DIY High-Speed Book Scanner from Trash and Cheap Cameras

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I love books. There is some truly fantastic knowledge and information hidden out there in hard to find, rare, and not commercially viable books. I find that I want my books with me everywhere. But that's where the problems begin. Buying, moving, storing, and preserving books means environmental costs... and when I loan a book to a friend, I no longer have access to it.

Digital books change the landscape . After suffering through scanning many of my old, rare, and government issue books, I decided to create a book scanner that anybody could make, for around $300. And that's what this instructable is all about. A greener future with more books rather than fewer books. More access to information, rather than less access to information. And maybe, years from now, a reformed publishing/distribution model (but I'm not holding my breath...).

UPDATE: We've outgrown the Instructables commenting system. There's a new place to discuss book scanner building -- please join us at DIYBOOKSCANNER.ORG -- and BTW, you don't need to register to get a PDF of these instructions. UPDATE:9/16/2011 - Instructables has kindly made the PDF download public for everyone. Thanks, Eric.

UPDATE: If you're actually planning to build one of these things, you really should visit I have a new set of plans there that is much simpler than these ones.

I've built two of these things now, and this instructable covers the best parts of both of them. You can build a book scanner using only hand tools plus a drill. I realized that not everyone is comfortable with using all the different hand tools you might need to make it. So I scanned a book on using hand tools that should answer all your questions. ;)

Download a sample here.
Download the entire book (115mb) here. I may have to remove this if there are too many downloads. Please note that these were taken before the scanner and software were complete. Scans from the final system are much nicer.

We have written some open-source, free software to convert the images from your scanner into PDFs. It's currently in a rough alpha stage, and needs a pretty fast computer to get things done. It works on Macs and PCs. Help us improve it! This software is covered on step(78-79).

EDIT: Many people have commented that an automatic page flipper would be faster. I think this system is pretty fast. I made a comparison video if you'd like to see how this compares to an automatic scanning system. And you can watch a movie while you work on my system.

Let's get to it!
UPDATE, 2009-04-28. Step 1 now contains a beta-quality printable PDF materials list.
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daniel_reetz (author)  mcshawnboy4 years ago
I used to work at a restaurant in Bismarck where they would deliberately mix good (but cold) food with uncooked food or food that fell on the floor so that it was inedible. Staff had to purchase their burgers on breaks instead of eating one that had just "expired". It is a real shame that many of our surpluses cannot be recycled strictly because of profit motive.
It's not even a profit motive, because food that's thrown away would net the business zero money regardless of whether it was still good food or bad food. It's this ridiculous notion that since everything is supposed to have value, it should not be given to anyone (except for some reason to the landfill) unless money is exchanged. They're essentially saying, "If I can't have the money for it, nobody can have it!"
Actually, it's more of a legal maneuver. Making the wasted food inedible prevents liability; in the past, people have tried to sue companies because they salvaged wasted food that, due to handling in its disposal, made them ill. Personally, I think two things might help. First, if the managers responsible for restocking paid more attention to trends it would prevent them from ordering a surplus that requires wasteful disposal. Second, if the disposed food were treated with the same care as the food being served the surplus could be salvaged. Both steps would benefit society as a whole - but that would require effort, wouldn't it?
daniel_reetz (author)  MahavishnuMan4 years ago
Indeed it would. As materials and energy inevitably become increasingly scarce I suspect such wasteful behavior will be increasingly unacceptable.
I'm a Singularitarian, so I'm kind of hoping that the age of scarcity will be over within 30 years or so :)
 "The age of scarcity" has been over for a long time, at least in western countries. It is all a question of politics.
"Age of Scarcity" refers to that time period in human history when physical resources have been so scarce that a means of determining resource allocation has to be used, e.g. currency or barter. Since all western countries still use currency to allocate those resources, we are not yet out of the age of scarcity.
This should be easily fixable. Just change the law so that people can't sue for this reason.
This topic is a catch 22. If you change the law then someone else will probably suffer for it. The law that prevents stores from selling paste the sale date is was changed to make food banks and kitchens exempt, meaning food banks and kitchens and serve food paste sale date.
Then they should at least sell it on a "Your buy, your risk" liability contract like thing. Then the food doesn't go to waste.
Yeah, but take a candid look at your average American: if they won't buy a dented (even at a discount), how in God's name do you think they'll enter a contract (signed, verbal, or implied by purchase) wherein they wave legal recourse should they consume something iffy and get the trots? Personally, I do almost all my grocery shopping at an Amish-owned supermarket that deals in food that would otherwise be discarded by other grocery stores. Granted, you do have to check the "sell by" dates on some things, but it's way cheaper and prevents waste (although I don't do it for the smug factor like some I know). My wife and I tend to spend a total of $250/month on food this way, at the expense of having cereal boxes that have a crushed corner.
richie_1142 years ago
Incredible instructable and movie! A powerful message indeed!
I bought my Nook with the idea that less books means less pollution, but I as well love books and still have hundreds, I hope your message moves us all forward!
I will be making my own soon.... and my books will last forever!
piaferre3 years ago
LOVE the idea of digitalizing books!
paqrat3 years ago
Truly awesome instructable. Might I suggest a video of it in operation?
jakebaldwin3 years ago


Quite Awesome.

