Profiting with Large-Format Scanning

Five shops share their viewpoints on digitizing on a large scale.

Some jobs call for such precise image reproduction that even the highest-quality DSLR can’t do the trick. Or the sheer size of the image or object to be scanned logically requires a larger solution.

Enter the large-format scanner. Available in sheetfed, flatbed, and overhead formats, large-format scanners-those capable of handling originals 24-inches wide and larger-are the best solution for efficient and quality digitizing of the biggest source materials. For this reason, scanners continue to be a relevant tool in many print shops, and depending on the services a shop provides-like fine-art or blueprint reproduction-it’s can be a terribly important asset to many operations.

Here, a handful of print shop owners and managers discuss what role scanners play in their shops, their scanning workflows, how they’ve profited from scanning, and the role scanning will play in their shop’s future.

A one-stop shop
Digi-Type ( is truly a full-service print shop. With a staff of just five, the Rohnert Park, California-based operation can take projects from conceptualization to shipping, and offers business consulting, graphic design, prepress digital imaging, digital printing, and finishing along the way. For more than a year now, large-format scanning with a 36-inch Graphtec SK200 sheetfed scanner has been a necessary addition to the shop’s workflow.

Before investing in the Graphtec, Digi-Type offered scanning services in-house but these were limited to drum scanning. With its Howtek ScanMaster Pro 7500 drum scanner, the shop was able to reproduce high-quality fine-art images, but as Digi-Type imaging specialist Bruce McLeester explains, the time and cost of this procedure led the shop to investigate large-format scanning as an alternative.

"Traditionally, we would shoot a transparency of the artwork or stretched canvas with a view camera and the 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 transparency would be mounted on the drum scanner. While that’s still the way to get the highest-quality scan, the cost is pretty high." McLeester describes a typical conversation with a client before the purchase of the sheetfed unit: "A client brings in a piece of artwork and I tell them that we’ll first have to shoot a transparency, which will be $50, and then the scan will be $180 on the drum scanner."

"People are not looking for that whole procedure," he continues. "A large-format scanner allows us to take a client’s original art, run it right through the machine, and scan directly from the original art without having to produce a transparency first. And we can scan it directly at a much lower cost."

McLeester admits, however, that there are some drawbacks to the sheetfed scanner: "The quality of the scan isn’t as good as the drum scan. For some clients, that can be an issue. The retouching and color correction in Photoshop involves a little more work."

Importantly, however, the expanded service the large-format scanner offers, as well as a lower cost, has resulted in an uptick in business for the shop. And it brought in new customers as well as more work from existing customers. "We had an artist who would have us do one of his images about every other month," says McLeester. "Now he’s bringing us in four or fives images every month because he can afford it and we can do it quickly enough."

And while the large-format scanner is primarily used for fine-art reproductions, Digi-Type’s scanning customers represent a number of fields, including advertising firms, various small businesses, and companies needing blueprint reproductions. Another steady customer is nearby Sonoma State University. "The university’s library has brought over old maps that we’ve scanned, reproduced, and laminated," says McLeester.

Even with the increased clientele, McLeester says there are no plans to add an additional scanner to the shop. "At this point," he explains, "the only reason we would is if we needed to scan larger than 36-inches wide, which hasn’t been the case yet. With the combination of the Graphtec and the drum scanner, we’re able to handle the workload."

Scanning specialists
While scanning is just one of the services that Digi-Type provides, it’s a major aspect of the Phoenix-based AZ Overland Blueprint’s business. Although the shop was established more than 20 years ago as a blueprint company doing primarily copying and duplicating, within the past five years the company has transitioned into a full-service scanning bureau.

"We don’t do much blueprinting anymore," says Jeffrey Turell, the shop’s owner. "As technology progressed over the last several years, we’ve realized our volume of copying and duplicating had decreased. We still offer those services, but scanning has become a major aspect of our business."

Using its Vidar and Contex large-format scanners, AZ Overland ( scans a significant number of architectural and engineering plans, says Turell. "We’ll do maps and architectural drawings. We have clients that are in tooling and they’ll have huge drawings outlining where they’ll be cutting and they’ll have us scan it."

