Introduction: Bargain-Price Book Scanner From a Cardboard Box.

Picture of Bargain-Price Book Scanner From a Cardboard Box.

Who doesn't want access to their books, notebooks, magazines, class notes, and other stuff everywhere, all the time? The thing is that often these things are a pain to scan. I have a really good solution for that, but it's expensive and can take a whole weekend to build. How do you scan a book, magazine or notebook when you have no money, one camera, and just a little time? Matti and I show you how:

(PDF version here)

Step 1: Reasons You Might Want To....

Picture of Reasons You Might Want To....

BEFORE WE BEGIN... Reasons you might want to do this include the following:

  1.  You need to scan something, fast, but it doesn't scan easily.
  2.  You don't want to build an entire DIY Book Scanner.
  3.  You don't want to waste your time with a flatbed scanner.
  4.  You have only one camera.
  5.  You might not have a lot of tools or experience.
  6.  You want digital copies of your books or notebooks.

ALSO... We've done this book scanning Instructable thing before. And answered many questions in the comments! And we love you guys completely, but sometimes (well, actually, all the time) we get the same questions over and over! So we've compiled a Fairly Annoying Questions (FAQ) Here are some answers before we get started!

1. Why not just take a picture with the book on the table. 

  1. Why don't you. ;)
  2. Your camera doesn't have enough resolution for two pages.
  3. The distorted pages are not fun to read onscreen.
  4.  Lighting is inconsistent.
  5.  Cameras cast shadows. You cast shadows.

2. Why use a camera instead of a flatbed scanner?

  1.  Pressing a book on the scanner breaks the binding.
  2.  Flatbed scanners are slow.
  3.  You need to reposition the book for every page.
  4.  Flatbed scanners are slooooooow.
  5.  Sloooooooowwwwwnesssssss.

3. Why not use a sheet-feed scanner like the ScanSnap?

  1.  I don't like sawing the bindings off my books.
  2.  A small part of me dies when I destroy a book.
  3.  I don't have a tablesaw.
  4.  I'm not willing to spend ~$500 just to destroy a book.

4. Can't I use a webcam?

  1.  No.


Step 2: Materials!

Picture of Materials!
OK, sorry about that. Now, let's get on to what you need.


  1. Book.
  2. Box.
  3. Knife.
  4. Duct tape.
  5. Pencil/Marker
  6. Glass.
  7. Lamp.
  8. Tripod (not pictured)

Step 3: How to Obtain Said Materials.

Picture of How to Obtain Said Materials.

Where to get boxes:
  1. Dumpsters (we found great boxes from a comic book store). 
  2. Fast food places. 
  3. Grocery stores. 
  4. Bookstores. 
  5. Cardboard Recycling Dumpsters.
  6. College campuses.
 Where to get glass: 
  1.  Hardware stores sell glass called "double strength". They cut it for you and it's cheap. $2 or $3 a sheet! Get one that's bigger than your book.
  2.  Rip apart your worthless, laggard flatbed scanner and take the glass out. That's what we did.
Where to get the tape, knife, pencil, lamp, tripod...? Well, we trust that you can find these on your own.


Picture of CUT THE BOX MAN!

Find a box that is roughly this shape. We got this box from a comic book shop. It's nearly perfect.  7x14x10.5". Box size really isn't that critical but after cutting ~10 boxes this one seemed to work best. Of course, you could make your own box.

Tape the box completely shut (we neglected to do this starting out; learn from our mistakes!)

Take your piece of glass and use it as a ruler to mark the diagonal line from corner to corner.

Cut across the diagonal.

Do the same thing on the other side.

If there are any remaining parts of the box hanging free, tape 'em up. If you taped your box completely shut at the beginning, you shouldn't have these kinds of problems.



Unfold the box so you have two wedges.

Good job so far. Question: What are you scanning?

If the thing you are scanning is very thin, like a magazine or composition book or lab notebook, leave the two wedges connected. Same if it is a spiral-bound notebook. These things all work well without further cutting. If the diagonal you cut across was not square, however, you might want to cut anyway. Like in our case, because the angles weren't equal, we had to flip one of the wedges around.




