Introduction: New & Improved Portable, Paperless, Digital Copy Machine

Picture of New & Improved Portable, Paperless, Digital Copy Machine
Don’t wait in line to feed coins into the library’s photocopier!
Here are instructions for making a portable, paperless, digital copy machine.
   [Earlier I published a version of this that had a clear-plastic “page press”. In some cases, there was too much reflection off of the plastic, and I couldn’t get good copies. This new version has an adjustable, windowless frame for pressing the pages flat. This version is cheaper to make and packs up smaller than before.]
Your materials should cost less than $20, maybe less than $10, and the labor time should be only a few hours. I am assuming that you already have a digital camera and a computer for downloading pictures. Of course, your camera will do most of the work here, but you will provide it with a steady stand that has a press for getting those book pages flat.
The pictures show what the final device looks like, fully assembled …
and broken down for transport.
I suggest several, options for improving your copies – in some cases, low-cost software is involved. If you follow all of the options, you can convert your images into word-searchable documents. You can’t search for keywords in the pages you get off of a copy machine! And think of the trees you will save by going paperless!

   (The book example is World Book Encyclopedia, 1989.)

Step 1: Parts Needed

Picture of Parts Needed
2x threaded rods, 36” x 1/4”
1x Tygon tubing, 6’ x 1/4” inside diameter
16x 1/4” nuts
5x 1/4” wing nuts
4x 1/4” stop nuts or acorn nuts
1x 1 1/2” x 1/4” bolt
1x wood scrap, about 4” x 2” x 1/2” (size depends on your camera)
2x 2” angle brackets (with 1/4” holes)
4x wood screws, 1/2”
1x shelf track (the kind for adjustable shelving), 6’
4x 1” angle brackets
4x 3/16” threaded “eyes” (they come with nuts)
4x 3/16” wing nuts
4x 1/2” x 1/8” bolts
4x 1/8” nuts
Tools Needed
electric drill and bits
hacksaw (for cutting the threaded rods)
electric drill and bits
hacksaw (for cutting the threaded rods)
vise (for bending the rods & holding the track for drilling)
two wrenches (adjustable or fixed-gap wrenches of 7/16” or 11 mm, or pliers)

Step 2: Assemble the Camera Mount

Picture of Assemble the Camera Mount
Position the angle brackets onto the wood scrap.
   (Mine are 3” apart.)
Mark the holes.
Drill pilot holes for the wood screws.
Screw the angle brackets in place.
Position the camera, with its lens centered between the brackets.
   (Leave clearance for the wingnuts – read ahead.)
Mark the position of the camera’s threaded, tripod hole.
Drill a 5/16” hole for the 1 ½” x ¼” bolt.

Step 3: Prepare the Page-press

Picture of Prepare the Page-press
Cut the track material into suitable lengths
   (My pressing pieces are 13 1/4” and  my cross pieces are 13”, all cut as indicated relative to the adjustment marks on the tracks – see the second photo)
Use a file to smooth off the corners and edges.
Drill 3/16” holes at the positions indicated; refer to the third photo.
   (WARNING: Drilling round holes into the rectangular slots is not trivial and can be dangerous. Wear eye protection, hold the pieces in a vise, etc., etc. I found it easiest to first enlarge the slots by hammering in a tapered tool (a nail set), then drilling the holes.)

