These will work for any carts, for any system, not just for Ward's CD Project.
So if anyone else ever does a project, here's one good way to go about this....
I also wrote up some general tips, for scanning boxes and other game items.

Most semi-flat objects cause scanning problems of one sort or another, but I think I've come up with some ways to get around most of them, and to have the resulting image look pretty darned good. With care, you can almost make it look like the item was carefully photographed, instead of scanned in. And after experimenting to find the best way to do it, it is fast as well.

The main problem with scanning small, non-flat objects are that scanners were not intended to do that sort of work. Paper and such is nice and flat, so the machinery inside the scanner only has to focus at one specific depth. (Right at the top surface of its glass, in the case of a flatbed scanner.) Things laying flat on the glass are in focus; the farther away you get from that perfect focusing depth, the more out-of-focus the image becomes. But for our purposes, it isn't too noticeable, as our objects aren't very thick. Because it is not too bad, and you can't get around it anyway, ignore it.

The second major problem with scanning non-flat objects is that they tend to cast shadows. The light scanners use is angled, rather than being at a straight-up angle relative to the scanner's glass surface. In other words, either the front or the back edge of the item you are scanning is going to cast a pretty nasty shadow. This shadow can obscure some of the details and hide the shape. We've all seen shadows and know how they obscure details, so I won't belabor the point. What we want to do, is figure out a way to get around it. (My step-by-step solution to that and more is below.)

A third problem is that the lid of the scanner won't close, obviously. With light-colored objects, this is actually good; when you scan the item (say a tan cart by Commodore) it will have a black background surrounding the item. This shows off the edges of the item more; allows its shape to be seen. If you have a dark object to scan (say a typical, black plastic cartridge case) just put any random peice of white paper over the object, (computer paper works good) to make its shape stand out, and look more like a photograph.


For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I am going to assume you have the same hardware and software I do. Any necessary adaptations should be easy enough to figure out, once you play with and are familiar with your system. The text below might seem lengthy, but the process itself can be done very quickly, once you've mastered it. I can do it in a minute or less, usually. Having said all that, let's jump into a typical example....

Because you are trying to get some free or "negative" space around your scanned object, in this case a videogame cartridge, you cannot put the cart against one edge of the glass, to keep it lined up square. But is is important to keep it square, so that lettering is legible and lines aren't badly aliased or "stair-stepped". This dilemna is fairly easy to fix, however. I use a cheap plastic ruler, 12 inches by one inch, and it works great. I place the ruler against the front edge of my scanner's glass, as if it were measuring the short side of the glass. Let both ends of the ruler hang out over either side. Make sure it is firmly against the glass' edge, so that it is square with it. Take the cartridge (or cassette tape, or whatever) you want to scan, and place its flattest edge against the ruler's edge. Make sure everything is touching snugly, and then VERY carefully, take the ruler off of the glass. This should result in your cart being precisely one inch away from the front edge of the glass, with free space on all of its four sides. Be careful not to move the object. (With practice all this only takes a few seconds.)

The next step depends on the color of the object itself. Is it a light object or a dark one? If it is a light object, skip ahead to the next steps. If it is a dark object, to get some contrast in its background, simply place a sheet of paper over the object. Be careful not to bump or move the object. Random computer paper works fine for this step; the type or coloring does not matter much for now. (You can always get fancy later, once you have this entire procedure mastered, right?)

Scan the object. This is a pretty simple step; push a few buttons and wait. If you have a lot of similar items to scan, like an assembly line of sorts, see if your scanner's software allows you to "save your settings". You can prescan the first one, then move the bottom edge of the scanner's path up to half a full page, to save some scanning time. (It is handy to be able to save other small, time-saving tweaks, too. If I find that I have to bump every item's brightness levels up five clicks, for instance, I'll move the overall brightness up one percent.)

