3 Tips for Scanning Artwork (that have nothing to do with your scanner)

(Above Left: the artwork for my pattern Abstract Watercolor Dots straight out of the scanner. Above Right: The final edited and color corrected pattern)

“Which scanner should I use when I’m digitizing my watercolor artwork?”

If you’re involved in any online art communities, chances are you’ve seen this question come up more than once. It makes sense why scanning is on our minds so much as artists- whether we’re sharing pictures on social media, preparing prints to sell, or building repeating patterns, we want our artwork to look as great on a screen as it does on the page. When you’re just starting to scan artwork, however, investing in technology can be daunting, and it can be overwhelming  to make sense of the various features on each individual scanner.

Here’s my scanning secret: In the four years that I’ve been scanning artwork for printing and sale, I’ve been using the same scanner on my all-in-one HP home printer. It’s nothing fancy, just what I had available to me when I started sharing my art, and so far I’ve been perfectly happy with the great scans I can get with it.

For my money (quite literally), getting a good scan is less about which scanner you use and more about the methods you use for capturing and editing your scan. Here are three methods I use for getting a great scan that have nothing to do with my actual scanner:


(Above left: the artwork for my design Living Coral Swirl straight out of the scanner. Above right: The final edited and color corrected design as it appears on a Redbubble Tote Bag)


1. Keeping the Paper Flat

Watercolor paper can tend to warp and bend when you paint on it, so when you’re scanning it’s important to press the paper as flat as you can to eliminate shadows. Loose-leaf paintings can usually lie flat under the lid on your scanner. For stubborn paintings in sketchbooks, I’ve been known to press the sketchbook down by hand or stack books on top of my sketchbook to get it as flat as possible. Anything to get a bright, clean scan!

2. Resolution / DPI

DPI, which stands for dots (or pixels) by inch, refers to the resolution or quality of your scanned image. The higher your DPI, the clearer and more detailed your scan will be. Higher resolution will also result in a bigger file size for your final image. When you’re choosing your scanning settings, you have the option to set the DPI number of your scan. I usually scan my artwork at 600dpi, because it captures every detail of my drawings. High DPI also gives me plenty of scale options for products and patterns. You can always scale artwork down digitally, but scaling up will stretch your image and make it look pixelated. That’s why it’s always good to start big.

One last resolution-related thing to be aware of is scan time. Many scanners will take longer to make a high-res scan than they will a low-res one. That’s because the machine is taking its time to thoroughly capture your artwork. Believe me, your patience will be rewarded.

3. Color Correction and Editing

Perhaps the most important thing to know about scanning artwork is that no image is going to come straight out of the scanner looking exactly the way you want it to. Every piece of artwork that you scan is going to need some editing. As you can see from the above examples, I do a lot of editing on my artwork once it’s digitized. I take my time erasing pencil lines, removing schmutz, and brightening the colors.

Nowadays I use editing tools and adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop, but when I first started editing artwork I used a basic photo editor to crop my images and adjust the colors (good things to play around with are brightness/exposure, contrast, and saturation). Regardless of what program you use, it’s hugely helpful to keep your handmade artwork nearby as a reference while you’re editing your scan. That way you can get your colors as close to the original as possible.

(Above Left: the artwork for my design My Big Fat Greek Salad straight out of the scanner. Above Right: the design on Spoonflower’s Linen Cotton Canvas)

If you have a scanner in your home, you may be surprised by the images you can produce with what you already have on hand. A little prep work before and after scanning can yield beautiful results, no matter what the specs on your actual machine may be. Experiment and find a scanning method that works for you- before you spring for a technology upgrade.


What tricks do you use to get a good scan of your handmade artwork? Do you think the scanner you choose is important to getting a good scan? What’s your favorite method of editing your artwork once it’s digitized?

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