Step 4: Prepare the Rods

Picture of Prepare the Rods
Cut each 36” threaded rod in two; now you have four 18” rods.
Round off the cut ends with a file.
Check the threads of the cut ends with a nut.
   (You may have to apply the nut onto the opposite end, then run it all the way up and off of the newly cut end.)
Mark each rod at 1” from each end.
Cut four 16” lengths of the Tygon tubing.
Slip the tubing over each rod.
Use a 1” scrap of tubing to protect the exposed threads in the bending process.
Bend one end of each rod at the mark to about 20° UP from straight.
   (Slip the short tubing piece over the end before clamping it in the vise or pliers. Keep the outer ¾” of the rod as straight as possible.)
Bend the unbent end of each rod, at the mark, to about 20° DOWN from straight.
   (Bend it in the opposite direction from the first bend! Keep the outer ¾” of the rod as straight as possible.)
Thread two bolts onto each end of the rods.
Cut each 36” threaded rod in two; now you have four 18” rods.
Round off the cut ends with a file.
Check the threads of the cut ends with a nut.
   (You may have to apply the nut onto the opposite end, then run it all the way up and off of the newly cut end.)
Mark each rod at 1” from each end.
Cut four 16” lengths of the Tygon tubing.
Slip the tubing over each rod.
Use a 1” scrap of tubing to protect the exposed threads in the bending process.
Bend one end of each rod at the mark to about 20° UP from straight.
   (Slip the short tubing piece over the end before clamping it in the vise or pliers. Keep the outer ¾” of the rod as straight as possible.)
Bend the unbent end of each rod, at the mark, to about 20° DOWN from straight.
   (Bend it in the opposite direction from the first bend! Keep the outer ¾” of the rod as straight as possible.)
Thread two bolts onto each end of the rods.
   (Each pair of bolts will be locked into position; the exact positions will be determined later.)

Step 5: Final Assembly

Picture of Final Assembly
Assemble the frame to an appropriate size depending on the book or magazine you want to copy. It’s easiest to make the frame with the rod-bottoms already mounted in the threaded “eyes”.
   (You can copy large books or small, vertically or horizontally, sometimes two pages at a time – see various examples in the Step 6 photos.)
Remove the camera from the camera mount, if it's still mounted.
Insert the tops of the four rods into the bracket holes of the camera mount. Secure the tops with the wing nuts. 
   (The camera mount can go either vertically or horizontally.)
Mount the camera and check the alignment.
   (Adjust the top, locked nuts as needed. Determine the best position for the nuts below the wingnuts, and lock them together.)

Step 6: Copy Some Documents

Picture of Copy Some Documents
Turn off the flash.
   (It’s not needed; it reflects off of the page; and it’s annoying in the library! Shift things around to avoid reflections and shadows. Long exposures are OK because everything is steady.)
Press the frame tightly onto the book so you can see all of the text.
Zoom in, as appropriate.
Snap a picture.
Turn the page
Repeat as needed.

  (The book examples are: World Book Encyclopedia, 1989, and The Butterflies of Cascadia, Robert Pyle, 2002.)


Step 7: Clean Up the Images (Optional)

Picture of Clean Up the Images (Optional)
Use some simple photo-editing software to …
  • Rotate the image, if it is out of alignment.
  • Crop the image.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast.
  • Fix photo aberrations (e.g. pincushioning). 
See the before and after picture example.

Step 8: Paste the Images Into One Document (Optional)

Prepare a dummy document using MS Word (or another word processing program).
Make a blank page for each image.
Give each blank page has a few Returns then a Page Break.
Cut one image at a time and Paste it into the dummy document.
Save the document.

Step 9: Convert the Word Document Into a Pdf File (Optional)

Why? See Option 10, below. Several programs (e.g. Abbyy Transformer or Cute PDF Writer) convert Word files to Pdfs.
   (Some conversion programs are freeware.)

Step 10: Convert Your Pdf Files Into Word-searchable Pdf Files

Picture of Convert Your Pdf Files Into Word-searchable Pdf Files
Several programs, e.g. Abbyy Transformer (~$49), do a good job with optical character recognition (OCR) converting Pdfs into searchable Pdfs. You can now search for keywords in your copied document! You can’t do this with the pages you get off of a Xerox copier.

AND … You saved a few trees by going paperless! Thank you.


SemisolidSnake (author)2010-06-12

I'm in the middle of this build, and I just stumbled across an incredibly effective way of drilling the holes in the tracks. I wanted to pass it along to everyone.

