The new semester just begun, and I’ve decided (again) to try to digitize my notes from the courses I’ve studied. I’ve dubbed my hands at the task for several times over the years and I thought it would be nice to share my 2 cents worth of tips on how to do it properly.
Things You’ll Need
- A scanner with automatic document feeder (ADF). The ADF is really important, without it, scanning is a nightmare. If you don’t have one, get one (they’re really cheap). You’re office probably has one with duplex scanning which is even better.
- A good scanning software that support creating PDFs. I use XSane, the GUI isn’t great but it does the job. I’ve also tried Simple Scan, which didn’t work properly for me, and the default HP software for windows (I can’t describe a bigger bloatware).
- pdftk – A great program to manipulate PDFs.
The Scanning Process
There are three relevant scanning options in my opinion for hand-written notes:
- 300DPI gray-scale. This results in around 550kb for each page of notes. Quality is great, but sometimes you can see the writing on the other side of the page in a slight gray.
- 600DPI black and white. Quality is a bit lower than gray-scale, but the size is about half, just 200kb per page. It takes longer to scan, but an ADF usually means it’s not an issue.
- 300DBI BW. This will again reduce the size. But this time at a noticeable loss in quality. I recommend this only if file-size is your greatest concern.
In order to make the choice a bit less vague here are some example scanned pages: 300 Gray, 300 BW and 600 BW. The notes are written using a rollerball pen (pilot v-ball grip). Here is a another comparison, this time using a ballpoint (Fisher Space Pen). As you can see the quality difference is more pronounced in the ballpoint. Hence, if you want you’re scans to be smaller and keep the quallity, use a rollerball and 600dpi. If you use a ballpoint, pay the price and go for 300dpi grayscale. Also, stay away from blue pens, they are less readable in grayscale and might be unreadable at all in BW (I’ve tried to make some simple image manipulations to improve scanning blue-ink to black and white, which I have some improvements which hopefully I’ll release some time).
I’ll also use plain white paper intended for printers. I find it of higher quality (and cheaper) than ruled paper, and it results in better scans.
If you’ve a duplex scanner this tip isn’t for you. For the rest of us, the most convenient method to scan paper I found, is to make one scan for the odd pages and then take the pile flip and scan the even pages (back pages) from back to front (reverse order). Afterwards use pdftk to join them:
pdftk A=odd.pdf B=complexity-even.pdf shuffle A Bend-1 output final.pdf
Thats my 2 cents on scanning lecture notes. If you got other great tips, comment and share them.