The joy of scanning

During my Jewelry Photography class at San Diego Continuing Ed this past weekend, the subject of scanning was broached as an alternate tool for those who don’t have a great camera. Scanning can produce very acceptable images of your work, not just for documentation, but for selling websites like Etsy, as well.

Below are nine scanned images to give you an idea of what’s possible.  Click on any image to see a larger view.


The work in this gallery is by Vanessa Raffi Backer, Jonna Faulkner, Dee Harvazinski and Ann Rosier.

While you won’t have all the controls of fine photography, scanning requires much less equipment and set-up — and can still do a good job for you.

You should be able to find a good scanner for well under $200. has Epson and Canon photo scanners listed for under $100.  Just make sure the product you buy:

• Scans to at least 300 dpi
• Has software that provides an easy user interface on your computer
• Has a lid that can be either raised straight up (as well as on a hinge at the back) or removed entirely to allow the scanning of dimensional materials and objects.

I use an Epson Perfection 3170, but that’s probably more scanner than most people need. It works for me because it has a secondary light source in the lid that enables me to scan negatives, slides and other transparencies in addition to the scanning of photos, documents and jewelry.

Most current scanners (I’ve worked with  Epson, Canon and HP) have an interface that allows you to work in either an Automatic or a Manual mode. I’d suggest using the Automatic mode at the start to see what you get. If you’re not happy with the results, you can always switch to Manual for more control.  Generally, with newer scanners, if you use the ‘Auto’ setting, the equipment is smart enough to preview your work, identify the source material (as text, a black and white image, or a color image), and adjust the settings for you.  Since scanners don’t have ‘jewelry’ or ‘object’ settings, choose ‘photo’ to capture the colors most closely.  I use the manual settings and specify the resolution I want. (300 dpi for print uses and 72 dpi for web images.) However, I always scan to AT LEAST 300 dpi. If the image will be used on the web, I then copy the image and reduce the resolution to 72 dpi on the copy. I keep the original 300 dpi scan for future needs.

In actual practice, I scan at 1200 dpi, so that I can really zero in on small details and still show then at a reasonably large size.   Keep in mind, though, that the higher the resolution, the bigger the file size and the more memory is required for storage.  To work around that (if you have a computer with limited memory) you can save your work to another storage device—which is always a best practice anyway. Although my computer has a lot of memory, I still back everything up to a “cloud” service (a reasonably priced web-based storage service).

The scan itself is easy. First, clean the scanner’s glass thoroughly with any standard glass cleaner and a lint-free cloth. (Apply the cleaner to the cloth, NOT the scanner.) Any dirt on the scanner will show up on your image as will scratches.

Next, arrange the jewelry on the scanner glass, remembering that the “good” side needs to face down towards the light source. The interface on most scanners will allow you to preview first, then crop before making your final scan.

When you place the lid down, do so very gently…you don’t want to damage either your jewelry or the scanner’s glass.

Sometimes, I don’t put the lid down (we’re talking scanners, not bathrooms ;o).  I’ve built a shallow box, roughly the size of the scanner’s glass table, that’s painted white on the inside.  I remove the lid entirely and use this box, instead.  The result is great!  You can see what happens in “Two Silver Beads” and “Five Leaves” in the photos above.  These two images have real depth…the objects seem to be floating above the background.

One proviso, though…scanners are really designed to capture flat, 2-D objects.  So capturing highly dimensional pieces may exceed your scanner’s ability to produce sharp detail or may not be in tight focus from front to back. Sometimes, this can work toward your advantage, emphasizing the most prominent feature of a piece, but most times it will not. In these cases, traditional photography may still be your best alternative.

Generally speaking,  however, scanning can be an excellent alternative to photography.


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