First of all, as has been mentioned already, you can buy the bookshelf track at Home Depot (and other places I'm sure). It was over in the cabinet section when I went. It costs less than $3 for a six-foot piece. It's pretty light and will bend if you treat it rough, but you can easily bend it back.

I found it to be impossible to drill a round hole in the rectangular slots of the track using a normal spiral drill bit. The bit kept getting locked in the slot, and that kind of stuff always makes me nervous. So just as an experiment, I grabbed an old spade bit (the flat ones used for boring large holes in wood) and gave it whirl. To my amazement, rather than killing me, this actually drilled round holes in rectangular slots like butter. I did about 80 holes in 45 minutes.

Here's what to do:

1) Place a scrap piece of wood underneath your track where you're going to drill. The track should be have the legs down, flat side up. Clamp the track down tightly near where you're going to drill so there won't be any vibration.

2) Insert a spade bit into your drill. You may end up dulling the bit so if you can use an old one instead of one from your nice new set, that would be good. If not, they're pretty cheap to buy. You're going to use the point of the spade to cut your holes, so the edges need to be sharp. The width of the base of the point should be slightly greater than the diameter of the hole you're trying to drill. I used a 1/2" spade for making the requisite 3/16" holes.

3) Insert the tip of the spade point directly in the middle of the slot you're going to drill and dig it into the wood to hold it in place. Start drilling at a moderately high rpm and slowly press down to ream out a hole about 3/16" in diameter. The edges of the spade point simple shave off the inside of the rectangular slot, and the hole will get bigger as you drill down further. It's the same idea as a step drill bit. The spade does such a great job of shaving off the soft track material that if your hole is off center or too small, you can just ream it out until it works.

4) Repeat as many times as necessary.

This technique will cause some minor variation in hole diameters because it depends on your ability to gauge how far down to drill. And it does leave some semi-sharp edges on the holes, but I think a single pass with a belt sander would take care of all of that. The process is amazingly safe, though. No chance of a bit getting stuck and torquing your drill or hurtling track across the room. I'd, of course, recommend wearing glasses, but I didn't see any metal shavings flying all over the place. They formed nice little piles right under each hole.

The bit itself lasted through 80 holes and didn't show any signs of getting dull. I'm sure there'd be no problem still using it on wood like it's actually designed for. I imagine the track material must have been aluminum or something else that's fairly soft. I highly doubt this would work at all with something made of steel.

I know this is only a minor thing, but I hope that it can prevent someone from getting stuck in the middle of the project like I thought I'd be.

Icy13 (author)2013-10-20

Rather than drill the already indexed and aligned tracks, why not file down two sides of each eye bolt. They should still have good threads on the remaining rounded sides and should, in principle, still be easy to thread the wing nuts onto. The idea occurred to me because of how through panel toggle switches are mounted.

Psyckosama (author)2013-06-12

I'm working on the build now, though I'm going to give it a try with 1.2"x1" pine instead of the tracks. I'm thinking it'll be easier to drill. I'll let you know how it goes.

static (author)2010-04-17

A good instructable. However I see myself struggling with bending the allthread rods just so. Another posting the link to copibook may see me trying to duplicate that design.  Then watch someone bust me for copyright infringement if I dare post an instructable. :)

Light_Lab (author)static2010-08-26

I have the same problem with this design as I don't have a vice to bend the rods in accurately. If you are OK with a slightly less portable copy stand, have a look at my one:........ You only need a hand saw and drill to make it.

reggilbert (author)2010-05-08

If you are going to be carrying out very many projects of any length, best to get an image-merging program of some kind. I use the full version of Acrobat, admittedly expensive at $200+ (though available at colleges for $70 if you are a student), but there are cheaper options, such as PDF X-Change viewer Pro for $35 (there's a free version that puts stamps on the merged pages), and I would guess there are some free programs that can output multi-page TIFFs, though I am not sure how such files are read. Bottom line, inserting pages for documents of any length individually into Word pages will probably take longer than the original copying.