 If the thing you are scanning is a book with a wide spine, you will definitely need to cut the two wedges apart. Remember to flip one around so they are facing opposite each other.

Take one wedge, and tape it to the table, first on the inside edge, and then on the back edge. 

Set the book between the two wedges. Move the remaining free wedge up against the spine of your book. 

Remove the book. 

Tape the wedge in place. 

CONGRATULATIONS! You now have a handy book cradle that makes scanning easy and consistent. 


Picture of LIGHTING

OK, now for some lighting. You want your camera to be taking pictures nice and quick, so you need to give it plenty of light. We used a simple desk lamp. $3.99 at Savers, a local thrift store. Though this is not the world's most even or perfect light, it is GOOD ENOUGH and, most importantly, the camera has a white balance setting for it (called "Incandescent" -- set your WB to incandescent, PLZ!). Doing so ensures the colors come out perfectly. Consult the manual for your camera for instructions.

After you set up your camera in the next step, you may have to adjust your lamp because it will show up as a reflection in the glass. It's easy, just move it up or down to get it out of the picture. But you can't do it until we set up the camera, so... let's set up the camera!


Picture of CAMERA SETUP.

Here's the thing. You need a camera to look at your stuff and take pictures. And I guess you could hold it in your hands, but the shake, moving position, and so on would reall complicate the post-processing of your images. What you need is a stand to put your camera on. We used a tripod, but of course you don't really need a tripod. In fact, there are dozens of tripod-like objects on Instructables. If you don't have a tripod, check 'em out.

Ideally, you want your camera to be facing the page so that the screen on the back of the camera is parallel to the page. If things are straight-on, there is less correction to do in software. It's worth playing around a bit to get your camera perfectly positioned. Once you have it set up, you might find, as we did, that it's ready to fall over! In this case, tape the back leg of the tripod to your table.

Step 9: SHOOT!

Picture of SHOOT!

This part is easy. From the previous step, you should have ensured that you have some slop aroud the image of the page you are interested. This allows you to crop later, which is especially important if it is a thick book or magazine.

The way we prefer to do this is to shoot all the right-side pages first, and all the left-side pages second. Shooting all the pages this way simplifies post-processing later.

Below, you can see Matti shooting all the right-side pages of a book. He places the glass, presses the shutter button, replaces the glass, presses the shutter button... ad nauseam. Do this until you have reached the end of whatever you are interested in scanning.

Then flip the book.

Continue as before, but now shooting all the left-side pages.

Step 10: Post Processing

Picture of Post Processing
There are two ways we can post-process these images before we make a PDF out of them:

The Lazy Way
Open up your favorite editor and rotate all of those images so they're the right way up :(

Or you can use some software Matti wrote to batch rotate them for you:
  • If you followed our instructions and took pictures of the right-hand side of the book all the way to the end, then flipped the book and took all the left-side pictures:
RotateAll.exe (Source code) will rotate the first half of the images clockwise, the second half counter-clockwise.
  • If you didn't use a tripod and instead took pictures of each page, alternating right then left, starting with the right-hand side of the book:
RotateEveryOther.exe (Source code) will rotate every other image clockwise, the remaining counter-clockwise.

To use these programs, just drag and drop a folder containing your images onto the .exe file of your choice, the program will automatically rotate your images and save them as 00001.jpg, etc. in the same folder as your images.

Make sure the (alphabetically) first image (RotateEveryOther) or set of images (RotateAll) is/are the right-hand side page, otherwise your images will be rotated wrong...

If you follow this procedure, your resulting images will be something like this: 

The Better Way
Over on the DIY Book Scannerforums, we prefer to use Scan tailor.

Scan Tailor was originally written by Joseph Artsimovich for processing scanned-in books from flatbed scanners; it does a wonderful job of automatically finding the content of the pages and generally makes them look a lot better than the original camera shots.

Following our directions, your images will be out of order (all right-hand pages first, then all left-hand pages.) It'd be a pain to rename all of these so they were in the right order, so Matti wrote a little utility to copy/rename all the images:

RenameAll.exe(Source code) copies and renames the first half of the images 000001-a.jpg, etc. then the second half 000001-b.jpg, etc.

