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.

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37 Discussions


5 years ago on Introduction

I actually made this to see how easy and how sturdy it was. I was surprised to see that it was indeed pretty sturdy, but I was not impressed with the angles of the connection rods. I think that I can make it better by using wood. I will try to redo this and post pics. I love it though!


8 years ago on Introduction

great instructable!!! 5 stars :-D . it really help me when i forget my books at school and goes to my friend to photocopy it !!! :-D :-D


9 years ago on Introduction

Quick question, please. My wife just gave me a Kindle for my birthday. I love it . However I have over a hundred reference books that I would like to convert to PDF and upload to my kindle. This instructible sounds like a possible solution for me. Is this feasable? I am only using these uploaded PDF's for personal use so copyright issues shouldn't come into play. Thoughts?

2 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I have a very cheap PMP bought off eBay (~$30). It has the ability to playback TXT files (need OCR) or photographs directly so I can read my copy stand documents on that just about anywhere.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

   Cool. I didn't even know that you could upload your own pdfs to a Kindle. That will be a great way to manage your documents. 
   I think you would be better off in your project with a flat bed scanner. Of course, you may not have access to one if your reference books are in the library. With the scanner approach, the key is to get it set up correctly beforehand -- you'll want properly exposed, black-and-white copies, pdf format for the output, and multi-pages combined into one file. Then you can speed through lots of pages and keep the file sizes reasonably small.
   With the photographic approach, you will spend lot of time, page-by-page doing steps 7-10. And then you'll want some utility like CutePDF for editing your pdfs, rotating pages, inserting skipped pages, etc. If you go the photographic route, be sure to see the New-and-Impoved version of the copy stand (https://www.instructables.com/id/New-Improved-Portable-Paperless-Digital-Copy-M/) if you haven't seen that yet.


9 years ago on Introduction

Nice instructable
maybe you could take a acrylic with antireflective coating to minimize the reflections of the stand and camera.

3 replies

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

If your camera supports it, a polarising filter would work just as well.  Simply adjust so that reflections from the plexiglass do not appear.  You'd just have to buy a CPL with a small diameter and tape it in front of the lens and it would work fine - with a bit of fiddling to get the right amount of rotation.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

A polarizing filter won't help much in this situation; they can only block light that has been polarized by reflections near the Brewster angle. In this case the light is reflected virtually perpendicular to the plastic so the polarization is very small.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You could try cross-polarization between the lights and the lens, You would have to polarize each light source close to ninety degrees from the polarizing lens filter. You can get polarizing gels for the light sources but I am not sure how expensive this would be.


9 years ago on Step 10

 Did this over the weekend.  Had a few issues, not with the design but with my ability to implement it.  I went with a slightly bigger piece of acrylic.  I found for single page documents (or multi-page that I've ripped the staple out of for this purpose and stapled again when done), I didn't need to put it under the glass.  Anyhow, the bigger glass but same sized rods resulted in my having to use a bigger piece of wood.  Blessing in disguise: I drilled two holes--one for the $50 10 MP camera that does great for this, and one for my wife's Canon Rebel xti that also does GREAT for this...and has the nice feature of shooting with a remote button.

I'd been looking at the other designs.  While brilliant and well-executed, this much simpler, less to break, portable even if you don' t take it apart first design works much better on a grad student budget in a grad student [read small] apartment.  Thanks for taking the time to actually photograph and upload your design and methods.

Currently, I'm playing around with light sources and positions to minimize glare and reflectivity issues.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the kind comments & for your ethusiasm for this Instructable.

To avoid the reflections -- the main fault with this model -- I developed a similar copy stand with no plastic. See https://www.instructables.com/id/New-Improved-Portable-Paperless-Digital-Copy-M/ The downside to the new one is that the frame has to be reset for each size of book., Once setup, the new model is fast and reflection free (if the pages themselves aren't shiny). Furthermore, it is more compact when broken down.


9 years ago on Introduction

Thanks everyone for the kind words.

You guys are really sharp and spotted the biggest weakness of this design - the reflections you get off of the acrylic "page-press". Many of you had great suggestions for how to avoid this e.g.  by using non-reflective acylic. But stay tuned, I will soon post a simple revision that doesn't use plastic at all. Instead it uses a simple, adjustable, windowless frame.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

All you have to do is cover the legs part the way down with a pyramidal tent (or hood) of light proof fabric = black out cloth. You can test this with a black scarf; just wrap it around the legs starting at the camera and work your way towards the plastic sheet until you get zero reflections.

I am sure your windowless frame will work. With my copy stand (https://www.instructables.com/id/Copy-Stand-Cheap-and-easy-to-build/) I abandoned sheets of plastic, glass and black out cloths to speed things up. I found that you didn't really need to keep the pages flat to get legible copies.

Yours is a good simple design, I will probably build one for portable use if I can think of lighter legs.


9 years ago on Introduction

hey very nice ible, your pictures are very well done!

but wont the plexiglass make the picture worse, because of the reflect?

3 replies

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the comment. You are exactly right. The Plexiglass creates some reflection problems. However, the image cleanup (step 7) resolves most problems -- see the before and after pictures. I thought about using a frame for a press, like an empty picture frame with no glass, but it depended too much on the size of the book.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Nifty idea. If you're making quick copies for reference or for a usethat doesn't require high fidelity the results are ok!
But if it's an issue you can try and find  cheap polarizing filterand hold it in front of the lens to get rid of most reflections (or finda way to attach it to the front.)