The Scanner Ate My Shading

In this modern world of illustration, the final product the artist delivers is often in digital format. Since I am mostly a traditional media girl, this means scanning. And to me, scanning means losing a lot of subtle detail.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. But with my digital toolkit, I have problems that make me pull out all my hair to distract myself from the fact that the scanner ate my shading. Again.

On the illo board, the pencils trace a delicate shaded gradient from oh-so-light (I usually do not leave bare paper) to pleasant, deep dark. The scanner reads this beautiful physical effect, gets jealous, and spits mush onto the screen. Perhaps it is trying to get me to hold it tight like I do the pencils, or is getting revenge for all those times the cat violated its space. Until I figure out what’s bothering it, mush ensues:
The lightest lights look totally white, although they are ever-so-slightly tinted on paper. The darkest darks are medium grey. If I try to correct this with the scanning software or the Gimp, I can get a nice, deep dark:
But lo! The lights are still very light. Since the lovely light pencil strokes at the bottom have turned dark too, this means I lose the gradient that was so delicate in the mush version. No matter what tools I try, digital tweaking cannot achieve an effect to match the paper.

Granted, your final product must look good when printed, so I tweak until I get the most printable version. It doesn’t hold a candle to the original. I think this is a universal problem with reproductions. Someday, the genius nerds of the world will come up with a way to tame my scanner’s jealousy, and when that day comes, I will lift up an offering. Maybe I’ll burn the scanner.

2 thoughts on “The Scanner Ate My Shading”

  1. Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by!

    You bring up an excellent question. I don’t have too much experience scanning charcoal, but I haven’t had this problem with it. It very well may be due to the shine of graphite. It also may be related to the fact that I can get a deeper dark, and therefore a wider range of values, with charcoal.

    I should also note that I have a rather expensive scanner, and it has never impressed me much. I think if I had use of the software it came with, I’d get better results. But the software is Windows and Mac, not Linux. *sniffle*

  2. Hello! Followed a link here form Wetcanvas:) I am an aspiring illustrator myself, by the way. Was just curious if you have the same problems with the scanner when you use charcoal. Could it be related to the “shine” of graphite?

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