To use this program, just drag and drop the folder containing your images onto the RenameAll.exe file, and the images will be copied and renamed into the same folder.

Using Scan Tailor
When you load up the Scan Tailor program, you'll want to create a new project, and then select the directory containing all of your images as the input directory, and some other (empty) directory for your output directory.

When the "Fix DPI" window pops op, select All Pages, change the DPI to 300 x 300, hit Apply, then OK.

Now we're in the main window. On the right you'll see the task list:
  Fix Orientation
  Split Pages (optional)
  Deskew (optional)
  Select Content
  Page Layout (optional)

At the bare minimum, you need to fix the orientations of the images, select the content boxes, (skipping split pages and deskew) then output the processed images.

After rotating the on-screen image to the correct orientation, use the "Apply to..." button and select how you'd like to fix the other images in the project. Use "Apply to..."->"This page and the following ones" if your images are all right-hand pages, then all left-hand pages. Use "Apply to..."->"Every other page" if your images are sequential pages.

In the "Select Content" tab, first hit the little arrow to automatically detect each page, then quickly scroll through each image to make sure the box is the right size in each image.

Finally, select the "Output" tab, and deselect the "despeckle" option, and hit "Apply to.."->"Every page". Hit the little arrow, and Scan Tailor will save all the nice, crisp output images to the output directory you specified.

Now you have all your pages ready to be turned into a PDF, or you could put the pictures into a zip file.

Your output will look something like this: 

Step 11: PDF Creation

Picture of PDF Creation

PDFcreator is one of many free programs that sets up a virtual "PDF printer" that makes it possible to print any document from any program to a pdf document.

After installing PDFcreator or any other virtual PDF printer, view the images in Windows Viewer (or any other application that'll let you print all the images at once) and select the print button. You'll then be able to select all images and print them. Select the PDF printer and out pops a PDF file!

Good luck and Happy Scanning from myself and Matti Kariluoma!


DavideR20 (author)2017-06-06

I'm currently scanning a rare book (only one library in my entire region have it O.o) and it works perfectly, thanks! For pictures I'm using a Galaxy S6 and for processing CamScan works great! Thanks again from Italy ;)

TinkeringProductions made it! (author)2017-02-10

Thanks for the great instrucable. I ended up using adobe lightroom for the image processing. It worked like a charm.

DáithíC (author)2016-10-20

I've been using one camera on a tripod with no close up lighting. I do it during the day and I have a daylight bulb. Shadows don't seem to be a problem though the lamp would probably help. But I would use a daylight bulb rather than those old yellow ones. Not sure if that would make much of a difference but I'm guessing it would.

I use Scan Tailor for post processing.

What I got was a fairly decent PDF of a relatively rare book that is not cheap to get second hand online.

I think for me the biggest thing is reducing page curvature. I could just try placing a piece of perspex flat down on the book...

Using one camera on each side would take too long and Scan Tailor works only on pictures with two pages in them.

brike2001 (author)2016-09-10

Nice idea. I was doing it already, but I never thought about the light above the book to minimize or eliminate the shadow caused by the camera and the tripod. Thank you.

AnastesM (author)2016-04-10

how much pages i can scan and post-process with this method in a day?

MarcioWilges (author)2015-09-23

This sounds like a crazy and mad idea! I would probably be better off moving the book to a professional copier and paying the copy fees!

manuzio (author)2015-07-02

This looked very nice, but the OCR quality turned out to be terrible. For ebooking purposes this is probably useless. If you just want a PDF image, on the other hand, this should work.

neutronbomb (author)2013-11-19

Lesson learned.. Turn off the time stamp on your camera before taking photos of 224 pages!

mtdna (author)neutronbomb2015-05-10

"Doh!" - Homer Simpson

ivmilicevic (author)2015-02-04

is anyone using this to scan glossy magazines? One part of the page is blown with higlights, almost white and bottom is dark. Did enyone else had this problem?

