Best Scanner for Artwork: A Comparison

I remember there used to be many brands of scanner but nowadays it seems the choice comes down to two, Epson and Canon. Epson scanners get mentioned more often than Canon. This is probably due to the fact that Epson has a great reputation at producing photo scanners.

Since I don't have all the scanners, I've asked a few friends Erwin, Don and Whee Teck to contribute their scans for comparison.

Some scanners are good at one thing and not the other. This scanner review is written for artists and I hope it will be useful.

Factors

Some common factors to consider would be the speed, software, usability, colour depth, accuracy, size of the scanning surface and resolution

Speed is important for those who needs to scan frequently, e.g. sketchers, those who work in the office with other co-workers.

Software and usability would be the scanning software included and whether you can make adjustments to how visual attributes. For example, you may want to scanner to pick up lighter values and play down stronger ones. Some software have the ability to remove dusts, stitch multiple scans or even repair blemishes.

Colour depth is important because you want to be able to scan the widest colour range possible.

Comparison

Canon LiDE220 A4 scanner

This is the Canon LiDE 220.

I've three of these. Actually, I've two of LiDE 210 and one LiDE 220. I use this at home to scan artworks. I had previously owned the LiDE210 which sort of malfunctioned when scan produced a strange yellow gradient. Still, I went back to Canon despite my misfortune because of the detail it can capture.

This is a lightweight compact flatbed scanner with a lid that can be adjusted to scan thick books. It has a high scanning resolution of 4800 x 4800 dpi and can pick up even the grain texture of the paper. Colour depth when scanning is up 48-bit for colour and grayscale 16-bit.

One feature I like is it can be powered by just a USB cable. Scanning speed is very fast. There are lots of settings you can adjust via the preferences but I always just scan at default and adjust the scan using Photoshop. Colour accuracy is very good.

There's one major downside relating to the LED scanning technology it uses. The scanner will not scan properly if the paper is not in contact with the glass. For example, say you're scanning watercolour on some cheap paper that has warped, parts that are not in contact with the glass will appear blur. This means the scanner is not as suitable for scanning sketchbooks, especially those spiral ones, because the book's spine will cause paper around to curve upwards. If you draw across the gutter of the sketchbook, the area near the gutter will be blur.

Overall, this is a good budget scanner. I bought two of LiDE 210 (one spoilt and one's still in use in the office) and recently the LiDE 220 which is the newer model of 210.

Below are unedited 300dpi scan samples from the LiDE 220.


LiDE220. Click for a larger image.


LiDE220. Close up on the top right corner. There's a very faint edge on the paper visible to the eye, but very difficult to detect. It's very challenging for the scanner to pick up.


LiDE220. Click for a larger image.


LiDE220. Close up.


LiDE220. Close up of a Saunders coldpress watercolour paper.

Epson V37 A4 scanner

The Epson V37 is also a budget scanner. It scans A4 size up to 4800 x 9600 dpi. One nice feature it has is the ArcSoft Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe which can stitch multiple scans to form a larger scan automatically. This scanner uses LED for scanning. Colour depth when scanning is up 48-bit for colour and grayscale 16-bit.

Many users on Amazon have commented favorably on the excellent quality of the scan when compared to the more expensive Epson V600 (capable of 6400 x 9600 dpi resolution).

One downside is the lid has no allowance for scanning thick items like books. The Epson V37 is exactly the same as the V370 except the latter has a thicker lid with built-in 35mm transparency unit for scanning mounted slides, negatives and film strips (not really useful for artists unless you still shoot film).

While I don't have any friends with the V37, I do have a friend who has a V330 which is from the same series so I got him to scan a blank piece of Saunders coldpress paper as well, as seen below.


The V330 is a model from 2010 and is also able to pick up the texture quite well.


Here's with the V330 with and without Auto Exposure. Click for a larger view.

Epson V600 A4 scanner

The Epson V600 is a high end scanner and it's really not too expensive. The lid is quite thick because it has the built-in transparency unit for scanning slides, negatives and medium-format panoramic film.