caw1975 (author)reggilbert2010-06-06

Free options - free print-to-pdf utility (like PrimoPDF, and there are others), works from any app that can print. Installs as a printer driver, select it at time of printing. Also, PDFTK Builder will join individual PDF files, including the selection of specific pages from multi-page files if desired. It can also split and re-order multi-page pdfs. (OO.o) suite will allow export to PDF of any document you create with it. Both PDFTK and OO.o are available in portable versions that will run from a USB stick, if anyone is interested in that. For more layout control than a word processor, Scribus is an option. As for image editing, there are more options than I can list, including portable options, all with different levels of functionality depending on your needs.

scintnl (author)2010-05-08

 I like this idea very much, but I haven't been able to find a suitable track (The ones I've found are very heavy) Do you know where can I find a source for this in the net?

I'm will be adapting this for an iphone with the clariff case

DHagen (author)scintnl2010-05-09

The track material should be available at most hardware stores. It has different finishes (chrome, gold, bronze), but I think all are iron ... and comparably heavy. When cut up for the frame it doesn't seem overly heavy, and it is nice and rigid.

flammel (author)2009-11-26

 It's not a copier, it's a scanner. Also, using this on copyrighted books would be copyright infringement.

nfrengle (author)flammel2010-04-09

Using this on copyrighted books, depending on how it is used, is likely covered under fair use doctrine, which allows the 'backup and archival' of legally obtained works. As long as the digital one was the only one being used at any given time, and was being used by the owner of the original, this would be legal. Copying, per se, is NOT illegal. The DMCA only outlaws copying of digitally copy-protected material, which books are not (nor are CDs, actually, since they are not encrypted, though some do have other copy protections on them). It is the sharing and the defeating of copy protection which is illegal, not the copying.

Sanctus (author)nfrengle2010-04-24

I think all this copyright discussion is stupid. The coppiers in the library pay a fee for possible copying of the CR materials, so you already pay even if you copy your own papers. On the other hand, the authors gets their part of reward when they sell the books. And you cannot stop copying. In the worst case I would just rewrite it a middle-age style or read it and depending on my memory - copy it back... Only if I am not giving credit to the author, it would be plagiarism and infringement of someone's rights... Secondary rights is such a BS! When you eat a bun and tell your friend what delicious it was and what was inside, does not make you criminal even if you try to bake it yourself. The same goes with "disassembling, reverse engineering and cracking" the bun... And you don't have to pay your plumber who has installed your toilet every time you flush it, right? So let's stay in the subject, OK? :)
I liked the idea, though it is not an original idea. Good that people try to do and finish their projects. For my needs I would need two sided scanning (!) and a page turner/feeder, so personally, it is too nice (and time consuming to build) for small scanning and too simple for a 100-1000 page scanning. Personally, I just use "the hand stand" and even an old 2 mpix camera is OK to print it afterwards.

steviesteveo (author)nfrengle2010-04-09

 No, that's wrong. Copying material you're not allowed to copy is exactly what copyright is supposed to prevent.

Fair use really only exists to let you something with the material - you can discuss it, criticise it, teach with it etc and that's fair use. It doesn't mean you can copy an entire book so you can read it on your phone.

You're right the DMCA doesn't really apply here but you're wrong to say that doesn't mean it's not against copyright. The DMCA is just one piece of US legislation. It's not all of copyright law.

A lot of things are against copyright law that you just don't get sued for, like copying music from a CD onto an iPod. It's a bit like jaywalking, it's technically a crime (copyright isn't a crime) but the police won't put you in jail for it because it's so minor.

tawsenior (author)flammel2010-04-09

A copier and a scanner are the same thing.

pgwolfe (author)tawsenior2010-04-15

Not 100% true.  A copier will produce a replica on a piece of paper.  A scanner will produce a replica in the form of a file.

welsheimer (author)pgwolfe2010-04-15

I can download the picture from my digital camera to my laptop as a file.

pgwolfe (author)welsheimer2010-04-19

I agree, you can download a picture from a digital camera to a laptop (as a file).  But the statement "a copier and a scanner are the same thing" is not true, as I explained above. 

