SHOOTOUT…Flatbed Scanner vs. Sheetfed Scanner vs. Copy Stand Photography

Girl in a box D.D. Teoli Jr..jpg

Photo by D.D. Teoli Jr.

Scanned 3D image on flatbed scanner (post processed)

Selection from Girl in a Box artist’s book by D.D. Teoli Jr.

This is a shootout between a flatbed scanner, a sheetfed scanner and a camera on a copy stand.

Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks. Unless marked, the photos in the shootout have no post processing and are raw scans / photos. The copy stand photos have been cropped. All photos have been reduced.

USA made level for copy stand D.D. Teoli Jr.

Copy Stand Tips:

  1. Use the 2 second self-timer to steady the camera if you don’t have a remote release.
  2. Use a small spirit level to make sure things are square.
  3. If you have large paper items that won’t lie flat, use a vacuum easel with your copy stand.

Copy stand photo D.D. Teoli Jr (4)Copy stand photo D.D. Teoli Jr (3)

Above are the copy stand photos made with a Fuji 16mp camera and 35mm lens.

Copy stand photography with standard left / right 45 degree LED lighting shows up defects in the photo more so than scanning. You can see this with the silvering on the bottom photo and scratches on the top photo shown above.

Flat bed scan D.D. Teoli Jr. (2).jpg

Flat bed scan D.D. Teoli Jr. (1).jpg

Above are the flatbed scans made with an ancient Epson V500 scanner.

Shet fed scan D.D. Teoli Jr.. (1).jpg

Shet fed scan D.D. Teoli Jr.. (2).jpg

Shet fed scan D.D. Teoli Jr.. (3).jpg

Shet fed scan D.D. Teoli Jr.. (4).jpg

Above are the sheetfed scans made with an Epson 300 / 600 dpi scanner.

Some copy stand items may need a vacuum frame and not a vacuum easel, such as this item.

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Photo: Internet Archive

If you don’t have a vacuum easel or frame, put a piece of heavy glass on it to flatten it out. Just be careful you don’t damage anything sticking up and put a wrinkle in it.

In the old days, nothing got scanned…we didn’t have any scanners. Everything was done with the process or repro camera.

The R.W. Borrowdale overhead process camera took 48″ x 48″ film and had a vacuum back to hold the film flat. Price in 1963 was $13,750.00.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is borrowdale-process-camera-1963-d.d.teoli-jr.-a.c..jpg

Burke & James Graphic Arts catalog 1963

Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Graphic Arts Archive

Now if you want the ultimate in scans…get a drum scanner. Maybe you will be lucky like K. Praslowicz and get a $10,000 scanner for free!

But for the rest of us, we have to make do with flatbed scans for the best scan we can get on a budget.

The beauty of the sheetfed scanner is gives you the option of scanning both sides at once. The resolution is not as good as the flatbed scanner, but it is still very decent. They have higher dpi sheetfed scanners than mine. But generally speaking, a sheetfed scanner does not scan as good as a flatbed scanner for all you pixel peepers out there.

The sheetfed scanner offers an auto-crop option, but it may crop a little more than you like. The auto-crop option periodically leaves a lot of background in the scan and makes the scan unacceptable unless cropped in post. The flatbed scanner can also do auto-crop scans, but I generally don’t like the results so I don’t use auto-crop for flatbed scans.

crop failure on sheetfed scanner lr.jpg

Above is an auto-crop scan that did not crop the left side of the image.

Poor crops are mainly an issue when the sheetfed scanner is scanning at high speed. But, if you are not too particular with the crop, the sheetfed scanner can shoot scans out like a machine gun when set to do high speed scans. And this cropping problem at high speed may be an issue with my scanner only. All my gear is old, so this shootout does not cover state of the art equipment.

When scanning a book that has been disassembled you have to make sure every page is loose. Sometimes you think you cut it all loose and one page or fold out is still connected.

This is what you will get…

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The sheetfed scanner will not scan two pages connected unless you put it in a special plastic envelope. You can rip your originals or at the least wrinkle them if you scan 2 connected pages. Another issue with a sheetfed scanner is they can scan material slightly off kilter…aka crooked. If you want it straight, you will have to adjust in post. Sometimes the auto crop does not leave you a lot to adjust, so keep that in mind when choosing a sheetfed scanner over a flatbed scanner. To minimize crooked scans, only scan pages that are the same width and keep the page guides tight.

