Tools of the Trade: The Scanner

Being a comic artist involves, as one might expect, quiet a lot of drawing. But, a good proportion of your time isn’t spent on drawing, it’s spent on various admin things. Back in the old days (you know, a couple of years ago or so) lots of that time would be spent dealing with post (packaging art, heading to the post office, waiting in queues, getting annoyed and, generally, NOT drawing). Now, the job a lot of artists dread is scanning.

Every page needs to be scanned and, often, touched up to clear up various things. And, if you’ve only access to an A4 scanner there’s lots and lots of patching things together moving them about and joining them up.

The first scanner I ever owned was a four inch wide hand held scanner (actually, I never owned it, I worked in a shop selling computer equipment – so equipment like that passed through my hands before it ended up with customers). Course, those scanners were useless (though, comparatively cheap), but, to be fair, the computers weren’t really potent enough to do anything with big scanned images.

The next scanner I saw was a monsterous A4 monochrome scanner, costing around a couple of grand (it used a SCSI interface and was lightening fast – in the old days when light travelled really slowly).

Once A4 scanners became cheap, I bought one and have, over time, come to both rely on and really detest the whole scanning process.

I managed, over time, to procure an A3 scanner – a Mustek, horrible it was, slow, grinding, incompatible with mac os x (and, despite new models coming out, one of the most read pages on my old blog was a page explaining how to make it work with a mac) BUT it scanned A3 art – one pass scans were within grasp but it was so shoddy in quality, that, ultimately it sat, dead on the my shelf.

I bought better and better A4 scanners and finally, ended up with a Canon LiDe50. Great scanner, but it had a horrible lip over the border of the entire scanning area making scanning an A3 page in two passes a nightmare (not something I found out until I bought it and unpacked it). Turns out almost all modern A4 scanners had some sort of lip – so I ripped a portion of it off, taped the glass on that side into place and, voila, an A4 scanner that would allow me to scan in two chunks. And, the lip that I left gave me a neat guide to shunt the page into to keep the paper steady making it easier to match up both sides.

And while this was a lot better than the A3 scanner in terms of quality, it was still a pain to have to ensure the pages are lined up perfectly, scan in two passes and then merge together in your graphic tool of choice – sometimes lining the pages up was such a pain, you’d end up scanning in multiple passes – grabbing a panel with each pass.

So, finally, I broke – it was time to spring for an A3 scanner – and THIS time, the market had entirely changed. When I bought the Mustek (£99) the next cheapest scanner was around five grand – my new A3 scanner/printer cost £270. Lots of cash, but worth every penny, and it’s fairly changed how I work.

The process, before, was:

Thumbnail > pencil page > ink page > scan page (avoiding scanning pencils unless I really have to)

NOW:

large thumbnail > scan > print in blue > ink > scan (oddly more scanning, but less effort required to do it)

Tried the new process on a few pages so we’ll see if it sticks, but it’s great. The other thing it’s letting me do, is stop worrying about drawing panels – I now do all my panel borders in the computer on top of the blueline pencils. Print that out and I have a pre ruled page with borders completed, all I’ve gotta do is attack with some ink. Normally, I measure all panel borders out – to try and keep them totally straight, this is a fairly time consuming and laborious process that I’m pretty glad I’ve found a workaround.

Added to that, I can also add photo reference directly to the page, turn it into a blueline guide, print that out (with all the other pencils on a single page) and ink it, thereby totally integrating photos with the art in a way that makes it pretty much impossible to tell photo reference was used.

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The large thumbnails are drawn in a moleskin book and, oddly, the proportions of the moleskin end up being almost exactly right for American comics.

Anyhue, if you’re thinking about A3 scanner/printer combo: The Brother DCP-6690CW is brilliant and worth every penny.

Here’s the key info, if you’re dealing with comics:

Pros

  • Doesn’t take up too much foot space.
  • Prints to the edge of the page
  • Seems happy to take my Canson Bristol Board (220gsm) pages (though does leave an impression/dirty mark on the BACK from the roller when they’re printed and, to be fair, they’re heavier than the manufacturer recommends).
  • Cost £270 from Amazon, ink seems cheap (found unbranded ink for £8 for two sets of all colours+black) – have yet to replace a cart (uses individual cartridges for each of the colours). So I imagine I’ll be replacing the cyan and black a lot, but not the rest 🙂

Cons

  • Weirdly, doesn’t quiet scan to the edge of A3 – you can lose about 2/3 mm from the edge of whatever you’re scanning. Not a problem for 99.9% of things, but a little a mysterious, none the less. This may be a software issue – I’m not sure.

UPDATE

I’ve had the scanner long enough now to form a decent long term opinion, which is: I wish I’d bought one years ago. Scanning A3 pencils, converting to blueline, printing and re-scanning really helped me get Happy Valley in easily within deadline (including a 12 page Megazine story at the same time). Deffo worth the cash.

Author: PJ

Belfast based Comic Artist who won’t shut up on twitter.

9 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: The Scanner”

  1. Tools of the Trade, Part 2: Quality Street – the Essential Artist Snack!- Great Article PJ, and very essential info for any new artist. Scanning is really make or break stuff, and can make the most beautiful of pages turn to crap if not done well.

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  2. Heh! Wondered how quickly someone would spot the quality street tin, that contains various cables (did previously contain various paints and, prior to that, various chocolates – the chocolates were my favourite thing it contained.)-pj

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  3. PJ, when you say the Brother ‘prints to the edge of the page’, do you mean right to the edge, i.e. useable for full-colour covers and the like? ‘Cos that’d be right up my (quality) street.

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  4. I’m very intrigued by this PJ as although I like my scanner a lot I’m still doing the two scans of a page and patch it together job. Scanning pencils or inks in one go would be great and I’m assuming the quality of the scan is fine for that but have you tried scanning in finished colour work? I’ll admit that I don’t often need to do this as most my work is finished off on the computer but I do need to scan in paintings sometimes so do you think the quality of the scanner is up to the job? Also, I know you are an Apple Mac guy so I’ll just ask if you had any issues with the set-up, OS problems, drivers etc.?Cheers PJ, great article!Graeme

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  5. Graeme – I haven’t scanned any colour yet, but I’m assuming it’ll be fine – my £50 scanner had no problem with full colour, so I can’t imagine I’d have any issues. (with the caveat that it trims a little couple of mm off the edges of A3 – for some unknown reason…)re: installation on a mac – completely painless, in fact, on my previous scanner, when I went to scan it would often knock out my USB TV device (presumably the sudden need for power caused it to drop out) but since the scanner is driven over the network (wifi) that’s no longer an issue (though occasionally, it’s lost its IP address – but I’m putting that down to my ropey router, and a quick switch off and on on the printer soon sorts that out).

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  6. HAHAHA! I totally had that mustek scanner. It worked alright for less than a year when it suddenly started grinding and then would always scan a big gray block of pixels across any page I put in it. I called the company and I’m pretty sure they’re a russian mob front. I had my receipt but they wouldn’t honor their warranty. I’ve never known anyone else who ever had a mustek before.

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  7. […] Tools of the Trade: The Scanner – An interesting article on how important a scanner can be to the final quality of artwork […]

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