What Resolution to Use for Scanning Artworks

A few days ago, I opened up one of my old scans on the Microsoft Surface Studio 2, an all-in-one computer with a 28-inch monitor that supports a resolution of 4,500 by 3,000. Looking at that 300dpi scan on such a high resolution screen made me wish that I had scanned at a much higher resolution. And that's where I got the idea for this article.

What resolution should you use to scan your artwork?

There's no one answer.

The resolution to use should be determined by where you want to reproduce the work. For example if you want to reproduce your art in a high quality print, you should scan at a resolution similar or higher than the printing resolution of the printer. And if you want to share your art online, you should note the width in pixel, and scan at a resolution similar or high enough to match that width.

Before we go further, let's define some terms first.

Display resolution: This is the number of distinct pixels that can be displayed on a computer screen in the horizontal and vertical axis. After you scan an artwork, it's going to be converted into a digital file with pixel dimensions.

Print resolution: This is the number of dots that can be printed in an area. This is usually measured by DPI.

DPI: Dots Per Inch is the number of dots that can be printed by a printer in a square inch. The higher the DPI, the more dots that can squeeze into a square inch, and the more details there will be.

PPI Pixels Per Inch is sort of like DPI but it measures the pixel density of a computer screen. The higher the PPO, the more pixels there are in a square inch on the screen, and the more details there will be. Remember the time when LCD monitors were still in its infancy stage and you could see the huge pixels that form the letters you read on screen? Those old monitors have low resolution and low PPI (pixel density). Fast forward to today, we have screens that insanely high resolution and pixel density that make pixels almost indiscernible by the naked eye. Some mobile phone screens have higher PPI than computer screens.

When we talk about scanning, we talk about the DPI we want to scan at. If we want more detail, we scan at a higher DPI. Once the art is scanned, we don't talk about the DPI anymore, we talk about the resolution, the actual pixel dimensions of the file. We only use DPI again when we want to convert the digital file to print.

If all these terminology is confusing for you, just remember that the resolution to use should be determined by where you want to reproduce the work.

Let's take a look at this pen and ink watercolour sketch. This file is 990 by 708. The artwork was scanned at a 600 DPI and the original resolution was 4,889 by 3,498. It was downsized to fit within the column width of my blog, 990px.

Scannning at 600 DPI to share your art online is an overkill. In this example, I could scan at 200 DPI and get a file that measures 1,630 by 1,166, which is still large enough for me to use on this page. If I were to scan at 100 DPI, the width would be 815 pixels and therefore not big enough fit the 990px column width.

Scanning at 200 DPI is usually enough for sharing artworks online. BUT if your original art is too small, then you have to increase the DPI to make the file bigger.

This file above is also 990 by 708, but it's a crop from a 200 DPI scan.

This is a 300 DPI scan.

This is 600 DPI. The higher the DPI, the more details you will be able to capture.

Scanning at this DPI took a longer time.

Scanning at 1200 DPI takes an even longer time.

At 2,400 DPI, you can see details you don't even expect. It looks like lines here are slightly less sharp compared to 1,200 and 600 DPI.

The maximum DPI my Canon LiDE 400 can scan at is 4,800 DPI. The scanning speed is excruciatingly slow. When I scanned the whole sketch, the scanning process just couldn't complete. Your computer has to have enough resources, memory, to complete the scan.

And if there's a mistake, it means having to repeat the tedious long scanning process again.

I did managed to scan at 4,800 DPI eventually, but I can only scan a section of my art.

I scan a square inch of my sketch. The file is 4,800 by 4,800 pixels. Then I reduced it to 990px wide to fit on this web page.

Scanning above 600 DPI feels excessive to me. A 600 DPI print will still look terrific. Scanning at even higher resolution is going to make your file size significantly larger, and will take up a lot of storage space.