For me, I don’t have many choices. I am a volunteer for the Internet Archive as well as being a social documentary photographer, audio, video, film archivist and filmmaker. Point is…I’m overloaded with work. In 2018 I produced +/- 27,000 scans with a sheetfed scanner and another 2,500 or so with a flatbed scanner. I could not have got the 27,000 scans done without a high speed, dual scan, auto crop, sheetfed scanner. If you are lucky enough to have help with your work, or don’t have much work to scan, then use the flatbed scanner to produce the best quality scans. But being a one-man show and having hundreds of thousands of images to scan, the choice for me is to accept some of the scans wont be perfect or they will not be scanned at all.

The biggest drawback of the sheetfed scanner is a speck of dust on the glass gets drawn down the entire scan as a white or black line, whereas a speck of dust on a flatbed scanner is…just a speck of dust. Constant checking for lines in the scans every 20 or 30 scans is a hassle, but it must be done. You can run off a few hundred scans only to find out they are all useless due to lines running over the entire image.  Sometimes cleaning has to be done 2 or 3 times to get rid of the lines.

Before loading the paper, fan it out in all directions. That will help clean the paper of any dust and debris that may be on the paper. When checking for lines it is not good enough just to look at the scans on the monitor. Faint, thin lines don’t show up unless magnified. You spot check your scans at 300% – 400%, then you will know you got clean scans. If you are working with old archival material or matte paper that tends to transfer black ink to the rollers, you should also clean the rollers every 400-500 scans  And sometimes you must clean them much sooner. It just depends on the material you are running through it.

The best thing for cleaning flatbed scanners are alcohol wipes, Kimwipes and a mini-compressor. You can use a Rocket blower if you have no compressor, but if you produce a serious amount of scans, do yourself a favor and get a compressor. Even though TPTB censor me from telling you the facts at every turn, I would never lie to you…I’ve been at this for 54 years.

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The fact is, you will get tons more lines if you use the hand blower vs. compressed air. The compressor is about 90% better for dust control than the hand blower. The compressor also does a great job cleaning out the 4 feed rollers between a full removal and cleaning. The rollers have to be kept clean as well or they will transmit dirt to the material being scanned.

Another important use of the compressor is to blow out your originals before a scan session. You pinch the stack of papers on the top and fan them out (gently) with compressed air. Rotate and do it on all 4 sides. this does an outstanding job at cleaning them before a scan.

Compressor have been in my life since the early 1970’s. Soon after I moved out of my mother’s bathroom and kitchen darkroom, I rented a cheap garage in L.A. with water and electric to print in. Back then you could rent a garage with water and power for $25 to $30 a month. (Nowadays, in L.A., people probably live in them for $1,200 a month!)

One of the early things I purchased beside a Beseler MCR-X enlarger at Bob Gamble’s Camera was a used compressor. The two went hand in hand. When I was in the bathroom printing I had a tiny dust blower syringe to dust negs and had lots of dust on my prints. I had a photographer acquaintance and he had a compressor in his darkroom. So part of the love of compressors was jealousy and wanting to be like him. In any case, it was somewhat common back then to use compressors in the wet darkroom for dusting negs and chromes. And if we wanted to keep dust and lint off our ferrotype plates we would give them a blow before rolling out a print to dry.

The old school compressors were huge and had to be rolled around. I had bought an old 2 piston compressor that leaked some oil for $25 at a yard sale back in the early 70’s. We had to use a oil / water trap on them. When the piston rings were worn they had oil / water mixed in with the compressed air.

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Internet Photo – Fair Use

Now they got mini, oilless compressors that are whisper quiet and provide clean, dry air without the need for traps and filters. Plus you can use your compressor for copy stand work as well. Certain archival material tends to leave a trail of dirt and dust…and in some cases rust!

Copy stand photo of 16mm cine’ reel (post processed)

Selection from Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Small Gauge Film Archive

Depending on the paper being scanned, you may not be able to scan full stacks in a sheetfed scanner. Some paper is thin and sticky and it tends to pull 2 or 3 sheets into the scanner and jams up.  And the paper does not have to be thin to give feeding problems.