This unit can scan up to 6400 x 9600 dpi which is really high resolution considering artists would usually scan their artworks at 300-600dpi (because printers usually require just 300dpi for prints). The extra resolution allows for more flexibility when editing.

One nice feature it has is the ability to fix tears and creases, dust and scratches from photographs.

For artists, it's probably good enough to get the Epson V37 and save some money (up to $100) because most of the extra features are meant for photographers.

Below are two scan samples from the V600.


V600.


V600. One sketchbook was placed behind the other. The scanner was able to pick up the artwork even when the paper's not touching the glass.


V600. This is the scan of the same Saunders coldpress watercolour paper used in the Canon LiDE 220 scan. It was unable to pick up the paper.


I found it weird that the scanner cannot pick up the grain so asked another friend to scan using her V600. She told me there's a mode where you can turn on the "Show Texture" feature using the Epson scanning software. The result's shown above (not using the Saunders paper).

Epson DS50000 A3 scanner

The Epson DS-50000 is a A3 scanner. One nice feature is the glass is flushed on two sides with scanner body, so you can scan even larger pieces of paper without any part of the paper lifting off the glass surface. It's extremely convenient. This scanner scans so fast it's shocking.

There are several downsides to this scanner. The resolution max out at 600 dpi, which is actually more than enough for most artists. The other thing is the colour depth is only 16-bit. And the scan quality is definitely not as good as the other Epson scanners and Canon. To be fair, Epson calls this a document scanner rather than one to scan artworks.

Below are unedited scanned samples from the Epson DS-50000. I want to point out that the scanner is not good at picking up the paper texture unless there's colour over it.


DS-50000. Click for the full 300dpi scan. This sketchbook I'm using is off-white so the colour captured by the scanner is actually correct.


DS-50000. This is a close up to the top right corner showing the faint watercolour gradated wash. There's a low contrast edge there and the scanner was able to pick it up.


DS-50000. Click for the full 300dpi scan.


DS-50000

Epson DS50000 watercolour texture
DS-50000 wasn't able to pick up the texture on the Saunders coldpress watercolour paper.

In terms of quality, the Epson DS-50000 A3 scanner certainly is not as good as the smaller A4 scanners. However, if you scan large pieces of artworks often, it's quite a convenient machine to use. I use this in my office, and I also have a small LiDE 210 in the office for smaller pieces of work.


Epson E11000XL-GA Expression Graphic Arts Photo Scanner

If you need a large format high-end graphic scanner, then it would have to be the Epson E11000XL-GA Expression Graphic Arts Photo Scanner. It has a resolution of 2400 x 4800 dpi and can scan up to 12.2 by 17.2 inches, slightly larger than A3. Reviews on Amazon are mostly positive, and some have provided scan samples. Colour depth when scanning is up to 48-bit for colour and grayscale 16-bit. This scanner basically has most the high-end specifications and features of the smaller scanners except it's better because it can scan A3.

Conclusion

In terms of scan quality, I've to recommend the Canon LiDE 220 and all of the LiDE scanners because they just differ in resolution. Even the entry level, and cheapest, LiDE 120 can scan up to 2400x4800 dpi. The Canon LiDE 220 is able to pick up all the texture of the paper in detail. The only downside is the paper has to be in contact with the glass otherwise the scan will appear blur. Canon LiDEs are good for scanning loose sheets and not as good for scanning sketchbooks, bind or stitched. Having said all that, I still use this scanner for scanning my sketchbooks because I value the details that it can capture.

My next choice will be the Epson V37. It's able to pick up a good amount of detail and it's better at scanning sketchbooks than the Canon LiDEs.

The only large format scanner I tested was the Epson DS-50000 which is more suitable for scanning documents than artworks. It's a budget A3 scanner. I use this in the office to scan artworks for newsprint production. Personally, for professional large format scanning, go for the Epson E11000XL-GA Expression Graphic Arts Photo Scanner.

Availability

Below are direct links to the various scanners on Amazon:

Canon LiDE 220 (recommended): US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP

Epson V37 (recommended): US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP

Epson V600: US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP

Epson DS50000 A3 scanner: US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP

Epson E11000XL A3 scanner (recommended): US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES

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