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FAQ: How do scanners work and what do you need to do to get an optimum fabric scan for quilting software.


Expressive Quilters' Newsletter
Supporting The Expressive Quilter In Tradition, Innovation, Art & Computer Quilting

Part 1: What is a scanner and how does it do its magic?

Part 2: What you need to do to get an optimum fabric scan for quilting software!

by Sharla Hicks © 2001

PART 1: What is a scanner and how does it do its magic?

The scanner is a tool that allows you to take a picture that computer understands. Scanned images can be used as clipart, desktop wallpaper, watermarks, fabric in quilting software, instructions in class handouts, and many other wonderful ways.

The scanner uses a scanner interface program that directs you through the scanning process. In most cases the scanner interface must use another a secondary graphic program to complete its mission. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to the secondary program as the first destination graphic program.

The first destination graphic program takes the scanned image from the scanner interface software, creates a new window with the picture/scan and then you can perform tweaks like size, color, add special effects and other options.

The tweaked file is then saved and is ready to be imported into the final destination software like quilting software and desktop publishing programs like Word, Word Perfect, Word Start, Ventura, Publisher, and many more.

Scanners can interface with graphic programs like IrfanView (a freeware download available here on our website), Adobe Illustrator, Paint, CorelDraw, Corel Photo-Paint, PhotoPaint, Paint Shop Pro, Fireworks, or other graphic programs. Some are very sophisticated and do all kinds of manipulations -- others are simpler. IrfanView (a freeware available here on our website) is one such "destination" program that is simple and easier to use than most.

1. To setup your scanner interface so that it will interact with the first destination graphic program, look for something that says, Scan, Select Source, Select TWAIN or something along those lines. These options are usually found under the File Menu. The option called Twain refers to the drivers (software connectors) that allow the scanner interface program to talk to the first destination graphic program.

2. To scan the image into the first destination graphic programs look in the same place and find the option usually called AQUIRE. When you make the selection, it automatically open the scanner interface software.

3. In the Interface Scanner Software, select all options for the scanning. (See Part 2 below for scanning fabrics options.)

4. When the scan is complete, the software will import the scanned image to a NEW window in the first destination graphic program. Now the scanned image is ready for editing to a new size, color, add manipulations and special effect.

5. THEN save the tweaked scan in a format that the final destination program can use. (See Part 2 below for details on tweaking the scanned fabrics or other images.)

6. In order to use the tweaked scan that you have saved. Import it to the the final destination program. Final destination programs would be quilting software, e-mail, desktop publishing programs like Word, Word Perfect, Word Star, and Publisher and others. NOTE: Each program manual and the online help files will have instructions on how to import a file. To find the instructions, go to the Table of Contents, Index or Online Help Files and use Search.

Part 2: What you need to do to get an Optimum Fabric Scan for Quilting Software

  • Prepare your fabric by ironing all wrinkles out. Wrinkles do show!
    • Some suggest ironing your fabric to freezer paper for a very flat surface. Try with and without freezer paper and see which you like best.
  • Some suggest 3" x 3" is a good size, I think smaller works well too when the fabric repeat is smaller than 3".
    1. The suggested target pixel size of a finished scan is a maximum 100 - 200 pixels square/rectangle. The pixel size CAN BE LESS when the fabric repeat is smaller. Here are pixel to inch conversions:
      • 100 x 100 pixels = 1.4" square
      • 200 x 200 pixels = 2.78" square.
    2. With the above numbers, you can see why 3" x 3" square works & why I think less is a good choice when the fabric repeat is smaller than 3".
    3. AND you can see why a 10" piece of fabric that has to be resized down to 1.5" to .2.78" in the first destination graphic software and sometimes even in the original % reduction of a scan can create color and contrast distortions along with loss of detail.
    4. When you scan, carefully locate and target the repeat pattern in the fabric when possible, otherwise you will get repeat lines showing up when you paint the patch.
    5. NOTE: Scanning only the repeat section saves TIME. A small sized scan is much quicker than a larger sized scan!

On scanner settings, each is unique but here are some generalization that cut across the scanner world.

IMPORTANT: The more manipulation you can complete at the time of the scan the closer you will get to a quality fabric file for your quilting software without color and contrast distortion. If possible, select the Scanner Color Setting and Size option that matches the quilt software fabric library requirement (listed below and refer above.) REMEMBER: Doing a radical resizing of the scanned fabric image can and often does create distortions in color and contrast. Sometimes having to reduce the colors in the scan can do the same things. So I shot for the closest setting that match the requirements listed below.

Here are the quilting software file requirements for fabric libraries.

Note: In Electric Quilt, if the size is to large, you will get an error message of not found. In other programs if the file size is too large you only get a tiny section of the scanned fabric to show.