Crop the object. (That is, get rid of most of the unwanted background areas.) You usually do this by picking one corner, say top left, and moving your mouse down to the bottom right corner, to highlight the part you want to save. When you select "crop" from the "image" menu, (or whateve) all the excess is discarded. For our purposes, however, leave an inch or more around the object, in excess of what you want in the finished project. You'll need the extra space to make adjustments.

If your object was light, with a black background, do your final crops now, and save it to disk. You are finished with this particular item. Use your own judgement, but I usually shoot for 1/8th or 1/4 inch of free or "negative" space on all sides. Doing the crops in steps is one way to keep things looking fairly even; an inch to half inch to quarter. One trick, if your first corner wasn't chosen well but your second one was, is to (while holding the mouse steady) let the button up to make the highlight box complete, then clicking to reject it and start over. This chooses the good corner you wanted to keep; the other is easier to choose now. With practice, this only takes a few seconds. (It also works great with circular objects, if/when you ever need to do those.)

Note: the scanned object will probably have one end in bright light, and one in heavy shadow. Once you are familiar with the peculiarities of your particular set-up, you can use this to your advantage. For instance, some objects have one beveled end, and one flat end. (I am specifically thinking of Parker Brothers game cartridges, but other examples certainly exist.) To be able to see the beveled end best, make sure it faces the heavily lit direction, when you first put it on your scanner's glass. In fact, this is probably a quick and easy way to see which end is which, if you don't already know; just put the cart down twice, once in both directions, and compare final scans. But this is sort of advanced stuff; experiment some on your own, ok?

If things went well, you should have two sides that look good, and one edge that is well lit, and one edge that looks awful, thanks to a heavy shadow the object cast on the paper behind it. You have a ballpark but oversized cropped image of that. Save it now, if you want to; you won't need to later, but you might want to now, until you are used to this.

You want to wipe out the shadow. The shadow, with experience and some planning, will be behind the flattest, straightest edge. This allows you to clear a rectangular space, right over the shadow area, using the closest non-shadow color in the surrounding background. Again, once you are used to doing it, this only takes maybe five or ten seconds.

The step-by-step procedure on my system is to select the rectangular tool; the same one used for cropping. Place the first corner about an inch above one of your object's corners, and towards the outer edge. Drag the box downwards and across the image, so that you make an box outline that just barely hits that flattest edge of your object, and that goes off a short distance towards either side. When the box is where it is supposed to be, release the mouse button. You should have a wide, skinny box area marked off, covering the shadow, and going towards either edge of the image itself. The only critical part of all this is where the edge of the box meets the flattest edge of the item.

Paint Shop Pro has an eyedropper icon which allows you to pick up any color that is in your image. With the box still highlighted, go click on that icon. Move back to the image, and select any spot near to the objects corner, where it meets the new box you just made. What you are doing is selecting a color that will blend in, as seamlessly as is possible, with the rest of the image. After a few tries, you'll see just what I mean. With Paint Shop Pro, I have to double-click the icon that represents the foreground and background colors, to make this new color selection be a background color, instead of a foreground color.

The box is still highlighted, and a color has been chosen. Next I go up to the "edit" menu on the top of the screen, and select "clear". The box I made will now be filled with the just-chosen background color. Look at the two sides of the object, and the highlighted box area. If those color all blend well, go to the next step. If not, go back and choose another color, and again clear the box, until you are satisfied that the colors match well. The only parts you care about, by the way, are a small area surrounding the object itself. Other areas may not match at all, but you are going to crop them out anyway.

Now you can either do your final cropping on the image, and consider it finished, or you can get fancy. Your choice. Paint Shop Pro has a paintbrush tool it calls "push". What it does is to allow you to push one color over another, as if it were wet paint. Save your image first if you want to practice this, until you are really good at it. All this step does is remove the razor-sharp line where the two colors meet.

Got all that? Like I said, the text explaining it is rather long, but once you've done it a few times, it can be done in under a minute, with no real trouble. It's sort of like learning to tie your shoes, I guess. The results are well worth the effort, in my opinion. Enjoy, and later!

Text by: Ward Shrake, January 1998