The following article was originally published in the December 2002 issue of the newsletter of the Metal Arts Society of Southern California (MASSC).

 

Scanning Jewelry

Life is good. Why? Because I finally have a way to easily and quickly make photographic images of just about every piece of jewelry I make. These images are used for sales, archival, and reference purposes.


The next time a client halfway across the country asks me to make a pendant to match her earrings made of, say, citrine and dinosaur bone, I can meet her request. There is no more, "Gee, was it the grayish dinosaur bone with the tight pattern or the reddish with the yellow spots?" Perhaps I want to email some pictures of unset cabochons to a prospective client to let her see if that turquoise is the shade of blue that she wants. And I now have a web site with images that I can easily change as items sell. How is this done? What is this new miracle device? I use my scanner.


The difficulty of photographing jewelry is matched only by its importance. Often it is more important simply to have any image than to have that perfect image. The images I have created with my scanner are nothing that I would consider using for a full-page ad in a glossy magazine. But for the reasons stated above, scanning has solved a major problem for me. Juries and publishers still require slides, so there’s absolutely still a place for professional photographs. But more often than not, I am in too much of a hurry to send new pieces off to my galleries to take the time to get them photographed. I’m now also starting to hear about show juries and galleries that will accept digital images, and I expect this trend to continue.


Admittedly, this method won’t work for everything. The scanner’s optics only has about 3/4" depth of field, so those of you who make deeply three-dimensional jewelry might not be able to use this method. You are also limited to merely laying the pieces flat on the scanner bed, so elaborate setups are not feasible. Testing several types of scanners, I found that they all work about the same, with one exception. I have limited desktop space, so the compact Canoscan scanners were attractive - just over 1" thick and hot-pluggable with USB connections. I looked at the Canoscan as being something I could store under my desk and just plug in when I needed it. I bought one for about $100, only to find that it can really only "see" 2-D objects. Its depth of field appears to be only about 1/4" or less. So I returned it to the store and exchanged it for the $79 Umax that has been working fine for me ever since.
The problem with shopping for scanners is that virtually none of them can be tested in the store. Stores may have one scanner connected and set up for testing, but most stores have nothing at all. I had previously tried out an older Hewlett-Packard scanner, which probably cost around $200 new, at a previous employer. This scanner worked fine and made great images of my jewelry. I tried out my brother’s $300 Epson scanner, which also worked fine. After my experience with the Canoscan, I decided if I had to test-drive each scanner, I would start with the cheapest and work my way up until I found one that did what I needed.


It is my impression that more expensive scanners will only give you faster scans – at least until you get up into the scanners costing over $1000. There has got to be some reason those scanners are so expensive (probably much faster and with much higher resolution), but I have no first-hand experience with these types of scanners.


The process is simple, and any of you out there who already have a scanner should at least give it a try. I lay the jewelry face down directly on the scanner’s glass and close the lid, propping it up with something so the lid is not resting on the jewelry. I experimented with draping black cloth over the entire scanner to block any light leaking in from outside, but I found this to be totally unnecessary. I’ve recently constructed a box out of foam core that fits over the scanner surface, so I can just leave the lid up when I scan. A shoebox lid would probably work just as well. Pay attention to the color of the inside of whatever box you use, since that will be the background color of the resulting image. My preference is white. To save time, I usually lay out several pieces on the scanner and scan them all at once. You can then cut them up and save them as individual images with a graphics-editing program (I use Photoshop). I scan at a relatively high resolution (300 dpi or higher) and I do some slight image editing with Photoshop (I adjust the contrast and clean up any dust spots). It’s also possible to clean up any bad reflections or flares that sometimes occur where the metal actually touches the glass. I resist the temptation to overly enhance the colors of my stones, since I don’t want the image to look better than the actual piece. After that’s done, I save the image as a Photoshop file, not a jpg, since jpg is a compression format that causes the image to lose some detail. This results in a pretty large file, but you can always convert it to a jpg later when you need to reduce the file size for web use or email. Like most things, there is a bit of a learning curve with Photoshop and even though the overall scanning process is simple, there is a lot that can be done with the resulting images using this incredibly complex and powerful program. Take a look at my web site (www.billgallagher.net). All jewelry images were made with my scanner. I am NOT a Photoshop expert. I took a web design class at a local community college, which included some basic image-editing techniques. I have a friend who is a Photoshop expert, however, and he informs me that there is still more that can be done to further improve the clarity of my images. I’ll incorporate these techniques in the future. Meanwhile, the images that can be created are clear, well lit, and readable, if not particularly dramatic. My original goal was to use these images for the web, not print, so super-high resolution is not an issue. I have, on occasion, printed my original, uncompressed scans and the results are perfectly usable for flyers, etc.


So to those of you who do flattish, primarily two-dimensional jewelry, especially with stones or enamels, I suggest you consider a scanner as an alternative to, or to augment, traditional photography as a way to document the things you make.


Bill Gallagher