  • Electric Quilt 4, Quilt-Pro 2 & 3, and Creative Impulse:
    • Save image as a bitmap only with a file extensions of .bmp.
    • The bitmap itself can only be 256 colors.
    • The required optimum size is 100 x 100 pixels to 200 x 200 pixels or LESS.
  • PCQuilt:
    • Save image bitmap only with a file extensions of .bmp.
    • The bitmap itself can 16 million colors or less.
    • The optimum size is 100 x 100 pixels to 200 x 200 pixels or LESS.
    • PCQuilt can take your fabric scan from the Windows clipboard and resize it to fit the fabric palette this can save you a few steps. Try it out which technique you like, creating your own bitmaps or letting PCQuilt creates the fabric file.
  • QuiltSOFT:
    • Save image with any of the following extensions: pcx, dcx, bmp, dib, rle, eps, img, jpg, tga, tif, wmf, wpg
    • The image can be 16 million colors or less.
    • Optimum size: 100 x 100 pixels to 200 x 200 pixels or less.
  • Bargello Designer:
    • Optimum size: 100x 100 pixels to 200 x 200 pixels or less.
    • The image can be 16 million colors or less.
    • Save images with any of the following extensions: JPEG Format (*.jpg) (*.jff) Portable Network Graphics PNG format (*.png) TIFF Revision 6 (*.tif) Windows compatible Bitmap (*.bmp) (*.dib) Zsoft PCX (*.pcx) Truevision Targa (*.tga) Silicon Graphics image file(*.rgb;*.bw) Adobe PhotoShop Bitmap(*.psd) SUN Raster file (*.ras) Portable Pixmap (*.ppm) OS/2 Bitmap (*.bmp).
  • HINT: Do you see from the fabric file requirements above that many fabrics are interchangeable between programs? Simply copy one set of fabric files from one program library to another using Windows Explorer. Also FYI: Electric Quilt has produced a little program full of 3,000 or more fabric scans called Stash. There have been 3 Stash versions to date. more info here

Setup to use for scanner interface program:

1. Locate the color options: If the options are not apparent on the main screen, look under advanced options. Not all scanners allow this type of selection. If your scanner has options, you MAY see something like the following. NOTE: If the color requirement listed for quilting software is NOT listed as one of your Scanner Color Options (look under advanced), you will need to make the color change in the first destination graphic program!

Select one of the following:

  • TruColor RGB
  • TruColor CYM
  • 256 Colors (required by Electric Quilt 4, Quilt-Pro 2 & 3, and Creative Impulse 2000, see NOTE above)
  • Web Colors
  • 16 Million Colors

2. Do not scan too large of a size of fabric, resizing later can create color and contrast distortion problems. Remember, your finished imported scan will eventually be resized down to 100-200 pixels* max, so the smaller the section of fabric you can scan the better. (See above.)

NOTE: Preview scan. This allows you to scan a large piece of fabric and select the repeat section for the final scan in the preview window.

NOTE: If your finished fabric file is larger than 100-200 pixel recommendation, you may get a "not found error" in Electric Quilt. In other quilting software, you may not be able to see the fabric because the patch shows only a tiny portion of the fabric file.

3. If the fabric repeat section is larger than the pixel size listed in 2 (and it often is in large scale prints), then if possible, use the reduction options in the scanner, 10% - 50% depending on your scanner. Shot for the closest reduction % that will give you the optimum 100-200 pixel recommendation. Remember reducing the size in the original scan gives you a more realistic scan that requires less tweaking later. (See above.)

4. Select your DPI choice. Dots per inch refers to the number of dots used when doing a printout. I have found that using 150-300 DPI for the original scan gives me more detail and less loss when reducing down to the final size to the optimum 100-200 pixels.

  • Some quilt software manual recommend using 72 DPI. Remember DPI refers to the dots per inch used when doing a printout. On a computer monitor, 72 DPI looks good but VERY bad on a printer, so you may want to consider using the 150-300 DPI for printing purposes. The problem with the larger numbers is it makes for a larger file size on the scan and this can create slow downs when painting the fabrics in a patch.
  • Note: The speed of your paint tools (computer graphics) are dependent on RAM, speed of the computer processor and the quality of your graphic card. If you are having slow downs then shot for smaller file sizes with 72 DPI and smaller pixels sizes. A fabric that is less than 100 pixels works well also (good for small repeats like a solid with texture over the top.)

Conclusion: Now that you know the do's and don'ts for scanning fabric, do the following:

  1. Go to first destination graphic program (referred to in Part 1), and scan in your fabric and then tweak your fabric scan with the graphic program as needed to meet the requirements listed above.
  2. Then import your finished fabric file into your quilting software of choice. Each program manual and the online help files have instructions on how to import a fabric file. To find the instructions, go to the Table of Contents, Index or Online Help Files and use Search.

Other Scanning Information Resources found in Computer Quilting BYTES:

  • For more information on how to use IrfanView to convert fabric scans to useable bitmaps for quilting software, go to the demo download page and also go to the Dec. 99 article on IrfanView:
    Part 4: Tutorial Using Freeware IrfanView32 and Find:
    • What is IrfanView 32?
    • View your downloaded/scanned files.
    • Convert and resize multiple fabric images at the same time to 256 colors or less bitmaps.
    • Lighten a dark fabric image.
    • Tweak coloring of fabric image.
    • More Ideas on how to use the program.

For more FAQ's answered by Sharla Hicks go to:
Index to all Quilting Software Reviews, Articles, FAQs, and more