A digital camera is not a copier.... it is a camera.  Sure a digital camera takes pictures like a copier, but a copier doesn't produce a file.

static (author)tawsenior2010-04-17

These devices make photo copies of documents, in the truest sense of the term :)

flammel (author)flammel2009-11-26

 If you could make a version that has a base on top of which you put the books and a hinged top piece that has the frame to hold the book in place, you could probably patent this.

steviesteveo (author)flammel2010-04-09

 Doubt it, this has been done before.

mossDboss (author)flammel2010-04-09

as the author of this instructable pointed out "use as needed'.  Coping an entire book, whether, xerox, scanner, the method described herein is a Copy Right infringement.

Copying portions regardless of method (and taking into account the use of the copies) is not a Copy Right infringement.

Robotech_Master (author)flammel2010-04-08

Actually, it would only be copyright infringement if you passed on the e-book you created to someone else. Under the precedent set by RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, consumers have the right to "space-shift" media that they own into alternate formats for their own personal, non-commercial fair use.

That's why you're legally permitted to rip CDs and put the MP3s on your computer and mp3 players—but not upload those MP3s to peer-to-peer networks.

chrisbaker (author)2010-04-18

I tried this concept (not the design yet) last night & found that doing a glossy magazine was quite difficult--too much reflection.  I'm sure your setup would overcome that with a parallel (& close) camera angle. 
Doing a book worked great.  Here's the free OCR site I used:
It wouldn't handle columns (I had to save pics as single columns of text before uploading), but otherwise did a very good job of recognizing my text.  The text came up in a window on the screen (Firefox even underlined the misspelled words for me--not sure if that's built into the site or not) for me to edit & copy.
I haven't looked for myself, but read  that this function is built into Google Docs now.

jjmcgaffey (author)2010-04-16

How big an image can you get here? I'm on, and we just had a discussion about scanning the covers of oversized books. A normal-sized flatbed scanner (which most of us have) won't cut it, and a digital photo is _hard_ to line up right and get the lighting clear. This seems to solve both problems!

DHagen (author)jjmcgaffey2010-04-17

The frame, as illustrated, goes only to about 11.5" x 13" (inside dimensions). You could make it larger (and less portable) by using longer pieces of track material (Step 3) and longer rods (Step 4). You would still need to optimize the alignment, lighting, and post-processing (Steps 6 & 7) for nice images.

bclagett (author)2010-04-16

I have some very old vinyl records.  I have recorded them to MP3's using Audacity and burned them to CD's.  I used a rig similar to yours to photograph the covers and made covers to fit the CD crystal cases - front and back.

JanxAngel (author)2010-04-15

 This is a great idea for students who only need a few pages out of several books for research papers and such.  The pluses of this method are you're saving paper clutter in your dorm/apt/bedroom, saving money, saving time by not having to line up at the copy machine, & you're not as likely to misplace a digital file at 3am the night before it's due.  Bonus:  Your copies are in color, which is awesome for adding pictures and diagrams to project materials.

Yes, copying whole books you don't own is infringement, but there's been a long standing use of copy machines to duplicate sections in books for use at a later time, whether it's for school assignments, or just a cool project.  This is especially true with reference books that the library doesn't allow to be checked out.

johnpombrio (author)2010-04-09

I dunno what the librarians would think of this if they saw it in action. Magazines, newspapers, new books would all be capable of getting you kicked out of the library. I guess you would have to find a quiet corner or check the book out.
  I mean if the library allowed it, then what would now allow you to use this in a bookstore?
  If you did check it out, then you could just use a flatbed scanner.

dhawktx (author)johnpombrio2010-04-15

The above discussion on copyright covered this. If you own the copy, you can scan it for your personal use as an e-book or whatever.

