Scanning – An Introduction in 800 Words


A scanner is a stupid one-trick pony. It can only do one thing — transfer a digital image to a computer. Why are there so few songs about scanners, and why are they misunderstood?

If you are already comfortable with your scanner, computer, and software, go do something creative instead of rehashing material you understand. But if you feel you need assistance (or perhaps psychotherapy) due to problems with your scanner, stick around and learn how to become comfortable with it.


You place an original image or object onto the flat glass plate of your scanner, click or push a few buttons, and presto! (you hope) a digital copy appears on your computer’s screen. Then you utilize one or more software applications to transform the raw image into something different, at the very least.

Software is the magic ingredient. Most scanners and computers are interchangeable, but software varies tremendously. Beginners usually assume the programs that comes with their scanners are the best, or only, ones that work. Advanced users bypass the bundled software and learn to work with more robust applications.

A “driver” is custom software that allows your computer to exchange information with external hardware, such as a scanner. “TWAIN” is the name for family of in-between scanner driver software; this acronym stands for (no kidding) “Technology Without An Interesting Name.”

Each scanner CD installs its special driver (and often other inconspicuous components, called “plugins”) someplace on your hard disk, enabling the scanner to communicate with your computer. These files can become corrupted, but usually once they work they continue to work until you install a new operating system or get a different scanner.


Placing on my scanner’s glass plate an old photo of my wife and her father, I open my preferred image editing application, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, and select File -> Import -> Epson StylusScanFB (for flat-bed). My Epson TWAIN window opens, and a pre-scan of the photo happens automatically. Here is a screen shot of the top part of this window:

You’ll notice I’m scanning in “Color Photo” mode. From experience, 150 dots per inch, or “dpi,” makes for the best printed photo output from my Epson printer. Several other options for each of these settings are available, including line drawings. Try them all to get a feel for the results with different types of images.

Next I use my mouse to select the small portion of this photo I intend to include in the finished digital image. I click on SCAN, a software button lower down in the TWAIN window. Soon I am looking at the cropped, unedited image, which opens in Photoshop Elements.


Adobe Photoshop is the most common application used for working with scanned images, but there are dozens more. Let’s use Photoshop for this discussion, because of its prominence (and dominance).

Your freshly-scanned picture needs help from software to be improved. If you are currently using the bundled programs to manipulate your images, and are happy with the results, you too can stop right now and get on with your creativity. If you are in any way dissatisfied, keep reading.

With help from your manuals and tech support staff (good luck!) you can learn how to get a scanned image into the Photoshop application. If you don’t already own Photoshop, do NOT purchase it! Adobe Photoshop 7, the current version, is a powerful, professional program that is very expensive. Buy its much less costly younger sibling, Photoshop Elements 2.0 for Windows and Macintosh (one CD contains both, fortunately).

With careful shopping you can obtain it for much less than the $99 full retail price. Study Elements’ comprehensive manual and tutorial help, and prepare yourself for many enjoyable hours grooving with your pictures.

The picture below is my unaltered cropped scan:

I next performed the following easy steps:

1. Enhance -> Auto Levels.

2. The improved results were really good!

3. Image -> Resize -> Image Size to a Height of 6″, then did a test print on ordinary inkjet paper.

4. I saved the image as a “.psd” Photoshop document to help me work with it afterward.


The historical family photo is altered dramatically, having been first scanned then manipulated in Photoshop Elements 2. What I did is approximately one-hundredth of one percent of the potential for creative change available to me, and to you, for little more than an urge to express yourself visually and an open-ended session in front of your computer monitor.

As computers become more powerful and versatile, and scanners and imaging software become much less expensive, your time and energy are the commodities required to participate in the digital art revolution. Computers can be a royal pain, but when they work to your advantage they are magnificent tools for expanding the range and scope of your projects into the exciting, frightening land of limitless possibilities. Make the most of it!

Thanks to PaperWorks of Tucson, Arizona for permission to use a revised version of an article submitted for their members’ quarterly publication.

John Nemerovski

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