How to Scan Large Format Documents

Our tips for scanning blueprints, architecture drawings, and other oversized documents.

Large Format Documents and Blueprints

Large format documents like architectural drawings, blueprints, schematics, and newspapers often contain important information that must be kept on file for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, these documents take up a ton of space.

More often than not, they live out their days stacked up into giant paper piles, stuffed into cardboard tubes, or stashed away in bulky storage racks.

To make matters worse, oversized documents are also extremely fragile. Larger sheets are easy to tear and crease, and storing them rolled up into tubes makes them prone to embrittlement (Yes, I learned a new word today).

The fact is, the more large format documents you have, the harder they are to manage. Retrieving them, accessing them, and sharing them is a huge hassle.

For these reasons, many people prefer to scan oversized documents, converting them into digital files that can be stored digitally on a hard drive or in the cloud.

Obviously, digital files are significantly easier to organize, access, and store than oversized documents. Plus they don’t take up any space, and who among us couldn’t benefit from a little less clutter?

However, it is important to understand that scanning large format documents is not always as straightforward as it seems. In many cases, special equipment may required, equipment you may not have access to. Not to mention the risk of damaging your documents in the process.

Don’t worry! Read on for tips and tricks that can help you digitize your large format documents with whatever you have on hand.

What paper sizes are considered to be large format documents?

When it comes to scanning, any document larger than A4 (8.3″ X 11.7″) would generally be considered a large format document. This is because these documents typically require special scanning equipment to digitize.

While there are several paper size standards commonly used in the US, ANSI and Architectural Sizes are by far the two most common large format documents encountered.

Below are the specifications for ANSI and ARCH:

ANSI ClassPaper Dimensions
ANSI A8.5″ x 11″
ANSI B11″ x 17″ (2 ANSI A sheets)
ANSI C17″ x 22″ (4 ANSI A sheets)
ANSI D22″ x 34″ (8 ANSI A sheets)
ANSI E34″ x 44″ (16 ANSI A sheets)

ARCHPaper Dimensions
ARCH A9″ x 12″
ARCH B12″ x 18″
ARCH C18″ x 24″
ARCH D 24″ x 36″
ARCH E30″ x 42″

A few typical examples of large format documents you may encounter would include:

  • Architectural Blueprints
  • Engineering diagrams/drawings
  • Large non-standard book pages
  • Newspaper sheets
  • Maps
  • Schematics
  • Paintings
  • Pages from large books
  • Certificates or Awards 

Below is a diagram that shows you the various large format document sizes and how they compare.

Large Format Document Sizes - ANSI and ARCH

What is the process of scanning a large format document?

Large format scanning differs in several ways from the standard scanning process.

The first major difference is the type of equipment used. Since most consumer-grade scanners are designed to handle legal and letter-size documents, an oversized flatbed scanner is typically required to scan large format documents. This avoids the need for splicing and editing multiple digital files together into a single image.

The scanning pipeline and workload is also a bit more involved and labor-intensive as well. Consider the case of engineering drawings or blueprints, both of which would typically be considered large format documents.

The size of these documents and the standard method of storage (most often rolled storage) adds additional handling, labor, and care requirements to the scanning process.

This is one of the main reasons why scanning large format documents is generally more involved and takes more time than converting a typical box of letter-size documents fed directly into the document feeder of a high-speed professional scanner.

How can I scan a large format document?

There are a number of different ways to convert large format documents into digital files. The method you choose depends on your requirements: The quality of the final image, the speed in which you need to complete your project, the number of documents you have to convert, and the final cost to you. Below are 6 ways you can scan your oversized paper documents. 

1. Large Format Scanning Services

Whether you’re scanning for business related purposes or have a large volume of oversized documents to convert, a large format scanning service is the only way to go for consistent, high-quality document conversions.

Large format scanning services combine high-end scanning equipment with years of scanning experience to create a 100% accurate reproduction of your paper documents. 

This is really important when scanning schematics, engineering documents or blueprints that contain fine lines and intricate details that need to be captured perfectly in order for the documents to retain their usefulness. 

And if you have a lot of files, a large format scanning company can help you index and organize your digital files, making them easy to locate when you need them.

The scanning services provided by document scanning companies must also comply with all data privacy regulations & protocols, ensuring the confidentiality and privacy of the data on your documents is protected, if you are into that sort of thing. 

Of course, you may not be in need of a professional service if you only have a few documents to scan. In those cases,  there are other ways you can convert your files. 

2. Office Supply Stores

One question we here often is where can I scan large format documents if I only have a few to scan? Almost everyone lives within a few miles of an office supply store that provides scanning services. Stores like OfficeMax and Staples offer inexpensive self-service scanning and printing, where all the equipment you need is provided to you for less than a dollar a scan. However, these setups don’t always have scanners capable of large format scanning, so its best to call ahead to find out first, before you lug all your documents out to the car. 

