Some Tips on Scanning Lecture Notes

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.

Page Reordering

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.

3 thoughts on “Some Tips on Scanning Lecture Notes”

  1. Hi ,

    If you can type fast I would strongly suggest using OO on a laptop – did that during the time I studied for Eng. degree (in the second year I was typing math equations as fast as the lecutrer was writing on the wall).

    another good option shown by Guy’s hack (didn’t try that).

    p.s. would you like to share your notes ? (BY-CC etc)

  2. You’re the second person I ever heard of that did it. The first one I met few days ago and he did using MS Office. I wonder if anyone tried to do so with LyX… If I’ll here people found it convenient, I might even buy a laptop.

    Guy’s hack looks pretty cool. I think it useful if you’ve an organized lecturer. I wonder how those pictures will look on a Kindle… will it be readable?

    I’m pro sharing lecture notes, I’ve founded with couple of friends Sikumuna back in high-school. Regarding the specific these specific lecture notes, I doubt they will be useful to others as the course (Advanced Complexity, Prof. Muli Safra) was pretty disorganized and it reflects on the notes as well…

  3. Well , we had around 20 guys (and gals) doing so.
    from OO to Microsoft (none used lyx at our place), don’t buy a laptop just for that (as it will very expensive way to write lectures).

    Anyhow I had a project that provided our notes to deaf students – you will be amazed but not every deaf student will get a hearing person that will help him (even that he is intitled to have one)also many of us in B.Sc and needs lecture notes (when I did my final project in Linux kerenl I read a lot of notes from Muli and people from TAU).

    so it will be usfull

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