position your image in the page in more or less the right spot in its new large canvas.
      2. Open the next segment, click select all, the copy and paste into your master document (the one for which you just changed the canvas size). Your image should look more or less like this. (If you have more than two segments, paste them all into the master document then extrapolate our instructions below for each separate segment.)
      3. Look at the segment you just pasted. It should be in a separate layer. Change the layer mode to multiply. You will notice that wherever the page contains overlapping segments you can now see both.
      4. Use the move tool to shift the new segment around until it’s lined up with the old one. You can drag the movable layer with the cursor or you can use the arrow keys for minor adjustments.If your segments don’t fit together well, you might have scanned at a bit of an angle. Use the Free Transform tool (Command/CTRL + T) to rotate just slightly. Move one of the cursors at the side of the image or change the numerical degree amounts in the Set Rotation window at the top of the screen to align the segment as best as you can.
      5. Now use the polygonal lasso tool to select the overlapping portion of the segment. Ideally you want the selection to be in the gutter between the panels or tiers, so you don’t have to worry about any visual hiccups within panels where the lines don’t quite match up. Turn your layer and your background on and off to make sure you didn’t erase the wrong part.
      6. After you’ve deleted the overlap, change the mode in the new layer back to normal, then repeat this entire process to remove the overlap between all segments of your page (if you have more segments to merge). Flatten the image (layers > flatten image).
      7. Now Save As… your image with a new name.

…and the “easy” way.

Now I will tell you something you may find disheartening. This entire process that we just did? There’s a tool in Photoshop that can (usually, mostly) do it for you.

      1. Close anything you may have open in Photoshop®. Now open all your segments. Make sure they are all oriented with their tops at the top.  If they aren’t, rotate them (Image > Rotate > 90˚ CW / 90˚CCW / 180˚). Make sure you Save As… a working title after you rotate.
      2. Now go to File > Automate > Photomerge. Click “Add All Open Files.”
      3. Make sure the files on the list are ALL the files you need and delete anything from the list that does not belong.
      4. Now click OK.
      5. Wait. Eat, caffeinate. This can take a while.
      6. Now, if all goes well, you should have your image lined up. Zoom in very close and make sure everything looks right.
      7. If everything looks right, you can flatten your image. The problem is, photomerge is often off by just a hair, so it’s a very good idea to clip off overlapping bits between panels (in the gutter), make the layers solid (no multiply) and flatten after that. Basically, this means picking up at #5, above.
      8. Save As… your merged image with a new name.

Photomerge may work for you. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and more commonly it doesn’t merge things quite right. If you choose to use Photomerge to merge your pages, zoom in and make sure that the merge is right every time. And in any case, we still would advise doing it manually the first few times so that you know what to look for.

Once you have a complete page in grayscale, you’re ready to move on to scan clean-up.