How to Scan Artwork Tutorial

how to scan artwork tutorial

Scan Your Art

Tutorial by Katja Turnsek © 2011, All Rights Reserved

I get so many emails from fellow artists asking me how I photograph my portraits. “How do you get such great results?”, “what is your secret?”, they ask. There is no secret when it comes to photographing, for me at least.

Well, that’s because I scan my portraits. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how I do it, in the hope that this tutorial will help you achieve much greater results than you ever did before.

It’s so nice to have beautiful, large-sized digital images of artwork, both for your online gallery and printing. I do have daylight professional studio lamps and a nice EOS camera, but the results of photographing art never come close to a scan.

Maybe a professional studio could do the trick, but that is way to expensive (for me at least). For this tutorial you will need a computer, scanner, photoshop, basic computer knowledge and a completed artwork.

You can use any photo editing software, as long as you can achieve the same results.

Scanned artwork dog painting
Scanned and Edited Artwork

Scanning Your Art

I use a regular HP Scanjet 4890 – A4 sized scanner, so there is no need to purchase an expensive scanner at all. This time I will scan the oil painting of Aiko and Zuki, two beautiful Shiba’s laying on a sofa.

I wanted to show you how to scan an oil painting, since they are harder to scan than small artworks. The principle is always the same, but with paper-based art you will need to place something heavy on top in order to press the paper down.

Oh, be very careful with your soft pastels when you scan them. I always tape them to a cardboard before I scan and make sure not to drag the pastel surface on the scanner.

Lift the pastel up each time you need to move it to the right position.

Always make sure to scan the images at 300 dpi and use millions of colors. Even though the artwork is in black and white, colors can be changed later on. You get all of the lighter hues which you wouldn’t if you used less colors.

Also, it’s a good thing to scan the image as a TIFF or JPG file, or a file type where you can use Photoshop layers. This painting is 40×50 cm in size, so I have to scan it in four parts. I always make sure to scan more of each part to allow some overlap.

So I need four parts in oder to puzzle the pieces together in the photo editing program. Take a look at my scanned parts below to see what I mean. I have marked the actual pieces of the painting in red.

marked scanned pieces
Actual pieces of the painting

You see how much more I have scanned? This makes it easier for me to puzzle the pieces together later on.

Puzzle The Scanned Pieces

So, let’s start with the first (left) piece. As you can see in the image below, most of the pieces need to be rotated. I will start by rotating each image by choosing Image/ Image Rotation 90° CCW in the Photoshop menu.

What kind of rotation you choose depends on which direction you need to rotate the image (naturally). I’m more comfortable starting up my puzzle with the left image, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Rotating scanned image photoshop
Rotating scanned image in photoshop

When you have the first image rotated, you will need to add more “canvas” in order to place the next piece of the puzzle, right? So, let’s go to Image/ Canvas Size in the Photoshop menu and create a New Size: / Width: 200% / Anchor: Left, just like I have done in the image below.

canvas size photoshop
Enter percentage values and anchor as above

We now have the first (left) piece ready, with a white canvas on the right side which is the same size as the piece of the painting. The next step is to open the second (right) piece and rotate it the way we did with the first one.

It’s all about combining all the four pieces we have scanned. If there were even more pieces, there would be even more steps of adding canvas and painting pieces. We need to copy the second (right) piece and place it onto the first (left) piece.

Have the second (right) piece open and choose Select / All in the Photoshop menu, alternatively use the shortcuts if you are used to that. Next, you have to copy the image you just selected by choosing Edit / Copy.

Then paste this second (right) piece onto the first (left) piece by choosing Edit / Paste. This will create a new layer in the file. If you don’t see the layer Window, just go to Window / Layers to open it.

Now, nudge and rotate the new layer in order to fit the image below. Nudge by clicking on the arrows on your keyboard and rotate by choosing Edit / Transform / Rotate in the Photoshop menu and drag the corners up and down.

If you need to move the second image way more than just nudge it, just drag it around with your mouse, using the move tool.

We now have the two pieces (left and right) correctly positioned, overlapping each other. There will still be some white canvas on the right side and there is a darker edge in the middle, as on my image below.

The ugly edge can’t stay there, so we are going to remove it. Of course there are other ways to remove this edge, you can for example choose to use the Eraser Tool, or do it like I do.

I use the Rectangular Marquee Tool when I delete those edges. If you don’t know how to find this tool, look at the picture below. Be sure to select the layer containing the second (right) piece, then find the Feather Tool and write 50px before you drag the marker over the darker edge.

Now, click on delete button on your keyboard or choose Edit / Clear in the Photoshop menu. So, what we have done here is: marked the dark edge with the Rectangular Marquee Tool and deleted the edge.

Scanning with an overlap ensures you will get a smooth transition between the two pieces.

rectangular marquee tool
Choose Rectangular Marquee Tool with Feather 50px
delete edge rectangular marquee tool
This is how it looks when you have selected the dark edge, be sure to work in the right layer.

If the two images now look like one piece, you are ready to take the next step. As you can see, even though I tried hard to scan the painting accurately I still have more of the top area on one image.

So I can either choose to crop it or to fill in the white canvas with help of the Clone Stamp Tool. If this were a different painting I would probably choose to crop it, but this time I will add the missing part with the clone tool because it is only one color.

