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. Organizing 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 remotely 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. Click here to skip to the scanning methods.

What Paper Sizes Are Considered “Large Format”?

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 ARCH (architectural drawing sizes) are by far the two most common large format documents encountered.

Below are the specifications for ANSI and ARCH.

ANSI Specifications

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)

ARCH Specifications

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

What Are Some Common Large Format Documents?

A few of the most common large format documents you may encounter includes:

  • Architectural drawings and blueprints
  • Engineering diagrams
  • Large non-standard book pages
  • Newspaper sheets
  • Maps
  • Technical drawings
  • Schematics
  • Paintings and posters
  • Medical images including X-Rays and CT scans
  • 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’s Different About Scanning Large Format Documents?

The process of scanning a large format document differs slightly from the standard process in a couple of important ways.

The first major difference is the type of equipment used. Most consumer-grade scanners are only capable of handling legal and letter-size documents. For this reason, an oversized flatbed scanner is typically used to scan large format documents in a professional setting.

Sometimes called a wide format scanner or large format scanner, these scanners are big enough to scan these documents in a single pass, eliminating the need to splice multiple files into a single image. Instead, one large image is generated.

Large format scanner examples

The need for scanning in a very high resolution is another notable difference, especially for documents like engineering drawings and blueprints which often contain tons of small details and thin lines. Wide-format scanners have the capability to scan at the resolution required to maintain maximum readability and detail, ensuring that nothing is lost during the scanning process.

It’s worth mentioning that scanning large format documents is a lot more labor-intensive. The documents are often stored rolled up in tubes, requiring extra care and steps in the preparation for scanning. They need to be carefully unrolled to avoid damage and generally demand more handling due to their size and fragility.

Given these factors—specialized equipment, high-resolution scanning, and added labor—scanning large-format documents is generally more complex, more time-consuming, and costlier than scanning standard-size papers.

How can I scan a large format document?

There are a number of different ways to digitize large format documents. The method you ultimately choose will depend on a number of factors: your need for high quality scans, the speed at which you need to complete your project, the number of documents you have to digitize, and of course, how much it is going to cost.

Check out our handy chart for the TLDR; version:

Scanning Method Pros Cons Recommendation
Professional Scanning Service The digitization process is handled by an expert, uses high quality equipment, and the end result meets professional standards Hiring a scanning company can be too expensive at smaller volumes or in cases where a professional result is not required. Yes
Office Supply Stores Office supply stores and copy shops are a cheap and convenient way to scan large format documents. Some stores may not have the required equipment to scan very large documents. You will typically need to complete the scanning yourself. No
Large Format Scanner If you own or have rented a large format scanner, the cost of scanning large format documents will be minimal. Purchasing the equipment can be very expensive, and you will need to scan and organize the documents yourself. No
Regular Flatbed Scanner You can leverage the equipment you already own, which is much cheaper. The process can be a bit daunting if your scanner does not come with the ability to stitch images together on its own. No
Mobile App There are many decent scanning apps available you can try completely free. Scanning with an app is great for personal use, but is probably not going to be good enough for professional purposes. No
Photograph Your Documents Even the most basic cameras available today can create a high quality digital image of your physical document. Getting the final image just right can be tricky, which could cause distortions that affect the readability or accuracy. No

Watch our video or read below to learn 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 hear pretty 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 your scanning to a professional.

There are also companies that will allow you to rent a wide 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. Scan Long Documents With a Regular Flatbed Scanner

If you have a scanner to use, but it 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 your document in multiple passes.

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 images into image editing software.

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. 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. Scan your documents with an app.

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. For professional purposes, the results you’ll get from an app may not be good enough.

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. 

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 will be a digital image file.

In most cases, your document will be converted into either a .PDF or TIF. These formats offer the distinct advantage of supporting metadata fields, which allows you to embed additional searchable information about each file. Additionally, PDF and TIF files are highly compatible across a range of devices and don’t require specialized software or equipment for viewing, making them a universally smart choice for ensuring broad compatibility.

This not only simplifies the processes of editing, sharing, and storing your large-format documents, but also provides the reassurance that your files will stay accessible and easily viewable for the foreseeable future.

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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