And I especially love all the wonderful typography adorning your pictures.
McGyver23 years ago
This is THE LONGEST instructable I have ever seen. But so far it proves a heavy amount of usefullness to me...perhaps I shall go and scan all of the books in my school library. As far as I rating to give to you on a scale of 1-10 (With usefullness and relativity to the subject) I give you 10. Keep up the great work!
daniel_reetz (author)  McGyver23 years ago
Thanks, McGyver2... and let me know how that library scanning comes out. :)
Actually, Since I have said I would I have tons of sci fy books. Probbably going to take me a while before I will be able to get other Genre's...Right Now I just Finished with K.A. Applegate's Animorph Series...Of what my school had anyways.
CyborgGold3 years ago
How well does this perform for really old books (on the software side, contrast wise)? My wife has a few late 1800s books that she never picks up because she is afraid to ruin them, digitizing would be great to make them readable for her. Will the software that digitizes the text work with low contrast pages?
daniel_reetz (author)  CyborgGold3 years ago
Hey CyborgGold, the new versions we have over at are gentle and would probably work fine with low contrast pages. You can test it by simply taking a picture of one of the pages with a camera and trying out Scan Tailor, the new postprocessing software we use.

Join us at for more.
Thanks for the input!
ylpihs3 years ago
One of the best instructables I have seen. Very sophisticated device as well
daniel_reetz (author)  ylpihs3 years ago
Thanks, yliphs. Much appreciated.
goobyalus3 years ago
Well done. Now you just need it to turn pages for you. As an alternative for "ruined" or cheap books, you can remove hard covers, saw off the binding, and use a scanner with a paper feed (I believe I read this idea on instructables).
daniel_reetz (author)  goobyalus3 years ago
Thanks. We do have a page turner design, but it's more for fun than for anything. You can see it here: Page turning really isn't a priority for us, though. The idea is that if you can "trust" a page turning robot with your book, you can probably destroy it with the binding-removal method you describe.
Not quite the delicate solution I envisioned, but it made me laugh. Personally I think it'd be nice to have the original (un-sawed) hard copy along with a digital copy, but making a safe page turner is not trivial.
daniel_reetz (author)  goobyalus3 years ago
It's really an incredible device, isn't it? I love watching it catch the page... and then... almost... almost.... YES!!! it turns the page. I smile every time I watch that video. But yeah, page turning is super-hard and unreliable. Many have tried, few have succeeded. I'm not that interested in it, myself.
I am suddenly thinking of a way to make the page turn.... non destructive... gentile for books.... now I just gotta put the idea together and ible it... once I get money to make it, lol.
s0lidstate3 years ago
Actually, in the USA, anything put in an area where a "reasonable" person would expect the item to be collected as trash is "abandoned property". Ironically, this has been established by the federal government to allow the police to go through people's trash without a search warrant. In the U.K. are the police allowed to examine a person's trash without a warrant? I will bet they are. Quite a double standard.
mecrofider3 years ago please can you people help me to get money in just click in the first link:D
tmkiwipeel3 years ago
Just a small detail but if you made a frame to connect the camera to the page holder instead of the frame couldn't you avoid having the centre of the book move? It would make for a much neater scan no? It might mean you have to reinforce your plexi square but it depends on how nice you want you scans I guess.
daniel_reetz (author)  tmkiwipeel3 years ago
It's a good idea, and some people have tried that. You can see some of their designs over at the front page of
9ale73 years ago
1 question, an important feature would be to look for a specific word in the pdf once you finish, so when i scan pages using a regular scaner , i choose scan text > save as tif and then print as pdf and be able to look for words, so does you're camera do that? or can i skip this step and use an OCR software?? *free software :) so my question is how can i change any ( Folder ) with pictures into an Editable Pdf where i can later on (Copy/Paste) any content into another program like office/Word (NO i don't mean editing the PDF i mean copy any text within the pdf and search through it). if you already have done it, then please show me which step Again love you're Work , specially the legal issue , many people have no clue :@ of what is legal or not.
daniel_reetz (author)  9ale73 years ago
The camera produces an image which can be fed through an OCR program, which will create the PDF you desire. Adobe Acrobat is one solution, there are many others. If you're interested in getting deeper into book scanning, we've created one of the best resources on the net over at the forums.
9ale73 years ago
i have seen this used by Google people on TV, really nice and simple.
dang, great job!
daniel_reetz (author)  jimmerforpoy3 years ago
Thank you!
I have been wanting to do for a long time and now that I have a E-reader, I would really like to do it. Is there a reason you did not use webcams? I am thinking of investing in some 6MP Phillips webcams a pair is equivalent to the 2 canon u used. I hope this will reduce the size of the over all machine. Using my laptop to capture the images. I would really appreciate your input.
daniel_reetz (author)  06chevymalibu3 years ago
Webcams don't have sufficient image quality. There are some tests over at the forum of
Navisaurus3 years ago
This is so freaking awesome. THANK YOU for thinking about the future. Navi

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