Scanners are designed for scanning flat pieces of paper, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with three-dimensional objects. As long as you observe a few common-sense precautions, you can scan anything lightweight enough to rest on your scanner’s glass. Take a look around your house, your backyard, or your street–interesting objects abound, both natural and manufactured. Dried flowers, leaves from the garden, knickknacks, decorative cloth, tools, office supplies: all are fair game.
While it’s easy to find scannable material once you start looking, 3-D items can pose some challenges. For instance, handling light and shadow gets a little tricky when you have to leave your scanner lid open. And setting something wet or crumbly on your expensive machine could be risky. Here are practical tips for scanning just about anything, including the oversize, the shiny, the translucent, and even the messy.
For instructions on using Adobe Photoshop to cut out undesirable backgrounds, see “Get to the Good Stuff,” elsewhere in this section. And if you’d like some inspiration on ways to use your scans in crafts for the holidays or anytime of the year, have a look at “Some Assembly Required,” part of “Macworld’s Holiday Gift Guide,” elsewhere in this issue.
JANET ASHFORD is a coauthor of six books on computer graphics, including Start with a Scan: A Guide to Transforming Scanned Photos and Objects into High Quality Art, Second Edition (Peachpit Press, 2000). Her Web address is
1. Backgrounds for Thick Items Many objects are too thick to fit beneath your scanner lid, and scanning with the lid up produces a dark background behind your primary object. You can remove this background in an image-editing program–or you can prevent the problem by covering objects with paper, cloth, or board.
Lay a large sheet of bright white paper or poster board over the object to produce an image with a light background A .
If the resulting background looks uneven B , try creating a three-sided temporary lid out of white foam-core board. Make your cover just tall enough to fit over the object–the closer to the scanner glass the better–and wide enough to straddle your scanner. This type of lid works best for objects no taller than 3 inches.
You can brighten a scan’s background C by shining a lamp between the scanner and your custom lid, aiming at the white board surface.
Light for Transparent Objects Transparent or translucent objects may appear dark in your image, especially if the scanner lid is up during the scan. Add a white background or a light source to lighten both the object and its background.
Flat, transparent objects–pieces of stained glass, translucent tissue paper, or gel designs–will scan well if you place a bright white background on top of them before scanning. If still more illumination is needed, try shining a light through a piece of tracing paper placed on top of the object.
For a larger item, such as a wine glass, a background may not reflect enough light; you’ll get an image that’s dark and lacking detail. Try aiming a light source horizontally across the object (a tensor lamp or an aluminum shop light works well). Put the light as close to the object as you can, but be sure to keep the lightbulb out of the scan area to avoid distortion.
Incandescent light sources can cast a reddish color on a glass object. To correct this, open the scan in Adobe Photoshop, go to the Hue/Saturation dialog box, and move the sliders until the color is in a more natural-looking blue range.
3. Color Editing for Metallic Objects Silver spoons, gold necklaces, shiny new wrenches, and even glittery trout can reflect the light that scanners emit, creating a rainbow effect. You can get rid of these highlights in Photoshop by desaturating your scan and then adding color to your image.
Open the Hue/Saturation dialog box (Image: Adjust: Hue/Saturation) and set the Saturation slider A all the way to the left to remove the color. The scan will look like a black-and-white photo. For objects made of stainless steel, this gray-scale version may look truest to the original.
Scans of silver or gold items will look best if you add back some color. Select the Colorize option to restore color to the gray-scale image; then adjust the sliders to find a color you like. Try golds, yellows, or ochers for gold objects B , and blues for silver objects C .
4. Sections for Large Objects Items that are larger than your scanner’s image area–your old trumpet from high school, a bouquet of flowers, or the catch of the day–can be scanned in pieces and reassembled in an image-editing program.
First, scan the oversize object in sections. Be sure to orient the object the same way for each scan, so the direction of the light matches in your final image.
Save each scan separately. You may wish to get rid of any unwanted background color before proceeding.
Open your first scan in Photoshop, and increase the canvas size to accommodate the entire object (plus a little maneuvering room).
Open the second scan, and use the Move tool to click and drag the image from one document to the other A . Then position the second image so that it overlaps the first exactly. You may have to rotate the image a little to make it match.
Tip: Setting the Layer opacity to less than 100 percent will allow you to see both layers at the same time.
Use the Marquee or another tool to select and delete most of the duplicated image on the second scan, leaving only a small amount of overlap.
Repeat these steps for any remaining sections of your image. If necessary, use the smudge tool to blend the edges.
5. Protection from Messy Objects Take care when scanning wet items (such as a pear slice) or dusty ones (such as pinecones). Have cleaning supplies handy to make sure that your scanner’s works don’t get damaged and that future scans will be free of spots and dust.
To protect your scanner from moisture, cover the scanner glass with a piece of clear acetate.
If items you want to scan are dusty or chaffy, clean them first: rinse a dusty leaf and let it dry, or shake popcorn in a sifter to remove small bits. After scanning, clean the glass promptly.
Supplies to keep near your scanner include a soft cloth, window-cleaning solution, paper towels, and an aerosol can of pressurized air (check your local camera shop).