Introduction: Portable, Paperless, Digital Copy Machine

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

Don’t wait in line to feed coins into the library’s photocopier!
Here are instructions for making a portable, paperless, digital copy machine.
Your materials should cost less than $20, maybe less than $10, and the labor time is only a few hours. I am assuming that you already have a digital camera and a computer for uploading 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 pictured here and in steps 6, 7, and 10 is volume 2 of The World Book Encyclopedia, 1989.)

Step 1: Parts Needed

1x Plexiglass plate, about 12” x 10’’ x ¼”
2x threaded rods, 36” x ¼”
1x Tygon tubing, 6’ x ¼” inside diameter
16x ¼” nuts
5x ¼” wing nuts
4x ¼” stop nuts or acorn nuts
1x 1½” x ¼” bolt
1x wood scrap, about 4” x 2” x ½” (size depends on your camera)
2x 2” angle brackets (with ¼” holes)
4x wood screws, ½”

Tools needed:
drill and bits (including size 5/16”)
hack saw (for cutting the threaded rods)
vise (or pliers, for bending the rods)
two wrenches (adjustable or fixed-gap wrenches of 7/16” or 11 mm, or pliers)
metal file (for smoothing the cut rod ends)

Step 2: 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.
Test-mount the camera, using one wingnut on the bolt to snug-up the camera.

Step 3: Prepare the Page-press

Drill 5/16” holes in each corner of the Plexiglass plate.
   (Make the holes about ½” in from each edge.)

Step 4: 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.
   (To clean the threads, 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

Remove the camera from the camera mount, if it is still mounted.
Insert the tops of the four rods into the bracket holes of the camera mount.
Secure the tops with the wing nuts.
   (Determine the best position for the nuts below the wingnuts, and
   lock them together.)
Insert the bottoms of the four rods into the Plexiglass plate.
Secure them with the stop nuts (hand-tighten).
   (Determine the best position for the nuts above the plate, and
   lock them together.)
Mount the camera and check the alignment.
   (Adjust the top, locked nuts as needed.)

Step 6: Copy Some Documents

Turn off the flash.
   (It’s not needed; it reflects off of the Plexiglass; and it’s annoying in the library!)
   (Shift things around to avoid reflections from the room lights.)
   (Long exposures are OK because everything is steady.)
You may need to set your camera to the Macro mode.
Press the Plexiglass tightly into the book so you can see all of the text.
Zoom in, as appropriate.
Snap a picture.
   (It will be steadier if you use the delayed shutter release.) 
Turn the page.
Repeat as needed.

Step 7: Optional: Clean Up the Images

Use some simple photo-editing software to …
   Rotate the image, if it is out of alignment.
   Crop the image.
   Adjust the brightness and contrast.
      (For B&W images, increase the contrast and fully desaturate the color.)
   Fix photo aberrations (e.g. pincushioning).
See "before" and "after", below.

Step 8: Optional: Paste the Images Into One Document

Prepare a dummy document using MS Word
   (or another word processing program).
Make a blank page for each image.
Give each blank page 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: Optional: Convert the Word Document Into a Pdf File

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

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

Several programs, e.g. Abbyy Transformer for Windows(~$49), do a good job with 
   optical character recognition (OCR), converting Pdfs into searchable Pdfs. 
After the conversion process, you can search for keywords in your copied document!
You can’t do this with the pages you get off of a Xerox copy machine.
AND … You saved a few trees by going paperless! Thank you.

Digital Days Photo Contest

First Prize in the
Digital Days Photo Contest