Fine Art Scanning Process

The first step towards making a perfect fine art print is creating a industry-grade digital image of the original artwork. The technological process that captures a digital image of a painting or a drawing is called two-dimensional digital scanning.

A professional quality digital image of an artwork can be captured by a large format flatbed scanner. If the scanning process has to be touch free a digital scanning back camera is used. Both kinds of equipment are industrial grade and very expensive.

Except for very few black-and-white line-art graphic works, most fine art is classified as continuous-tone images. A typical painting always contains smooth (i.e., continuous) transitions from one color or gray tone to the next.

These subtle color and tonal gradations allow the artwork to simulate the three-dimensional reality, to mimic the way light is reflected from different surface textures, to emphasize meaningful details and sometimes create optical illusions. All that together allows the artist to convey a whole spectrum of aesthetic emotions to the viewer.

If you were to examine a painting with a powerful magnifying glass – or just inspect a high-resolution digital image of that painting – you’d see that what appears to be a solid color actually consists of several layers of paint made with brushstrokes or multi-color dots made with a fine needle with the purpose to mix in the viewer’s eye. 

When a scanner captures the artwork it must translate the analog readings from the optical part of the scanner (that reflect the continuous tone information) into a discrete number of hues and gray shades. The technical challenge here is not to lose even a tiny bit of tonal information.

There is a so-called oversampling rule that applies to both music sampling and artwork scanning. It says that scanning must be done at a resolution 1.5 to 2 times higher than the resolution of the output device.

Oversampling allows the computer to calculate a more-precise value of a sampled unit, which in turn will be more accurately translated into a printed unit on a printing device. Choosing a higher scanning resolution won’t improve the quality of the print, though. It will only waste computing resources, calculating the excessive details, and bloat the size of the file that contains scanned digital image

Normally a giclee print has a resolution no less than 300 dpi. Therefore the artwork must be scanned at a resolution of 600 dpi and absolutely no less than 450 dpi.

The above rule implies that the print is going to inherit the dimensions of the original artwork. However, this is not always the case. If the planned maximum print size should not exceed half the original size, the scan resolution can also be reduced by half.

Click on the image to see the painting

Here is a small fragment of a scanned oil painting. You can clearly see the brushstrokes and the layers of different colors. It looks like a mosaic and it’s not quite clear what object the artist has painted.

Click on the image to see the painting

This is how the viewer normally sees the picture. The red rectangle shows the scanned fragment. Now you can see that it is a chest of a toy giraffe. You can’t see the brushstrokes but you can see a very recognizable object.

Our artists are scattered around the world. Painting and drawing are perishable and can be damaged during transportation whereas a digital image is absolutely indestructible. That’s why we consider a professionally made digital image of an artwork a more valuable asset than the original. We give our artists the guidelines on how to have their artworks professionally scanned. We thoroughly inspect every received image to make sure it qualifies for giclee printing.

First we check the image size. Dividing the image dimensions (measured in pixels) by 450 dpi yields the largest dimensions possible for a giclee print of that image. If the dimensions are smaller than those of the original artwork we ask the artist if it is admittable to downsize the dimensions of the print. If the artist agrees, we use the image “as is”. Otherwise we ask the artist to scan the picture again with a higher resolution. We also check if the digital image has no distortions and losses of sharpness, lightness, color and texture. The file size of an industrially scanned large picture stored in a lossless format like TIFF can sometimes exceed one gigabyte.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the fragments of the robust scanned images.

An example of a very blurry image that we had to reject. It was obviously taken by an inexpensive consumer camera, which is not the right instrument for the job.

The painting itself is great, it just needs to be scanned with the professional equipment.