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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spongeraffle8 months ago

Thats incredible

spongeraffle8 months ago

Extremely good...!!

n0ukf8 months ago

Does this process only output bitmapped page images or is some OCR used to allow variable font size (not zoomed and panned) pages?

workexaminer8 months ago

Its impressive

workexaminer8 months ago


gazumpglue10 months ago

Awesome! Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

cglaw20131 year ago
One of my favorite.
BunnyRoger1 year ago
Very cool and interesting, Thank you.
BunnyRoger1 year ago
Very nicely done! Well done!!
Very cool!!
Very interesting, love the whole idea of re using old 'trash'
nice one
MAApleton1 year ago
Wow, thanks for sharing this, though I doubt I will be able to make this I did send the link on to a friend who absolutely went crazy over this. And good work on the dumpster diving, one man's trash is after all another man's treasure!!
donkeyknee1 year ago
wow !!
Chloe81 year ago
wow,,, awesome.
prawnonly1 year ago
this is really cool.
made me curious for scanner and i found this.
prawnonly1 year ago
did you guys see this?
Someone took your idea and commercialize it
your doing it right.
Thanks for adding to the legitimacy of this practice. I've been doing this for years. It's amazing the valuable things people throw out
JensonBut1 year ago
Those videos are amazing. I made this with my science class, but never that much. Wowzer.
I bow to you in awe.
you should put a shell around it that looks like a Dalek.
cal543 years ago
I can't thank you enough this is a great direction towards the reader I want to build for my girlfriend that has closed angle glaucoma. I would like to make something that I could offer to others with limited income with similar disabilities.
Thanks again
daniel_reetz (author)  cal543 years ago
You're welcome. If you like, please join us at where there is an active community working on more recent designs.
Kiteman3 years ago

Did you see that you were featured on the BBC?
daniel_reetz (author)  Kiteman3 years ago
Awesome! Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
MandingaRes3 years ago
Todo lo contrario! Gracias a Uds. por la respuesta, por compartir el proyecto e intentar ayudar a mejorar nuestro mundo un poco. Pero esto no termina acá...Tengo una muy buena noticia!! Esta misma mañana me enteré que EUDEBA (Editorial de la Universidad de Buenos Aires - Argentina) acaba de lanzar un programa de venta de e-book además de los libros tradicionales, pero la ventaja es además el precio, pudiendo obtenerlos con valores entre un 50 y un 70% más baratos!! Además para promover la lectura digital EUDEBA ofrece la venta de lectores electrónicos a precios más ventajosos (
Estoy completamente convencido que esto lo arreglamos entre todos, aunque sea poco lo que cada uno de nosotros pueda hacer. Muchas Gracias otra vez y trataré de aportar todo lo que esté a mi alcance en cuanto a tu emprendimiento.
Un afectuoso saludo.
MandingaRes3 years ago
El proyecto es realmente espectacular, no solo por el fin sino también por el proceso de construcción ya que se utilizan elementos reciclados, lo cual ayuda ya sabemos cuanto a nuestro mundo. Pero debo confesar que a partir de ver el vídeo y a pesar de mi edad (acabo de cumplir 55 años de edad) recién ahora me doy cuenta que el libro fue, es y seguirá siendo parte fundamental en nuestras vidas y que gracias a los libros nos educamos, nos entretenemos y transmitimos a las generaciones que nos suceden la esencia de la vida..
La industria del libro da trabajo a infinidad de personas y de todo este sistema viven muchos otros (propiedad intelectual, copyright, impuestos, etc.) pero... CUANTO DAÑO PRODUCE UN LIBRO!!! No, no estoy loco. Me puse a pensar cuantos arboles se deben talar para producir un solo libro! Cuantos bosques (sustentables o no) desaparecen por culpa de los libros!
Creo que ya -en pleno siglo XXI- debemos tomar conciencia y bregar para que a partir de ahora los libros solo sean virtuales y que en cada hogar pueda haber un computador para poder leerlos.
Mis felicitaciones por el proyecto y mi agradecimiento personal por ayudarme a recapacitar.
Un sincero saludo.
daniel_reetz (author)  MandingaRes3 years ago
I agree, I think the book will remain an essential part of life for a long, long time, but that our daily interaction with them will decrease from this point in time forward.

Thanks for taking the time to check out this project and for your response!
toftej5 years ago
Thanks for adding to the legitimacy of this practice. I've been doing this for years. It's amazing the valuable things people throw out.
daniel_reetz (author)  toftej5 years ago
You're welcome. on the suggestion of people here and elsewhere, I'm going to make an entire guide to material salvage. I'll post a comment here when it's done.
Daniel, if you talk to folks in tight economic situations you'll find multisodic episodes on dumpster diving. I knew some fellows with low budgets for groceries who made friends with food service outfit. Providing they left the area tidy advance notice would be provided to them when frozen foods were to be disposed of past the "Sell by date" but not the "Use by date". When just out of H.S. I worked for a large pizza chain that would throw away 100 LBS of "Old" dough per night. I mentioned it to a friend that fed people of meager resources and she started baking bread, pastries and pretzels. When our manager found out he put bleach on it to prevent its use! Also, while in college I worked at a dairy store where the manager would order too much milk. I asked if I could have it and a friend from made cheese with the Cooks Guild.
I can see both sides of this arguement though, if the manager was letting the food be eaten then people stop buying and just get the free food but if they cant get it free then they are going to pay
daniel_reetz (author)  mcshawnboy5 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)  MahavishnuMan5 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 :)
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