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VHS press sheet scanned with sheetfed Epson scanner

Daniel D. Teoli Jr. VHS Archive

Thicker high gloss stock used in press sheets is a problem to feed. It is just too sticky and jams up. So you have to test the amount of paper that will scan correctly. Sometimes the sweet spot is as low as 8 or 12 sheets. But generally speaking, the scanner will feed as thick of a pile of paper that will fit the scanner opening.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sheet-scanner-problems-d.d.teoli-jr.-a.c.-1-1.jpg

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sheet-scanner-problems-d.d.teoli-jr.-a.c.-2-1.jpg

Another troublesome original to scan are spiral or comb bound books. Sometimes the holes cause friction and jam the feed. If you want to use the sheetfed scanner, you have to hand feed one page at a time or cut the holes off as I show above.

ink transfer from dirty rollers on scanner.jpg

If you scan matte black ink, like they use in comic books, the rollers will get loaded with ink and they transfer the black ink to fresh originals you are scanning as is shown in the photo above.  You must remove the rollers to clean them or buy new rollers.

Out of the 27,000 scans I made, +/- 23,000 – 24,000 were useable, the rest were trashed due to lines.  And that was with cleaning the glass thoroughly before each scan session and multiple times during the scan sessions. But that was before I had a compressor. Once I put the compressor in use, the line problem got cut down quite a bit. As an archivist, much of the material I work with is old and dirty. If you have clean material, the line issue should be reduced greatly. But new material or not, sheetfed scanners are susceptible to this line problem.

sheetfed scan with line in it.jpg

Above is a scan of clean, new material with a line from the sheetfed scanner. The scanner output was not checked during the run and 194 scans had to be redone due to line problems.

As I said above, all lines are not readily visible at standard magnification like the example above, so you MUST magnify the scan to catch some of the lines. Check out these 2 scans below.

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Scan looks clean

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Once scan is magnified you see the line!

The beauty of the sheetfed scanner is you can load a pile of originals in the scanner, press play and go away to do something else. You come back and the scans are done, auto cropped and ready to go. But if you do that, your scans may be all full of lines unless you periodically check the scans as they come out of the scanner. One scan may be perfect and the next scan may be useless. Just no telling with a sheetfed scanner.

There is a trick to scanning matte black ink with minimal ink transfer to the rollers. It is not perfect, but it allows for scanning the material without ruining the rollers as fast. You disengage the top roller and handfeed the paper one at a time.

Roller marks from sheetfed scanner.jpg

The trouble with this technique is the cheap newsprint type paper that they sometimes use for matte black ink does not scan well in a sheetfed scanner. The rollers crinkle the paper as it feeds it and gives a wrinkle in the center to the scan as is shown above.

Another problem area for the sheetfed scanner is scanning photos with holes in them. Yes, a very odd area, but still a possibility for some projects.

If your photos have holes in them, try scanning portrait photos in the landscape feed so the holes are not in the center of the scanner. The scanner feed sensor is in the center and can get caught in the hole.

Here is another scanning option that I have not discussed…the overhead scanner.


Internet photo – Fair Use

They have large ones that scan oversize projects. They have page detection where it automatically makes a scan when each page is turned. I tried one and didn’t like it at all. Sent it back for a refund. You can give them a try and see what you think.

The Internet Archive designed their own overhead book scanner called the TT Scribe. Lan Zhu is shown using it below.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tt-scribe-internet-archive-d.d.teoli-jr.-a.c..jpeg

Photos: Internet Archive

I had asked the Internet Archive if they could help me buy a cine’ film scanner. I’ve been a volunteer for the Internet Archive for almost 8 years. I have about a million feet of film on roughly 1,100 reels that need scanning. The Internet Archive would of course get all the digital output of the film scans…in hi res.  The cost to scan commercially would be $350,000 – $400,000. I was hoping to buy a cheap 16mm sound scanner for about $65,000 and do it myself. The Internet Archive would not give me a penny towards buying a scanner… actually they pester me to give them money.

Well, I keep buying lotto tickets! I’ve got a fantastic underground and pretty good above ground film archive. Cine’ film work is a money sucking activity and requires very deep pockets.

16mm reel copy stand photo D.D. Teoli Jr.

Photo by D.D. Teoli Jr.

Copy Stand photo (post processed)

Selection from Small Gauge Film Reel and Can Archive artist’s book by D.D. Teoli Jr.


Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Small Gauge Film Archive
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. VHS Video / Betamax Archive
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Audio Archive
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Advertising Archive
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Social Documentary Photography

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