Scanning vs Photographing Artwork

What’s better for my art? Scanning or photographing?

In a nutshell there are pros and cons for both options. Here I am going to list my own personal feelings however feel free to agree or disagree and leave your comments. For instance, I have a photography friend who would probably feel the photography option is better and if I had his skill in photography, especially when achieving proper color balance in photography I might feel the same.

Below is my quick list of pros and cons. Leave your comments below.

Pros of Photographing Artwork

  • Easier to do with large paintings

Cons of Photographing Artwork

  • Requires appropriate camera equipment (tripod, camera, sharp lens, and lighting)
  • May not be able to capture at as high a resolution you need
  • Requires some skill behind the camera

Pros of Scanning Artworks

  • Easier to control the resolution of the final output
  • Less concern with color correction measures needed due to improper lighting
  • No bulky camera equipment needed
  • Image almost always looks clear, crisp and sharp
  • Even your scanner from a 3-in-1 (fax,scanner, printer) can yield good results

Cons of Scanning Artwork

  • Large paintings may require you to scan in sections and stitch together with Photoshop
  • Painting must be removed from frame in most cases
  • Drawings tend to look like photocopies unless considerable white / color balance is performed
  • If wanting artwork professionally scanned you might find it difficult to locate a company that does large format scanning

To Sum it Up

Let me begin by stating in both a scan and a digital photography you are merely creating a digital copy of your original artwork.

The goal is to precent the image from looking like a photocopy or a photograph of a painting. Before you submit your file for printing ask someone you trust to give a thoughtful answer to the question of if image they see on your computer looks like your artwork was photocopied or if it looks like you took a picture of your artwork. If they can’t tell then good. You don’t want either to be obvious. Preferably you want them to wonder how you managed to get such a good rendition of your artwork on your computer.

Second, inspect, inspect inspect.

All too often we see images which were not adjusted after the photograph or scan was done. This usually involves some type of color corrective measures. While artwork being photographed seems to require a little more post work when it comes to color correction and white balance, that does not mean your scan won’t either. I usually tell people to print a copy on their own inkjet printer or even have us do one and if the results look passable then they should not have to do much more with the file. The reason I tell them to print a copy is because most people’s computers are not properly calibrated (yes even if you have at $3000 MAC right out of the box).  This means the colors on your screen are not precise and usually too bright.  And it’s not just colors.  Zoom in on your image. If it is a photograph of your artwork you want to make sure all parts of the image are clear, crisp and sharp and not out of focus or pixilated.

Finally, don’t assume your printer will fix your image if it’s not quite up to par.

Generally speaking our customers tend to be the do-it-yourself types and don’t want us monkeying around with their files.  Every day we receive orders from customers in which I personally would assume there might be a need to improve the color or contrast of the image only to discover that it was already adjusted exactly the way they wanted it. For instance, we have a customer who paints beautiful scenic landscapes with rolling clouds. She has this one print she orders regularly which has a purplish cast for her buyers. It looks like when she photographed it the lighting was off.  That was not the case at all but rather how it was painted. Sure you can select the color and contrast fix which is an option we have when you setup your print but this is primarily for our photographer customers who want us to use our judgement as to if their file may or may not need a little tweaking to insure it comes out looking like a proper photograph. It’s usually ignored for artwork  since we don’t have any way of knowing if we are making it more or less like the original. Why  don’t we automatically do this or let you know if an image is not up to snuff? Once in a while we have customers which are a little miffed that we did not contact them prior to printing their work if it was not to their likings. You would think it would be obvious to us but the truth is we just don’t know what is acceptable standards since it ranges all across the board with our customers. To top it off it’s not unusual for many of our customers to paint over their prints so image quality is not as important as composition.

Survey Says!

In conclusion I tend to lean toward the scanning option as my favorite. With that said we have a number of artists that have been very successful at photographing their artwork with simple point and shoot cameras and get excellent results. Now I don’t recommend photographing your artwork with a phone or ipad even though the cameras on them are quite good now days. Usually these shots are too shaky for a good sharp photo when the image is blown up inot a print. But some images I can’t tell if it was scanned or photographed. If you have the ability, try both and see which you like. Make sure you make a trial print for yourself before you start mass producing them and selling them and be willing to make the appropriate adjustments to your image if you need to. Finally if you plan on selling your original work don’t put off having a good quality digital image made which you can print from. Once your original is sold you may not have an opportunity to have a high quality digital version of your artwork made.

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