How to scan your art for print publication – self-publishing tips


How to scan your art for print publication – self-publishing tips

If you’re an indie author creating your own art, it’s important to make sure the finished file is actually suitable for publication. As part of our self-publishing tips series, we have a checklist for you to follow.


We work with a lot of authors here at Old Mate Media who create their own art. It’s the ideal situation if you’re taking the indie self-publishing route. Creating art for your book is the most time consuming and expensive part of your self-publishing journey. If you can do the art yourself, then that’s a big saving.

Depending on your skills, you may be working on digital art (created on a computer) or traditional handcrafted art. Perhaps you‘re painting your art or drawing it. You may even be using both forms, starting with a physical piece of art, then enhancing it digitally.

Whichever way you create your art, at some point it will need to exist in digital form. Books are designed and published digitally nowadays almost exclusively. (I cannot recall the last time I sent a physically laid-out book to a printer, but it was in the 1990s.) In many cases this will mean scanning your art.

Unfortunately, a lot of the art we’re sent to design into a finished book and then publish, needs plenty of post-production work. In fact, too often we can’t use it at all. Or if we can, it can’t be used at the desired size. These are situations you can avoid by following some helpful self-publishing tips when scanning your art.

What's In This Guide?

Below is a guide to scanning your art that you can follow to avoid an illustration disaster. First we'll take you through the preparation process and what to look out for before creating your art. Then we'll take you through what the best settings when scanning your art,. Finally, we'll show you what to do with your file afterwards.

Note: You may be thinking, “I only want to do an ePub, not a print book.” That may be true now, but if your plans change in the future, you will have to redo all your art. So its best practice to prepare and scan your art in view of print publication.

Quick Summary of our Guide to Scanning your Own Art.

Below this paragraph I go into greater detail about these tips for scanning your art. But for those who want the information delivered fast, here is a brief overview:

  1. Get an edit before you start
  2. Make sure your canvas is free of blemishes.
  3. Ensure you’ve used the same canvas type for each image.
  4. Don’t forget to factor in bleed.
  5. Ask the store clerk to scan at 300dpi or higher
  6. Ask for the files in jpg or png form.
  7. Store the final files safely.

Self-Publishing Tips for Scanning your Art.

  1. Before you start

    We know that feeling of excitement that swells as you begin making your book. That desire to just dive in and start creating is strong, but don’t jump the gun. For the relatively small investment of a developmental edit, you can have a professional eye look for holes in the continuity of your book. This can – and often does - impact the number of images you need, what is displayed in each and how they are displayed.The last thing you want to do is go through the whole process of making your art and the cost of scanning it, only to find out there are problems.

  2. Protect your canvas 

    The first thing to remember is that any issues with your canvas will translate into the scan. If there is a dent, a crinkle, a splodge or anything like that, it will show up when scanning your art. Keep your canvas clean so your final image looks perfect.

  3. A consistent canvas

    Also make sure you use the same material as the canvas for each piece of art. You’d be surprised how many times we have been sent a series of scanned images, and they each have different textures to them or even a different coloured canvas has been used. This will make one image in your book look different to the next, which gives it an unprofessional feel.

  4. Don’t forget bleed

    We mentioned bleed before, which is concept that many find hard to understand. If you fit that description, I encourage you to read this detailed explanation of bleed, which includes a number of visual examples. The long and short of it is that, when designing a book for print publication, any image that runs to the edge of the book must be extended past the edge. It must bleed past the edge of the page.The amount it must bleed differs between printers slightly, but 0.125 inches is your standard distance. Let's look at a 9 x 6 inch book, for example, with a full page image.

    In this instance the art is going to extend to the edge of the book. As such, we need to include 0.125 inches of extra art around the edge. So the final size of your art should actually be 9.250 x 6.250 inches to accommodate.

    This is vitally important, because if you don’t supply the bleed and only have a 300dpi image, then your art cannot run to the edge of the page. Printers will not accept this page without bleed, and if your designer tries to expand the image past the page to fill up the bleed area, the resolution (the dpi) will drop below 300. This causes another problem. So make sure you think “bleed” whenever you do art.

    When scanning your art, you don't have to ask ask for the bleed to be included. The scan will incorporate the whole image you supply.

  5. Ask for the correct resolution

    The minimum resolution of your image must be 300dpi (dots-per-inch) at the size you intend the final art to be. So if you are doing a 9 x 6 inch children’s picture book, and you want your images to be full page, then you need to make sure your art is 9 x 6 inches (plus bleed) in size when the resolution is at 300dpi.

    I’ve previously written a much more detailed explanation of what DPI means that you can dive into, but follow this basic rule of thumb. Create your art at the same dimensions of your final book. If you don’t have a high-definition scanner, find a store with one. Usually they’re available in office supply stores. Make sure you set the scanner, or tell the clerk to set the scanner, at 300dpi when scanning your art.

    In fact, as a safety net, why not see if your art or illustration can be scanned at 600dpi? This means that the digital file will be printable at twice the size of your original art. Handy if you ever change book sizes, or want to do something like a poster.

  6. File Format

    You want your final file to be a jpg or a png file. Personally, I prefer to work with jpg files in most instances, as they translate better across print and digital forms. Avoid getting sent a PDF, or getting your files sent to you in an email or some other program that may attempt to compress them further. Simply get the full, raw scanned file onto a USB stick and get it safely home.

  7. Store Safely

    Whatever happens, after scanning your art make sure you store and then backup those original scanned files as safely as possible. What if your original physical art gets damaged? Or your designer misplaces the file. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been designing a book and the author cannot find the original, full resolution image. That’s a disaster!

Much to Do Before a Dog

This art by Sheridan Blitz was scanned for the book Much to do Before A Dog, which Old Mate Media then designed.

What about taking a photo of your art for print publication?

Yes, we have designed books where the art was shot with a camera and then submitted. But we don’t like it. It’s true that today’s cameras are pretty impressive with their power and clarity. However, it’s exceptionally challenging to get each and every photo taken at exactly the same focus length, angle and lighting. Even slight differences in these will show up in print.

You may find yourself in a situation where taking a phot of your art or illustration is your only option. Your art could be physically challenging to scan, or simply really big. It happens. In these cases, I recommend waiting till you have all your art finished and then getting a professional photographer involved for a day.

It’s an expense, but get it done once and get it done right, I say. Then you should not face any further costs or frustrations down the track. And it goes without saying that you demand as part of the deal with the photographer all the final high resolution photographs of your work. They don’t like doing that! But this is for a book, not a family photo for above the mantelpiece.

Where to Next?

Hopefully you’re now fully armed with the knowledge you need to successfully create your art for scanning, and then scan your art. For more free self-publishing tips and author guides, make your way to our hub page. If you need any further advice on creating your art, feel free to reach out. And if you’re finishing your art and are looking into its design, we’ve got you covered.

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