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Scannograms! (New Technologies).

Combine a computer, a scanner, Graphics software, and imaginative art students, and you have the makings for a Scannogram! Scannograms are a type of digital artwork created by arranging lightweight but interesting found objects into a formal composition directly on the bed of the scanner. The resultant scanned image is essentially a photograph, if left untouched. If students manipulate the image using the three basic graphics software techniques of Cut, Copy/Paste, and Transform, then the scannogram is transformed into digital art.

* CUT: Subtract parts of the image, leaving either a color or an empty space behind.

* COPY/PASTE: Copy part of the original image into memory, and then place it directly onto a new part of the image, overlapping existing elements. Parts of one image can be carried over and pasted on another.

* TRANSFORM: Manipulate and/or change characteristics of part of or the entire image (color, scale, texture, etc.) Adobe Photoshop filters are good examples of this operation.

Assessing computer art requires a clear objective, though that objective can be formal, expressive, representational, or functional. The specific scannogram assignment described here has an expressive objective. Students must demonstrate creativity and technical skill using hardware and software to clearly express their ideas in a unique and appropriate manner.

Scannogram Self-Portraits

A group of college art students in an introductory computer graphics class carried out this art project, but the skills and objectives are appropriate for high school students as well, as long as they have a beginner's familiarity with computer graphics and formal composition. For this assignment, students used Macintosh G3 computers, Adobe Photoshop software with a ScanWizard import utility, a Microtek scanner, and an Epson 400 color bubble jet printer (students can use any version of these items).

Considering the World of Art

To begin, students consider the art of Rene Magritte, Frida Kahlo, and Audrey Flack. They learn how those artists made use of symbolism and iconography. Ask students to name some objects that you could hold in your hand, that represent who you are, your personality, your likes and dislikes. As a take-home assignment, to answer this question, students fill a shoebox with several items they named. Selected items either serve as symbols for students or are part of an expressive theme that represents them. Some guidelines should be established for these objects, dictating weight and appropriateness, but what they choose should be left as open as possible.

Starting with Thumbnails

With their objects laid out before them, students create quick thumbnail sketches on paper for their arrangements. They should stress formal composition and expression in their sketches. The sketches reduce the time it takes individual students to make their scans.

Scanning the Images

Next, students create the initial scanned image. Students may need to be briefly trained in how to use the scanning software. All scans should be made at 24 bits or "Sharp, Millions of Colors" to capture the subtleties of their objects. Images should be saved initially in the format of the graphics software, but then changed to JPEG format to support transferring the files from computer to computer.

Determine the size of the initial image prior to scanning. A good recommendation is a resolution of 150 dots per inch (dpi) and a print size no larger than 8 x 10 1/2" (20 x 27 cm). This balances resolution, print size, and the storage limitations your class may have in your lab.

Protect the scanner beds from scratches. Lay sheets of transparency film or a thin sheet of Plexiglas directly on the scanner bed to do this. Non-glare materials are best. Also, use knick-knacks and sheets of fabric to "fill-out" a student's arrangement.

Students take turns to set up their arrangements and scan them; teams of two generally work well. Time permitting, students should try different arrangements and positions of objects, making multiple scans to choose from later. Students can even lay their own face or hands on the scanner bed if they are careful not to apply too much weight, and to keep their eyes closed.

Manipulating the Scans

Using Zip disks, students take their initial scans to individual computers and open them in Adobe Photoshop. Make a duplicate file of the original scanned image to protect and save the original for reference or to start over. Using the duplicate files, manipulate colors and textures, alter the shape and scale of objects, or copy and paste new elements into the image. This reflects different sides of a student's personality with expressive effects and symbolism. It will require a great deal of experimentation and a serious use of the command-Z buttons on the keyboard. Advanced users will take advantage of the History option Photoshop 5 provides. (Command-Z reverts the image back to how it was before the last command. History allows you to revert the image back to a point farther back.)

In the end, students choose a final version of their manipulated scan that has strong formal composition and effectively expresses who they are. This is presented to the class for critique and discussion. Students either print the final image or display it on a monitor.


Scannograms can be used to address a great range of artistic content, ideas, and themes. The project's real strength is that the students must think, choose subjects, physically manipulate them on the scanner bed, then manipulate the scanned image based on an artistic objective, not necessarily a technical one. All this requires expressive and formal design skills on the part of students. It reinforces the idea of the computer as an artistic medium, not just a gimmick.

Scannograms are flexible in the hardware and software they require. Essentially all that is needed is a computer, a scanner, graphics software, and a printer. There is always a compromise to balance the cost of equipment/software and the quality of things they produce. A low-end ink jet printer will get the job done at the expense of fine detail. Gloss or matte photo paper with a 600 dpi bubble jet printer would be the ideal output medium for computer graphics with photographic elements. But, laser printers using quality paper will also provide an excellent result. The cost of other quality printers generally prevents them from being accessible except to graphic design firms and universities.

Teachers can also take the purist approach and not make hard copies of scannograms at all. As digital art, the version viewed on the computer screen is basically the "true" art, uncorrupted by printing heads and paper fibers. The image would be viewed as the programmers intended, numeric representations of colored squares arranged in grids.


Scannograms are a simple application of computers and computer equipment as artistic media. They do not require high levels of technical skill and computer-know-how, but they do require that the teacher embrace the unique qualities of digital art. With this project's emphasized skills, it serves as a good introduction to digital art.


Students apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.

Michael Prater and Mark Sawrie teach at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
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Title Annotation:making digital artwork using a scanner
Author:Sawrie, Mark
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Previous Article:ArtEd online.
Next Article:Memories & images.

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