No, we can’t just fill that area by using a single color in Photoshop, we would not have the canvas structure then. Don’t worry about the crop tool now, I will show you how to do this later.

Merging Layers

In order to make things easier for us, we need to merge those two layers into one. In order to do this, take a look at the layer window which you opened earlier (Window / Layers).

Click on the little arrow to the right and a menu will open. Here you choose the Merge Down option. Yes, you now have the first two pieces in one single layer. If you have more than two layers to merge at once, you could choose Flatten Image instead.

merging layers
Merge the two layers

Cloning Areas

Now we are ready to use the Clone Stamp Tool. This is such a nice tool, you can do so many cool things with it. Take a look at the picture below. First choose the Clone Stamp Tool by clicking on it, then choose the proper Brush and leave the Opacity and Flow in 100%.

Then you place the brush right on the area you would like to clone (copy) and click with the mouse once at the same time as you hold down the alt button on your keyboard.

Now when the area is copied, you can drag or click the brush over the area you would like to fill in. You can do this over and over again until you get it right. Keep in mind: if you clone and paste too many times in one single area, it will get too blurry and you will have to do this all over again.

More you practice, the easier it will be. I can do this in my sleep :).

photoshop clone tool
Clone tool
photoshop clone tool
Clone tool

Cropping Images

We now have an image of the first two pieces of the painting. The image has been cloned and merged, so all we have to do is delete that white edge on the right hand side.

There are two ways to crop an image; one way is to use the Crop Tool and the other way is to use the Rectangular Marquee Tool. These two methods are similar, but I use the Rectangular Marquee Tool because I feel it’s easier to control.

If you would like to use the Crop Tool, simply click on the tool, drag it from the upper left corner, down and to the right edge. Don’t include that white area. Drag the squared handles on the corners to the right places if you didn’t mark accurately.

Now when it’s marked, click twice in the marked area to crop it. You can also click once outside the marked area and if you have done so, Photoshop will ask if you would like to crop the image, choose Crop. Look at the picture below.

using the Crop Tool
Using the Crop Tool

To use the Rectangular Marquee Tool, click on the tool and drag it from the upper left corner, down and to the right edge. With the Marquee Tool it’s easy to do it right the first time.

If you still need to change the selected area, go to the Photoshop menu and choose Select / Transform Selection then drag the squared handles on the corners to the desired places, then click twice in the selected area to create your new selection.

When you have selected the area accurately, go to the Photoshop menu and choose Image / Crop. Look at the final result below.

Two Puzzled Pieces
Two Puzzled Pieces

Canvas Size

Even though, at this time, we only have half of the painting completed, we have gone through all the necessary steps to puzzle the pieces together. I want to explain a little more about how the Canvas Size Tool really works, as it is the next stage in this tutorial.

Start by choosing Image/ Canvas Size in the Photoshop menu. We need to add more canvas below the two-piece image we puzzled. Any time you would like to add more canvas to your image, always select the square on the opposite side of where you want the canvas added.

If you want to add more canvas on top of the image, choose the bottom square and if you would like to add more canvas to the bottom, choose the top square (the arrows indicate where the canvas will be added).

Play with it for a while and you will see exactly how this tool works. I need to add more canvas to the bottom of the image, so I’m going to use the settings below.

canvas size photoshop
Enter percentage values and anchor as above
canvas size photoshop
More canvas

View the rest of my images below and see how I put the remaining pieces to the canvas. The steps are all the same as with the first two pieces…

placing third scanned piece
I’m copying and pasting the third piece
nudging third piece
Nudging the third piece into place
erasing dark edge
Erasing the dark edge
pasting fourth piece
I’m copying and pasting the fourth piece
cropping image
Now I have merged down the layers and it’s time to crop the final image
completed puzzle scanned art pieces
This is the completed puzzle of all four scanned pieces

Image Contrast & Colors

When all the pieces are in place, all that is left to do is editing the colors, tones and contrasts. This probably sounds easy, but it’s the hardest part when you scan your artwork.

Some scanners and Software dull down the colors, some make the colors too vibrant with too little brightness and contrast. The computer screen can never show the exact colors and brightness of your scanned image, but at least you can achieve nearly the same colors as your original.

In order to do this, you will need to play around with the Adjustment tools. In order to make things easier for you, I will tell you which tools I use. Look at your completed artwork over and over again and compare the original colors to the ones on your computer screen, adjust them until you get the right colors and hues.

This takes a lot of practice and if you are anything like me, you will not give up until it’s as perfect as it can get. In the Image / Adjustments section in the Photoshop menu you will find everything you need.

There are other tools too and you can try them out, but the Adjustment section is key. In the Adjustments section I regularly use Brightness / Contrast,  Levels,  Vibrance,  Photo Filter,  Color Balance and Selective Color.

The only way you can learn to use those tools is to play with them. Make sure to save your unedited image and make a copy. By doing that, you can always go back to the unedited scan and do it all over again.

The Difference

unedited scanned artwork
This is the unedited final scanned artwork
Scanned artwork dog painting
This is the edited final scanned artwork, can you see the difference?

Good luck! If you have any questions and if you find some information is missing, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Leave a Reply