September 16, 2012

Scanner driver versus Photoshop

A mildly technical post today. I thought you might be interested in hearing about a new way I discovered of bringing an image into the blog. I'm no expert so if you have advice, do share!

Until now, typically I would scan an image and then, in Adobe Photoshop, correct the scan. This is because scanners (I have a Canon MX870 following the demise of my Lexmark) always change the colour scheme, contrast and tone etc of my drawings. Most irritating, they transform the cream pages of my Moleskine notebooks into a dark, muddy yellow. (That's why the backgrounds of my images are always a bit different from each other -- I don't automate my Photoshopping, so the background ends up a different colour most times.)

I also lose quite a bit of colour when I scan any drawings I've done using Mars Staedtler Due 3000 markers. These fabulous markers produce lovely, delicate watercolour painting effects. Unfortunately my scanner just doesn't see the light colouration. It also misses subtle gradation of colour. The result is drawings that look cartoonish, which is fine when that is what I am going for, but frustrating when it takes away from the gentle treatment I'm going for in drawings like the one of James below.

Photoshop has always gone a long way to helping me fix these problems. Here's an original scan and the Photoshopped result next to it.

Scan with no adjustments (cropped)
Photoshopped scan (cropped)

But it's not trivial. Some drawings can take 30 minutes or more to fix using trial and error. On Saturday I was down with a cold, so while Jeff took care of the kids, I decided I was sick of fiddling with Photoshop and investigated the cause of the problem: the scanner itself.

Going through the scanner help files and some online techie tutorials, I learned that my scanner has a driver that  allows me to correct for the same issues I was adjusting in Photoshop but before the scan. Apparently this preserves image quality, but frankly, I just care about how much easier it is. Changing the settings pre-scan is trivial (just a couple of mouse clicks using a preview of the scan) and I get the picture I want. By contrast, futzing with an image post-scan is much more work though I use the same types of adjustments (colour balance, histogram, levels, tone curve etc). I think it's perhaps because pictures, once they have been scanned, have to be actually distorted to be touched up and so it is much more laborious.

Here is the scan I ran after I adjusted the scanner driver settings to correct colour and contrast. Next to it, smudges removed in Photoshop.

Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, no Photoshopping)
Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, retouched)

The improvement shows particularly in the hair above James' ear and his brow line. See how the colours are more distinct and less muddy than in the first scan I took.

And finally, below, the final image with lightened background. (I think if I fiddle with the scanner some more I will be able to do this pre-scan as well, but I decided to quit while I was ahead yesterday.) This image comes the closest to my original drawing. Here you can see the watercolour-like quality of the markers and the very gentle, fragile colours they have. (Why did you discontinue them, Mars Staedtler, why???)

Scanner driver adjusted (cropped, retouched, background lightened)

(To see all images together and larger, just click on one and it will bring you into Blogger's lightroom where you can go back and forth between images using arrow keys or mouse.)

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