ChuckinWA made it! (author)2014-07-07

I constructed the box base scan bed as instructed and it works as described. I have an issue I'd like advice about if possible. I've been scanning my grandmothers sewing publications for archiving. As the example shows, I've have a reflection on the bottom edge of the picture (it's been rotated) that I haven't been able to eliminate. I've repositioned the light source and also tried putting spacers under the center of the box's hinge point to change the angle from about 90 degrees to something larger. These changes haven't eliminated the reflection. Moving the book higher on the box to avoid the hinge point does work, but that takes away the efficiency in this design when scanning multiple pages.

lrockwell1 (author)2014-03-31

Just made one of these and am currently using it to scan some awesome antique science books. Thanks for the ible!

daniel_reetz (author)lrockwell12014-03-31

Nice! If you want to expand it, or explore other book scanning stuff, join us at .

garfieldnate (author)2013-12-03

Thanks for this! Some notes- you can go with a bigger piece of glass (mine was 12x15), but your wrist will get tired of holding it. Turn the pages away from the camera so that you can have an efficient circular motion throughout the scanning process. Don't move the book between pictures! It will make cropping the pictures with ScanTailor way easier later.
Also, ScanTailor is very neat, though I have trouble with it always running out of memory on certain pictures. The dewarping facility was useful because I didn't get a proper straight-ahead shot of the pages.

jacksonhokanson (author)2013-08-16

I'm having a problem getting the rename and rotate all program to work correctly. When it runs in the DOS shell it indicates that it went thru all of the files and renamed them all, but when I actually open the file it only finished half the job. Any ideas???

contactscolored (author)2013-04-04

that looks AWESOME, Where did the idea come from?

prawnonly (author)2013-04-02

I also looking for similar solution.
But it seems that some company came out with XCANEX.
Checked its video and it look cheaper.
ANyone tried it??

ecz (author)2013-03-12

I'd been looking for a solution to this; too many books and no kindle versions. So far this seems to be an outstanding solution, with detailed help every step of the way.

Thank You!

JensonBut (author)2013-01-25

tooo awesome!

sdfsger (author)2012-12-17

Is a very good website, Yes, for I have a lot of help, thank you!!!!!!
I would recommend to my friends.

The recommendation of a friend professional Graphic Converter! really good and I like it very much, I save a lot of time. To try his

leonaleonard (author)2012-03-23

I tried the Scan Tailor and it won't process jpg files. Anyone having the same problem? (I convert to tiff , it worked but would rather have the jpg files and save a step). By the way, thank you so much for the instruction for the book scanner, I am in the process of learning how to set it up and actually have a book in pdf.

zwheel (author)2012-03-13

I wonder how this would work...

Skip the tripod
Get 2 lamps instead of one (With the bendy arm just like in your example)
Remove the light from one of the lamps and attach the camera to that.

chakkers (author)2011-08-16

Another cheap alternative for buying a glass sheet are clip frames. You can usually find those in cheap, or poundland type shops in the UK anyways.

monkban (author)2010-11-10

So what do you do with a paperback book you want to copy that does not open up nicely as hardback books do? Meaning -- if I put a new paperback book in the box-wedge and open to the page I want to copy, the book simply closes. Any thoughts? Thanks.

monkban (author)monkban2011-02-26

Wondering if anyone had any thoughts yet on how to handle a paperback book with the problems described in my first post (above) about book not lying flat. Thanks!

darthmullet (author)monkban2011-04-05

maybe two pieces of glass?

fire bat (author)2011-02-11

This is an amazing prodject. i was in a bind (no pun here) the other day. my backpack literally broke under the weight of my engineering texts. i built this in 10 mins, and now all i bring to class is a laptop and a note book. you guys are a life saver. 5 stars here!

daniel_reetz (author)fire bat2011-02-11

Awesome. If you ever get a chance, drop by and share a picture of your setup!

robbtoberfest (author)2011-01-21

I started this today, (great instructable) and have some questions. How do you consolidate all the separate pdf pages into a "book" to load to the ereader? Is there another program to make a large pdf or epub file? I haven't bought an ereader yet, but plan to soon. I have a 1200 page vegetation ID reference book, plus a few others that I'd like to convert so I can lighten my backpack.

Robbtoberfest, you should really join us over at In particular, check out the "software" forum and the "new standard scanner" build thread to see some modern improvements. This instructable, though great, is outdated and we have lot of improvements over on the forums.

