Scanning pics is a big enough pain, but oversize images can be a nightmare. Today, we’ll look at some tips at scanning huge images with smaller scanners, and how a bit of Microsoft freeware can make the process much easier.

You won’t see any Photoshop or even GIMP in our how-to today. HTG readers suggested this very excellent freeware, and it’ll make your life a lot easier if you ever find you have to get digital images of any of your oversize prints, posters, or photographs. We’ll cover a wealth of tips and advice for making the process easier, as well as covering making images with the free software. And, for those readers that are very experienced at scanning, tell us in the comments sections about your own tips and tricks to get great images out of your favorite brand of scanner.

Making Scanning Large Images Less Difficult

Large pictures, like this poster, are obviously too big to scan with this smaller size flatbed scanner. It’s actually quite easy to scan something this large in pieces and then put them together. Let’s start with some tips on getting a good scan.

Most flatbed scanners have a raised lip around the glass. When you’re scanning large images, this can help you get more accurate scans—simply butt the edges of your oversize photo or poster to the square sides to ensure you’re scanning your multiple pieces without twisting or warping the image too much.

Don’t worry if you can’t get it perfect, as a little bit of image geek trickery later will solve all of your problems. Just get it more or less flush against the edges, and when you can, get two sides flush, not just one.

As you scan, you’ll have to run the parts of your oversize image off the scanner, but flip it to keep at least one edge butted up against the side of the lip on the side of the scanner bed. Be redundant as you scan! Scanning some overlap area will be helpful later when we’re stitching our image together.

Nearly every scanner comes with some kind of cover, and make sure you use it. Scanners read light better when there’s better contrast, and this cover will block out excess light. If you can’t scan with the cover down (maybe you’re scanning a 3-Dimensional object or a book) try turning out the lights to darken the surrounding area to improve the image quality.

It can be difficult to scan multiple pieces and keep them in place, flush against the edges, on the scanner bed. In cases like these, clear scotch tape comes in handy to hold the back of the poster image in place as the cover rests on top of it.

Depending on your operating system and scanner, you may have more or fewer options when scanning. It can potentially give you a fuller value range to set brightness, color, and contrast options up in your scanner driver before scanning, so familiarize yourself with them and get your image closer to the result you want before you do any image editing in Photoshop or GIMP. While these programs have better, tighter controls over the image than the scanner drivers, radical changes to your scan file will be effectively squeezing and eliminating parts of your image—the result may be loss of detail or resolution. Although, depending on your needs, this may be acceptable.

Keep in mind when scanning poster-sized graphics, that huge graphics aren’t usually meant to be viewed up close and personal, so lower resolutions of 150 to 250 dpi are perfectly acceptable. If you’re used to working with 300 dpi and higher resolutions, this may come as a shock—but when graphics are meant to be viewed at distances of six feet or more, the increased pixel depth is often just a waste of hard disk space.

One final caveat when scanning images: do not save your scans as lossy JPG files! PNG and TIFF are non-lossy image files, and are the best suited to scanners. If you need to brush up on your image knowledge, you can read about the difference between JPG, PNG, and GIF.

Finishing Up In Seconds With Microsoft ICE

If you’ve never used ICE (Image Composite Editor) you’re in for a treat, as it’s image software at its best, as in not only easy, but free! Microsoft ICE is Windows only, as you might have guessed.

ICE was effectively created to create image panoramas, similar to the one we made last week with Photoshop. In fact, the program was an excellent suggestion by several HTG readers. Today, we’ll be using it to piece together our scans. Get started by navigating to File > New Panorama.

This image is shaped sort of like a panorama, but ICE has no trouble piecing together images that aren’t entirely horizontal or need to be stitched together vertically and horizontally. So basically, just throw all of your images into ICE, and watch it work.

And that’s all there is to it. ICE bangs out a downright impressive job of stitching the scanned images together in a few short seconds. From there, you can crop, rotate, and finally export your image in a number of different formats, including PNG, TIFF, and JPG. Seriously, freeware programs are rarely this delightful and easy to use—give it a shot if you have any need to scan oversize images.