While the majority of the shop’s scanning is black-and-white, Turell says they also do some color scanning. He says the shop scans a wide variety of color work, including posters, architectural drawings that are colored in, art projects, and graphics for displays. "Color scanning is a lot trickier than black-and-white scanning. With color scans, you usually have to go in and color-correct the image."

For AZ Overland, Turell explains, the scanning process begins with a customer requesting a scanning quote. Since the shop is also a courier service, it arranges for packaging and pickup of the scanning materials anywhere in the US. Once the job arrives, management evaluates the work and contacts the clients with any clarifications or questions. The job is passed to the scanner operator who runs the job and sends it to the quality-assurance department, which utilizes XN View software to check the job. Turell points out the importance of this part of the process. "We’ve progressed over the years from just opening up the images and checking them with whatever software came with the computer. We now have the software that allows us to check the jobs faster and more accurately." If necessary, re-scans are run. The job is then packed up, sent to management for review, and dispatched for delivery.

One of the biggest challenges, Turell says, to running a successful scanning business is actually getting customers. "A lot of people think all you need is a scanner and then you’re a document-scanning service bureau." Getting the scanner, he says, is the easy part. And while you may get a job that will pay for the equipment, Turell says there are other costs to worry about. "Successful scanning is really only achieved with efficient scan operators, who can get through jobs quickly and still do a good job. Quality-assurance labor costs can also get costly. So can the software and computer upgrades."

For that reason, if you don’t have scanning equipment, but are thinking about investing in it because you get a few requests for scanning, Turell suggests holding off on any purchasing decisions. "I would recommend starting out by outsourcing your scanning, and then, after you get enough work, you can slowly start to invest in the equipment."

After you get the business, the next challenge, Turell says, is keeping the business. While AZ Overland Blueprint had the advantage of a built-in customer base when it added scanning services, Turell says it’s always a challenge to keep the customers happy, especially when the shop is competing with other scanning bureaus offering lower pricing. "A lot of companies under-price their services. Some even offer services at cost. So it really gets challenging to stay competitive."

AZ Overland Blueprint’s advantage over those shop that will beat them on cost, says Turell, is quality. "Service is key for us. We’re able to get the job done within the time frame the client wants and provide really high-quality work. We make sure what goes back to the client is perfect."

In spite of the competitive nature of the business, Turell is optimistic about the future of AZ Overland, anticipating the expansion of the number of national customers. "I think that we’ll start more national marketing. Up until now, marketing has brought us business that’s been out of town, but we haven’t really gone after it. With our courier services, expanding in this way is something that we can tap into."

Turell also points to scanning as a tool in the move to a paperless future. "With all the talk of environmental and green issues, the discussion of going paperless has been a major topic. A lot of offices want to clean up space and get rid of paper. The challenge here, though, is getting someone to spend dollars scanning a project that’s been completed."

Growing into all the markets
In Lansing, Michigan, Capital Imaging (, offers an array of services, including wide-format printing, document design and scanning, copying, binding and finishing, mounting and laminating, and vector conversion. It has found a consistent customer base for large-format scanning, a service that was added shortly after the shop opened in 1995.

"We saw that with the advent of digital technology, many architects were coming back to ask us to scan plans and drawings of old buildings or existing floor plans," says Bo Noles, president of Capital Imaging. With requests for color scans, the shop invested in a 54-inch Vidar scanner. Says Noles, "The scanner requests really started there and have grown into all the markets."

Noles says that the shop receives business from law firms needing documents or images reproduced for court. In addition, fine artists bring in their originals to be scanned into a digital file or to be digitally printed. However, says Noles, the shop gets most of its business from the construction industry. "We’re finding more and more plans need to be reproduced in color. A manufacturing facility might bring in 200 or 300 sheets of drawings on a set of plans and they might need 30 of those sheets to be scanned and printed in color."

The shop also gets business from people who have oversized archived blueprints. "Typical black-and-white scanners which are part of a plotter or print system are just 36-inches wide," Noles explains. "We’re finding many of these warehouses out there contain documents that are 48-, 50-, 54-inches wide. We’re able to capture that work with our scanner."