You may also be able to find a local small business/family owned copy shop that can handle the task. These shops can usually help you scan oversized documents, but may be a bit more expensive per sheet. They also might not be able to help you if need to scan any more than a few documents at a time. However, the level of service you typically get from the smaller shops more than makes up for the extra costs.   

3. Large Format Scanner

For the most part, consumer scanners are capable of scanning standard letter size or A4  documents. Some scanners can even scan slightly larger legal size pages (8.5 x 14” ). 

While there are larger flatbed scanners available to purchase, they are usually pretty expensive, and not very practical, unless of course you are planning on doing a ton of large format scanning. 

From a cost perspective, that may be a viable option if you are an engineering firm with hundreds to thousands of oversized documents to scan and you’ve got a lot of extra time on your hands. Otherwise, it may end up costing you more than outsourcing to a professional.

There are also companies that will allow you to  rent a large format scanner for temporary use. That may be a better decision from a financial perspective, and be more logical if you have a set amount of documents that need to be converted and no future need for a large format scanner.

4. With a Regular Flatbed Scanner

If you have a scanner to use that just isn’t big enough to scan your document, there is another option: Scanning in sections. 

Some scanners come with this feature built into the device, with the ability to scan long documents by stitching multiple scans together for you into a single image.

If not, you can do it yourself, a little patience and a photo editing software are all you need to get the job done. 

While the process of scanning a long document can be a bit time consuming, in most cases you can do it for free by making due with what you have on hand.  Here’s how:

Step 1. 

Scan the document in multiple passes. Be sure to scan your images at the maximum resolution (DPI) supported by your scanner.  

A quick note about resolution:

Documents converted into high-resolution digital images are typically scanned at 300dpi ( dots per inch). 

In scanners, optical resolution refers to the amount of information the scanner can capture in a given space.  Resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). A higher dpi means higher resolution and higher-quality images with more detail. 

High resolution files offer significantly better image clarity at the expense of greater storage requirements. That said, steadily decreasing hard drive storage costs make digital storage much more affordable long term than physical storage.

Back to the scanning…

Start at one of the corners to make it easy to keep your place, and create images of every section of the document. Depending on the size of the document, you may need to flip it over and scan the bottom half the same way. In the case of a map or folded documents, you may be able to use those creases as a grid for reference. 

Just remember to leave a healthy amount of overlap. You are going to use this overlap to “line up” all the pieces, so keep that in mind when deciding how much to overlap. 

Step 2.

Import your scanned images into an image editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, or Gimp if you’re looking for something free. 

If you had to flip your document over to scan the bottom half, you’ll need to rotate these images 180° so they are properly orientated. 

Step 3.

The next step is to combine your images into a single file. 

If you are using Photoshop, you can use Photomerge to automatically combine your images. There is a great tutorial you can use that makes the process super easy. You’ll see why the overlap from the previous step is important. Photoshop uses that duplicated information to determine the orientation and location of each part of your image, and blends them together automatically. 

If you are using Gimp, you can use a free plugin called Stich Panorama, which can help make the process of combining your images easier. 

5. With your mobile device

There are a number of apps you can download on both IPhone and Android devices that can help you scan large documents. 

If you’re looking for a quick and easy option and are not super concerned about image quality,  recommend taking a look at Scanner Pro for iPhone or iPad. The app produces a PDF file that can be easily viewed, shared, and stored. 

If you are on an Android device, Microsoft Lens is one of the highest rated options out there. The app is incredibly easy to use and best of all, its free!

Using scanning apps to scan oversized documents works well, but the results rely heavily on the quality of your camera and the size of the document.

6. Photograph your large format documents

You may not have a large format scanner, a regular commercial scanner, or a mobile phone, but you still need to digitize your large format documents. 

The reality is, there may be privacy concerns with using a mobile application. And maybe, scanning your document in multiple passes is impractical for one reason or another. 

While the quality won’t wow any future historians looking at your documents, a proper photograph is a perfectly good way to create a backup of a large document without any additional equipment. 

You’ll need to do a bit of setup before you start, including selecting the right place to take the shot. 

Make sure your document is clean and free of any dirt or debris. The resulting image will look better if the document is evenly lit, which ensures that every part is legible. 

Take the image dead on, as perpendicular as possible to ensure the resulting image is not distorted.

Digital formats after conversion

No matter what method of scanning you ultimately choose, the end result is a digital image. In most cases, your documents will be converted into one of  the standard digital image formats you’re already used to, such as a .PDF, .JPG, or lossless .TIF.

This makes image manipulation, sharing, and storage no different than any other digital image. These files are also compatible with most software and can be viewed by anyone without the need for any additional software. 

Where can I scan large format documents?

If you want to digitize a large volume of blueprints, architectural drawings, or other large documents, SecureScan can help. Contact us to get some free guidance and a quote for services. We regularly provide high volume large format scanning services for engineering firms, architects, electrical engineers, and any other business that requires specialty scanning services.

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