Library books, magazines, etc. and items in a bookstore are not items you purchased, so you don't have any right to copy them!

manskybook (author)dhawktx2010-04-15

Not sure what you guys are talking about. You can take any book in a library and copy an article or chapter or whatever on the electrostatic copiers there. Undergrad and grad students do it daily, multiple times (although it's less necessary because of the wonderfully accessible full-content articles available through the various library databases). Was ever thus. Can't see why this is different, and librarians are well aware of what goes on in their libraries and whether they can support those activities.

nighthawk99 (author)2010-04-15

Some of you folks need to get a life -- The dude is offering a cheap and easy way to copy stuff you own, to put into a file or use the way you want to -- It is not a social statement copyrights.  GET A GRIP

olavxxx (author)2010-04-15

 Hi, I like your idea.. We have a couple of professinal versions at work.
The Copibook HD and we have one Copibook RGB+.

Your book scanner would be much better, if you could make the mount like on the copibook 

wobblestar (author)2010-04-15

A nice solution, which gives perfectly framed pages.

However, in my work I have to copy large files of documents away from my office. I've been using a simple digital camera without a copy stand for years. It works very well. Much easier and faster than a photocopier.



agis68 (author)2010-04-10

 Extra Genius, very well mentioned and extra supported article. Grate job...I will use it because i need some copies many times....

DainiusGB (author)2010-04-10

 My brother made something like this with a wooden stool that he had drilled a camera lens sized hole into. This design looks a lot more streamlined tho!


mossDboss (author)2010-04-09

very nice and clean design

does this take a picture of the both pages at once?

DHagen (author)mossDboss2010-04-09

Often you can take a picture of both pages. Check out the three different figures in step 6. In the first one, the camera is set up for two pages at once. Note that the camera can be either in the portrait (fig. 3) or landscape (figs.1, 2) orientation.

paganwonder (author)2010-04-09

World Book Encyclopedia 1989-LOL  (JK- as a young child my curiosity thrived on an encyclopedia from 1905!)

SinAmos (author)2010-04-08

Ummm.  Sexy.  Good work.

jakenet1 (author)2010-02-06

Really cool idea! A great way to keep those college text books, you know. Can't wait to try this one.

jimwidess (author)2009-12-27

Before cutting the threaded rod, screw on the two nuts as mowmike says, but tighten the two nuts together (so they can't move) right at the cut mark.   Make your cut in the threaded rod against the nuts and then the saw cut will be in the correct alignment to the threads.   After cutting through the rod, unscrew the nuts and there should be no problem with the thread.  Use the file to remove any metal burs remaining.

DHagen (author)jimwidess2009-12-27

Dear jimwidess & MOWMIKE,
Thanks for your interest in this project. You might also like:
With respect to the nuts and rods, you both missed my point. Most of the time, with careful file work, the bolts will go on easily without doing anything special. I was trying to save people the effort of running the bolts the full 18 inches up 4 lengths of rod materal -- 72 inches of nut-spinning with a single bolt on each, 144 inches of nut-spinning with the double nuts!  (I know, this would be easier by turning the threads in a drill while holding on to the nuts.)
Thanks again for your detailed suggestions.

jprozas (author)2009-11-22

 You can change the iron  square base with some invisible nylon threads. 

MOWMIKE (author)2009-10-29

Before cutting threaded rod, screw on TWO nuts. One on each side of the cut.  After cutting, unscrewing the nuts over the cut will straighten out the threads.

json12795 (author)2009-10-27

 great job 

CraftyGal1965 (author)2009-10-27

Wow, what a great idea!  I definitely need to do this one.


mole1 (author)2009-10-27

Wow! This is great!  ...and better than copier copies for colored illustrations

Creativeman (author)2009-10-27

Great work and instructable! I can tell you pay the utmost attention to detail, and your craftmanship is outstanding...thanks for posting. Cman

Scammah (author)2009-10-26

Very interesting I may look into doing this soon.  Now all I need is an ebook reader.

About This Instructable




Bio: Retired from biotechnology company, PhD in Biochemistry (MIT)
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