Picture of DIY High-Speed Book Scanner from Trash and Cheap Cameras
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 DIYBookScanner.org. 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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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.
CyborgGold4 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)  CyborgGold4 years ago
Hey CyborgGold, the new versions we have over at DIYBookScanner.org 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 DIYBookScanner.org for more.
Thanks for the input!
ylpihs4 years ago
One of the best instructables I have seen. Very sophisticated device as well
daniel_reetz (author)  ylpihs4 years ago
Thanks, yliphs. Much appreciated.
goobyalus5 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)  goobyalus5 years ago
Thanks. We do have a page turner design, but it's more for fun than for anything. You can see it here: http://www.diybookscanner.org/news/?p=82 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)  goobyalus5 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.
s0lidstate5 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.
mecrofider5 years ago
http://69d3cfcc.linkbucks.com please can you people help me to get money in linkbucks.com just click in the first link:D
tmkiwipeel5 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)  tmkiwipeel5 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 www.diybookscanner.org.
9ale75 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)  9ale75 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 DIYBookScanner.org forums.
9ale75 years ago
i have seen this used by Google people on TV, really nice and simple.
dang, great job!
daniel_reetz (author)  jimmerforpoy5 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)  06chevymalibu5 years ago
Webcams don't have sufficient image quality. There are some tests over at the forum of diybookscanner.org.
Navisaurus5 years ago
This is so freaking awesome. THANK YOU for thinking about the future. Navi
prodo1235 years ago
It seems slow.
dingpud5 years ago

Depending on what's available for your salvaged material, you might benefit from using a harder material for making your template as repeated use may offset your holes and mess up your alignment....just a thought...
((awesome project by the way!))

daoes dingpud5 years ago
I've surfed the net more than three hours today using new search engine nowGoogle , however, I haven't found such useful information like yours. Thanks a lot, it's really useful for me.

daoes5 years ago
That answer is quite simple.. led is mass produced extremely fast in large plastic smelters. you don't need to be a genius to understand the tinting will varie from batch to batch.I know it is all cool and trendy to pretend you are doing something edgy, instead of edgy be responsible and do something where you actually involve the community where you live instead of turning your back on them.
dummy19775 years ago
I applaud the incredible amount of detail and effort went into this.  Truly over my head and would find myself going fetal by step 6, but I can appreciate a brilliant instructable for what it is.

I can not believe this was just grammar-copped.  There are some instructables where that is actually called for, but this is really scraping the bottom of the bin. 
ubicomp5 years ago
 "fewer" books, not "less" books.
daniel_reetz (author)  ubicomp5 years ago
You're only the fifteenth or sixteenth person to correct me on this. Please note, it is corrected in the text. Re-doing the video to satisfy pedantry just seemed like too much work.
Vailhem5 years ago
 This just impressive.  Thank you.   ...but, the real question is... how much for you to build and me to buy?  I tend to get confused after step 6 in things
daniel_reetz (author)  Vailhem5 years ago
Thanks, but sorry, I will not be selling these things. 
 Well, if you change your mind... want some extra cash for your kids college fund or something... you know where to find me  = )
jlms5 years ago
Oh please....

Lets be a little less childish.

Why don't you just go to the shops and businesses where all this rubbish is disposed of  and ask them if they would give you some? Or what about asking your neighbours?

Many people will be glad if you do this. There is little need of these pseudo daredevil shenanigans where you can get hurt or could be questioned for looking suspicious (why do you need to go at night to a dumpster?)

I know it is all cool and trendy to pretend you are doing something edgy, instead of edgy be responsible and do something where you actually involve the community where you live instead of turning your back on them.

Of course it is better to recycle, and if you must do it this way, that is fine, but I fail to see what is so difficult about going and asking. Could it not be that some of you are spending far too much time in front of the computer and are forgetting that "please" and "thank you" will carry you a long way?

Just sayin (gosh, I am feeling old now...)

 Jims, you must understand that one he never said you HAVE to just jump in without permission, and two assuming your jumping into the dumpster of a book store or library, there is not such a big security risk that you would have jumping into the dumpsters of Microsoft or large businesses where recycling can be dangerous due to sensitive information that may be disposed of.  Also, legally as long as the owner shows intent of getting rid of the property, its free game.  For example, if you put your lawn mower on the corner with the trash cans on garbage day, anyone can take it because you took a significant step to get rid of it.  However, it is the taker's responsibility to handle these things wisely.  Its not necessarily illegal to jump into a dumpster and collect scrap paper.  However, it is illegal to put them together and use passwords or bank information and the like for your own or anyone else's ends but the owners.  Illegal usage of the material taken is the fear created in dumpster diving, not the lost "politeness" you speak of.  Whether the books go to the recycling plant or to your house, the owners have showed by putting the books in the dumpster they don't want any more responsibility in the care of them.  Its yours for the taking.  
I should point out that your comment about taking trash is certainly not true in the UK.  It is against the law in the UK to take something from someone's bin (English for trash can).  When someone puts something in a bin in the UK the law says that doing so demonstrates their intention to have it destroyed, not that they are relinquishing their rights as owner.

I have no idea how the law stands in the US but it's worth pointing out that taking trash (without permission) is illegal in some countries at least.  However as jlms says, a simple "please" goes a long way and in this case removes any legal doubts.
Laws in the USA vary from state to state, city to city.  In many cases, trash is considered "the property of the one who put it out", and taking it "can be" (but rarely is) considered theft. 

The exceptions are businesses as trash can be have information on HD's, memory chips, and documents.

  Also, "big" items put out in the city (by the general public) are normally TAGGED (meaning the owner paid extra to have this item removed, and taking it WILL constitute theft).  

It's complicated :-) 
daniel_reetz (author)  jlms5 years ago

The condescending tone of your message is completely unnecessary and does not reflect the "maturity" you putatively represent.

Condescension also does not reflect the values of this community. See the message below the comment box for more.

To address your comment, most of these pictures were taken at night because, as a graduate student, I attend classes all day, and so acquiring materials during the day is impossible. Furthermore, I built this scanner during the winter, when it is dark from 6pm to 9am.

While I agree that it is possible to ask for materials, and indeed, it is safer, it is not always preferable. Businesses, in my experience, are not happy to just hand out scraps to anyone who walks in. They are, however, happy to discard valuable materials in quantity. This is true of restaurants, who throw away masses of food, construction companies, who throw away masses of materials, and just about all other companies, too.

Clearly, dumpster diving involves more risk than asking. For some of us, circumstances dictate what we do. For others, we simply prefer to have fun out searching for materials and taking measured risks. 

Your angry words about "edginess" and "turning your back" speak for themselves. As the founder of another community, and an active member of this one, I have worked hard to foster respectful and constructive discussion, to educate, and to learn from what's being offered. Of all the things I've learned, the most important one is not to make too many assumptions about why people do things, whether that's building a book scanner, jumping in a dumpster, or making a rude and condescending comment.

merijnvw5 years ago
 nice idea, great outworking
Edgar5 years ago
...And you can significantly reduce the size of your files with this OPEN SOURCE OCR, so you're saving digitized text, not images of pages, avialable for both Linux and Windows:
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