Scanning Basics

These days, you can check your bank account statements, buy car insurance, and even apply for a college online. You would think cartoonists would get with the program and begin drawing cartoons purely with computer, right? Well, not just yet. Many cartoonists still choose to draw or sketch their cartoons by hand, then scan them onto computers for finishing touches.

The scanner has become almost as essential to the cartoonist as a pad of paper. The good news is that scanners are very affordable these days. You can easily find a quality printer/scanner combination for under $100.

Regardless of how much of the process you choose to do by hand and how much of it you choose to do in Photoshop, a scanner is what connects the two mediums together. It is very important to become acquainted with the scanning procedure, so that your work does not lose quality between transfers of physical to digital. It’s also important to understand that having to scan the same drawing more than one time is a waste of time, thus it’s important to get it right during the first scan.

This tutorial will guide you to scanning your drawings onto your computer while retaining their quality.

Scanning Resolution

The resolution of an image is simply the amount of pixels that are displayed to represent that image. DPI, or dots per inch, is a common measurement of resolution. If a drawing is physically 1″ by 1″, it will be displayed on the screen as 10px by 10px at 10dpi.

Scanning Basics: Comparing DPI

Above, you see two squares which are actually both 1″ by 1″ physically. In other words, if I were to print both of these squares, they’d both come out the same size (1″ by 1″). On-screen, however, they’re different in size because one is set at 72dpi, and the other at 36dpi. Therefore, on a digital display, one will be twice as large as the other, even though they’d be printed as equal sizes.

Scanning Quality

The more pixels are used to display a set physical unit (inch), the higher quality the image will be when printed. Thus, the higher dpi setting an image has, the better its quality. Also, the higher dpi setting an image has, the larger it will appear on your screen.

Which dpi scan setting to use

For common computer graphics or documents, the standard setting is at 72dpi. However, 72dpi doesn’t quite cut it for graphics that are bound for printing. The recommended setting for images that will be printed is 300dpi.

Personally, I scan in my cartoons at 600dpi. Some artists even use 1200dpi, which puts up a pretty huge image on your screen. If you plan to scan in at 1200dpi, you better have a powerful computer that won’t slow down when working on such a large image.

A lot of people wonder how artists can get such smooth lines in their cartoons. Well, while experience and hand control certainly play their part, the dpi plays a major role as well. If you scan your cartoon in at 600dpi and then downsize it for your website, all the small imperfections in the line will become nearly invisible. Therefore, you’ll have what appears to be a very smooth line.

Apart from making your cartoons look better, a higher dpi setting eliminates any need to scan the same cartoon for a second time in the future. By saving the high-resolution version of each cartoon, you will always be able to open it and resize it for whatever you need (printing, website, icons, etc.), thus you’ll never need to scan it again. Just like in sculpting, where you can take away but not add material, you can always scale down a high-resolution drawing, but you can’t make a low-resolution drawing any larger without losing quality.

Another reason to always save a high-resolution copy of your cartoons is that it’s a lot easier to make changes to them, as opposed to trying to fiddle with tiny details in a 500-pixel-wide cartoon.

Scanning Color Setting

This is pretty simple. If it’s a black and white cartoon (or if you plan to color it in Photoshop), scan it in as a “Black and White Drawing.” This will give you pure black and white image, without any smudges or shadows. Yes, it will make your black lines have very rigid edges, but as mentioned previously, these imperfections won’t be visible when you scale down the drawing.

Now you understand the scanning process and will be able to zip through it without any issues. It really is simple, but it’s a crucial chain link in the cartooning process. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

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