These are the file sizes for the scan of my A5 sketch:

  • 200 DPI - 4 MB
  • 300 DPI - 9 MB
  • 600 DPI - 33 MB
  • 1,200 DPI - 119 MB
  • 2,400 DPI - 315 MB
  • 4,800 DPI - Couldn't complete the scan, but would probably be around 1GB


I used to scan my artworks at 300 DPI, but going forward I'm going to be using 600 DPI. The main reason is resolution for monitors and printers are getting higher. There may come a time in the future where you would want to print your work with a high resolution printer. A home printer like the Canon PIXMA Pro-100 that was released in 2012 can already print up to 2,400 DPI. So if your scan doesn't have enough resolution, it would mean you have to waste time to scan again, so why not scan it in higher resolution in the first place?

Hi Teoh,

Nice article here!
I had the same problem with scannig some of my artworks done with Copic markers. Sometimes, with only 300 DPI, I can´t obtain good results in details and colors may change (specially with my Epson perfection V39, I still don´t know why this happens, and I decided to use the A3 Epson my school has, that respects more the color) With 600 DPI, the quality problems are mostly solved, only I have to check with Photoshop the colors and all that stuff. My teachers told me to do that and then change to 300 DPI when I finished to check and my artwork was ready to print in a copy shop.

with your Epson V39, you need to use the included software to color correct just the gray scale and use color correction. this isnt a flaw, just a technicality of going from analog to digital

wow, thanks for this! I've been researching this for hours and haven't found anyone who could explain it. I want to print my artwork on merchandise but I draw small, was trying to figure out if the problem was the scanner it got scanned on or the size I draw at or if people just edit their drawings after they scan them to get them big enough + high resolution enough to print on a t-shirt or something. With the amount of people who do this stuff you'd think there would be more information on it, but I guess everyone just makes their art digitally now or something instead of actually painting if they're going to put it on merch. welp.

In reply to by autopoesia (not verified)

Look at the artwork resolution required by the merchandise company first.

If you draw small, you can scan at higher resolution to allow for printing at larger sizes while retaining sharpness.

Ultimately it depends on the resolution of the printer that prints on the merchandise.

Thanks Teoh! I have a question though... I have an A5 drawing that I'd like to enlarge enough to make a bigger print. I want to scan it in 600 or 1200 DPI and, as I understand, the file will be much bigger than the original. The thing I'm not sure about is if I can then change the resolution back to 300DPI while maintaining the bigger size? It's just that the printer wants it in 300dpi and I'd like to know if the quality of the scan will get much worse or the scanned information will remain there and sort of 'accomodate' itself to 300 or it will just look bad and blurry. Sorry I hope that's not too confusing! Thanks

In reply to by Nat (not verified)

You can downsize higher DPI to lower DPI easily, but you can't do so the other way. So always scan at higher resolution.

The printer wants 300 DPI probably because their printer only prints at 300 DPI, or maybe the printer can print higher than 300 DPI but there's no visual difference between 300 DPI vs 600 DPI files.

300 DPI can still produce sharp images.

Here is my situation... I am trying to figure out what settings I should scan drawings with to later alter in Adobe Creative Suite. I create line art using a rolling ball black ink pen. And i want to get a high res image to pull several different pieces into a single piece to then add effects and turn my 2-D artworks into 3-D pieces that can be viewed in VR. What would you suggest for the settings, the pieces i draw are on card stock as i prefer it over regular paper.

Thank you for posting this useful info! I am experimenting with 300 dpi and 600dpi (cheap all-in-one printer) and its actually working! I'm currently using iPhoto for edits but may look into photoshop for more options. Thanks again : )

I've been wrecking my brains over this, but I also think 600dpi gives the best result. I'm sometimes worried people will "steal" my artwork if the resolution is too high, but on the other hand, I also want the image to look great and detailed enough. Low resolution scans of drawings don't give the original enough credit. Thank you for your great insight ^^

Wow, thanks for your article. It came up in a search for best resolution for scanning artwork. Your example artwork is beautiful as well.
Thanks for the time and sharing.

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