Will do, thanks much.

Need2Relax (author)2010-10-12

Mac Users can do the same "print to PDF" thing, but it is already built into the Mac OS X. View all those images in any application, then print. Note the "PDF" button at the lower left corner of the print dialog box, and use it to print to a PDF file instead of whatever printer is selected.

synthetase (author)Need2Relax2011-01-11

10.6 and possibly 10.5 allows you to create multi-page pdfs simply by copying all the files in finder and pasting them in preview.

daniel_reetz (author)Need2Relax2010-11-14

Thanks for the tips!

wnnorton (author)2010-12-27

Some cameras have the ability to "lock" the focus and exposure settings, allowing a much quicker recovery and re-shoot. With a static setup such as this, it should prove quite useful.

bluefly1215 (author)2010-12-03

Very nice, this would work great with old books that are falling apart. It also would come in handy for keeping a documented copy of important items such as genealogy, baby books, scrapbook pages, wills... I could go on but I think you get the idea. I have taken photo's and made them into phish, not fun with old books, some over 100 years old. This gives the book some support without cracking the old spine and the camera is parallel to the page.

CyborgGold (author)2010-09-22

Um... correct me if I am wrong.... but I believe a camera should be on the things needed list... just saying ;) Maybe you know some magic trick that I have yet to learn :P

daniel_reetz (author)CyborgGold2010-11-14

Good point, we thought it was implied. I'll change it someday.

D00M99 (author)2010-10-15

I may or may not do this project, but one thing is for sure;

daniel_reetz (author)D00M992010-10-16

You're welcome! Matti did most of the work for the small programs, and Scan Tailor was done by Joseph Artsimovich. I am just the camera/scanner guy. :)

Need2Relax (author)2010-10-12

Mac users can use the shareware GraphicConverter. If you pay the shareware fee that unlocks batch processing.Opens almost any format of graphic, and saves in almost any graphic format. Also great for cropping & adjusting. The batch processing is a wonderful thing.

ezuk (author)2010-09-19

This is a _superb_ 'ible. There aren't many ebooks in my language, and being able to convert my own books (that I've bought and paid for) to read on my e-reader is _awesome_. Thank you so much!

daniel_reetz (author)ezuk2010-09-19

You're very welcome. Feel free to join us at the DIY Book Scanner forum if you run into any trouble along the way.

Servelan (author)2010-09-17

Totally cool...I've got all the raw materials for this. I agree with you totally about banging up books, and sometimes, magazines, depending on how they are bound, are just as much a problem [think National Geographics and the like] to scan.

daniel_reetz (author)Servelan2010-09-18

Awesome. Looking forward to seeing your results... and all your questions are probably answered over at :)

adeolatigerboy (author)2010-05-29

My younger one has a project like this in mind. He wants to build a portable scanner in a box. To do that the camera has to be situated in the box. Is this possible with the steps above.

JJJM (author)2010-05-04

Hello, I am just giving my first steps into scanning books and this has been very helpful, specially the Q&A section at the beginning.

My goal is not only to have a pdf but a text document which is more useful for ereaders. So far, with my short experience I have two questions for you:

* Do you get good pdf quality which can be converted into text witha high success rate?

* In my opinion lighting is one of the keys? How could we improve it to have a better scanning? Fluorescent or halogen do any better?

Thanks again.

mguima (author)2010-03-29

 Freeware Irfanview has plenty of features to process several pages: cropping, rotating, color enhancing (auto or user-defined),resolution changing, etc.

mguima (author)2010-03-29

I would give a try to a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp), instead of the incandescent one.

LimbusFarm (author)2010-01-18

I've been having an issue running the RenameAll.exe file. It will consistently lock up after ~90 images and Windows will close the program. Is anyone else having this issue or can see the issue in the code? Thanks.

About This Instructable




Bio: Hacker, Artist, Researcher, and founder of the community.
More by daniel_reetz:MacGyver a Welding Helmet to View the Solar EclipseBargain-Price Book Scanner From A Cardboard Box.DIY Camera Array 2: Computational Refocusing With Just One Camera
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