5 Quick (or not) Uses for that Built-In Scanner

I’ll be honest.  I hardly ever use my scanner.  Back in the days before digital cameras were affordable and print photos had to be scanned, I might have.  Scanners were a separate piece of technology then, and they had to be plugged into the wall, then plugged into the computer.  As a child, those awful screw-in cables were horrible to manipulate, and I really wasn’t supposed to hook things up to the family PC anyway.  Needless to say, when I got my first all-in-one printer/scanner/copier, I was very excited–until I realized I already had a digital camera and no longer needed to scan in those photos.

So, I had to find other ways to make use of the scanner.  Here are a few suggestions for when you’re next debating whether you really need a scanner built into your home printer.

1.  You can scan more than just documents.

If you’re a graphic designer and you haven’t tried this, go try it.  Right now.  Well, maybe after you finish reading and leave me an awesome comment.  But seriously folks, try it!  It can be anything–a pen, a flower, or even water droplets.  Be careful with that last one though–it can be tricky to get the desired results, and you don’t want to electrocute yourself.  Also keep in mind that you are working on a very thin layer of very breakable glass, so be cautious if you are scanning heavy objects.

2.  Your scanner can save you typing time.

Let’s say your client just handed you an enormous stack of papers that need to be typed and posted online.  On one hand, you’re enthusiastic because it means a large paycheck, but on the other hand, you really don’t want to have to type all of that up.  Having a good scanner on your hands will allow you to scan the document in a high enough quality that third party software can recognize and convert each character into a letter, just as though you had typed it.  Then, all you have to do is proofread that text in your favorite word processing program.  You will be pleased because you get to eat that steak dinner with your family instead of living in front of your computer, and your client will appreciate the reduction in cost.  A win-win.

3.  Your scanner can help you save on postage.

We live in a digital age, and people want things instantly.  How do you manage that when you’re mailing off contracts and agreements to clients on the other side of the country?  Say someone needs your signature to run an ad RIGHT NOW.  They sent it to you in email and expect you to return the signed copy immediately.  With your all-in-one scanner/printer/copier, you can print the form out, sign it, scan it, and send it back–immediately.  (Or you could use Photoshop and your shiny new drawing tablet and achieve the same results without the middleman.)

4.  It makes a very convenient file folder or paper flattener.

When I travel for my event photography, my all-in-one printer comes with me.  Because regular folders, binders, or portfolios have more freedom to shuffle around during travel, I find that the safest place in my vehicle for papers I don’t want to get bent is in the scanner.  The printer can sit on the floor and fits snugly under the seats.  It also works quite well for straightening out pre-bent papers without the need for a stack of books on the kitchen table.

5.  It might make you rich.

Last but not least, when you finally decide you don’t want it anymore–keep it in the attic and wait fifty years until it becomes an antique piece of outdated technology and is worth $20k.

Ever scanned a prism?  Neither have I, nor do I have one to experiment with.  But, if you happen to have one and are willing to give it a go, post a comment with a link to your results!

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Why All Photographers Should Have a Drawing Tablet

“But I’m a photographer, not an illustrator.  Why do I need a drawing tablet?”

Driving home from our most recent horse show, I began making a mental to-do list in response to the requests we’d gotten from our photo customers at the show.  There were a number of people that had requested we edit photos–whether it be for background replacements, ear fixes, or even removal of that unsightly RESTROOMS sign whose position in a number of our photos was unfortunate and unavoidable.  As I was making my list, it suddenly occurred to me that I would be in a lot of trouble if I were ever without my drawing tablet.

You see, I am a graphic designer.  I spent four years in college and my family spent a great deal of money so that I could become a graphic designer.  I purchased a drawing tablet because, for a graphic designer, it is a necessity–or so I was told.  In reality, the only time I ever seemed to use that tablet was for creating floral ornaments in Illustrator or for drawing the nifty little cartoon I left in the back of my final portfolio for my professor to find at the conclusion of my second year.  It seemed to have few applicable uses other than to impress my classmates–for a few minutes, anyway.  Nowadays, however, I find myself reaching for that sturdy little black board more often than not–and its uses are becoming more and more obvious every day.

Correcting manes and tails (or hair!)

Honestly, I don’t know how people with just a mouse do it.  When I am doing a background replacement, it would take me ages to cut out a horse’s mane or tail with enough detail to look as though the photo was unaltered.  And, if I didn’t want to take the time to cut out each and every strand, instead opting to cut at a straight line and then extend the color of the tail with the brush tool in Photoshop, it would take me just as long to finish the task.  With a mouse, in order to create the realistic impression that a horse’s tail thins out at the bottom, the user would have to manually adjust the opacity of the brush for each series of brush strokes.  This means starting at 100% opacity where the tail is thickest, moving to 75% or 50% when it is beginning to thin out, and progressively going lower until the desired look is achieved.  I can’t even imagine trying to use a trackpad.

No thank you!

But…with my trusty little Wacom tablet, I can tell Photoshop to base the opacity and stroke thickness on the amount of pressure I use when drawing with the pen.  It’s just like using a real pencil.  You press more lightly to achieve lighter strokes, and press harder to achieve darker strokes.  Using the pen also allows for a lot more control when it comes to directing each section of hair to the right place.

Using a tablet yields more realistic hair and fur.
Using a tablet yields more realistic hair and fur.

More control when editing in confined spaces

Let’s face it–you have that perfect shot lined up and ready to go–and the horse won’t put his ears up.  You spend a good half hour crinkling plastic, flashing a pocket mirror, switching your cigarette lighter on and off, but to no avail.  What do you do?  You can’t in good conscience continue to stand there, charging your client hourly, until the horse decides to help out.  Nor can you spend so much time waiting on one exhibitor’s horse at that show and miss photographing all the others as a result.  This is where Photoshop comes in.  You simply find a set of “good” ears, and place them on top of the “bad” ears.  But to be able to clone out the “bad” ears well enough that the client can’t tell they were ever there takes some finagling, and your mouse (or, heaven forbid, trackpad) are difficult to maneuver, even when zoomed in.

Thankfully, you just purchased that new Wacom and are ready to learn how to use it.

Shrink your brush size, reduce the hardness percentage of your brush, and check pressure sensitivity.  You’re golden!

Using a mouse to correct small spaces such as those around the ears can prove difficult and time consuming.
Relying on a mouse to correct small spaces such as those around the ears can prove difficult and time consuming.

Digitally sign your work

Just try writing your signature with a mouse.  I won’t need to explain.

Having the ability to sign your work adds a personal touch and can increase the value of your piece.
Having the ability to sign your work adds a personal touch and can increase the value of your piece.

Using a pen is more comfortable

I know from personal experience that after a while it becomes painful to keep clicking a mouse button.  For me, using the pen feels more natural, and is comfortable enough to use that I can continue to edit photos for several hours without taking much of a break.  If you are prone to repetitive motion injuries, consider purchasing a tablet.  While it is suffice to say that making the same motions repeatedly with a pen could also cause repetitive motion injuries, I find that having the ability to rotate between a mouse, a trackpad, and a pen has helped my hands remain pain-free.

Rotating between a mouse and a pen can help alleviate repetitive motion pain.
Rotating between a mouse and a pen can help alleviate repetitive motion pain.

How do you use your drawing tablet?  How often do you use it?  Tell us about it!  Leave a comment!