Recently, the shop replaced the original Vidar with a 54-inch Vidar TruScan Atlas scanner to fulfill the shop’s scanning orders. Noles says that the Atlas scanner is sufficient to handle the shop’s workload at this time. "It offered everything we were looking for as far as the widest capacity and most accurate color. Plus, it’s a workhorse."

Serving the artist
While sheetfed scanners are certainly capable of reproducing fine-art, sometimes a more specialized scanner is necessary. Just ask Mike Borum, founder and manager of Nashville, Tennessee-based Chromatics Photo Imaging (, which uses a Cruse CS 220/450 SL Light scanner for fine-art reproduction.

The shop opened nearly 30 years ago as a film-processing lab. In 1982, Chromatics began photographing artwork onto 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 transparencies. "Then, as the technology changed and developed," says Borum, "we realized early-on that we wanted to start scanning art. And rather than just sticking a digital back into one of the copy scanners, we decided to go with the Cruse system because of the high-quality scanning it’s capable of."

Borum purchased the Cruse scanner in 2000 and quickly adopted the technology into his shop’s workflow. The unit can scan images up to 48 x 72 inches and has a maximum file size of 450 megabytes. "A document or sheet scanner will do the job for some prints, but the moment someone brings you a framed painting or a piece of canvas that’s stretched, you’re dead in the water."

The shop primarily uses the Cruse scanner for all kinds of artwork reproductions from oils and acrylics to pencil drawings. Customers are offered three choices of scanning resolution, says Borum: 75, 150, or 300 dpi. "We educate the client on what the resolution really means and that 150 dpi is plenty if you’re reproducing at the original size for oils, watercolors, and acrylics."

How the process goes from there really depends on the client and their specific needs. "Some clients simply want us to make a scan and make basic adjustments to density and contrast. Those clients are usually the ones that are just thrilled to that they can get accurate work done without any fuss from them."

Conversely, Borum also says they work with artists who have a sophisticated knowledge of art reproduction and want Chromatics to give them the most accurate reproduction possible. For those customers, Borum describes the scanning procedure as a collaborative effort with the client. After scanning the original, any color corrections are made in Photoshop and then a test print is output using the shop’s Epson Stylus Pro 11880. "Generally, the proof is so close they can’t tell the difference. And if it’s an oddball situation where we have to make a choice on a color, then we collaborate with them and discuss how we all want that color to look."

In addition to two-dimensional artwork, the Cruse scanner is also capable of scanning 3-D objects for clients. "We have artists who will make pieces that are essentially flat, but have a couple of inches of relief and we’re able to scan those prints effectively without any shadows." Another client creates very intricate pieces of art using seashells. "You can’t photograph it with a digital camera because of the cross lighting the cameras use. You would have a million shadows going every direction," says Borum. The lighting from a Cruse scanner, however, creates a shadow-less environment.

Even with the precision of the Cruse scanner, however, Borum admits that the scanner hasn’t had much of an impact on an increase in clients or business. He explains: "When we got the scanner in 2000, copying with a transparency was still a strong business and people didn’t really know what to do with the scans. It took several years for people to realize that scans were preferable and that we could do more from a high-quality scan than you could do with a high-quality piece of film."

"It also took some time for printing equipment to catch up with the scanner. Until relatively recently, the Cruse scanner could capture colors from the original artwork that the printing equipment could not reproduce. It’s taken several years for everything else to catch up to fully utilize the capabilities of the scanner."

While printing technology has caught up with the scanner, the high cost of the procedure is still a deterrent to some clients-a 60 x 80 in. reproduction nearly reaches the $1000 mark, Borum points out. However, he says, most customers believe that the high quality of the scan is worth it. "Artists see that they can bring us a piece of framed art, even artwork behind glass, and we can scan it extremely well without having to remove it from the frame or glass, without anything touching the print. That’s a really big deal. They can’t get a better scan than that."

Clare Baker is associate editor of The Big Picture.

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