HOWTO make a $300 high-speed book scanner

Daniel Reetz posted an Instructable about making your high-speed book scanner from trash and cheap cameras. His version is only around $300. I don't think I'd make one myself, but I'd love for some generous maker to install one at my local public library! From Instructables:
 Files Deriv Fd0 Pj55 Ftk89Xnh Fd0Pj55Ftk89Xnh.Medium-1Digital books change the landscape . After suffering through scanning many of my old, rare, and government issue books, I decided to create a book scanner that anybody could make, for around $300. And that's what this instructable is all about. A greener future with more books rather than fewer books. More access to information, rather than less access to information. And maybe, years from now, a reformed publishing/distribution model (but I'm not holding my breath...).

I've built two of these things now, and this instructable covers the best parts of both of them. You can build a book scanner using only hand tools plus a drill. I realized that not everyone is comfortable with using all the different hand tools you might need to make it. So I scanned a book on using hand tools that should answer all your questions. ;)
DIY High-Speed Book Scanner from Trash and Cheap Cameras


  1. well hewwo to you too.

    Seriously though, to supplement interlibrary loans there should be a scan-exchange program in which you offer to scan a book in your library in exchange for a scan of a book in another library.

    Sure it would be more expensive than mailing books around, but eventually all the rare books that people actually read would be in the interlibrary scan database.

  2. The killer app for book scanning is an automatic page-turner.

    Having to turn each page of the book manually while scanning it is acceptable but slow. The ability to simply stick in a book and go play outside for a half hour while a robot flips through the pages would be game-changing. Better yet would be the ability to queue up a stack of volumes and simply let the thing run for days.

    I’m sure industrial grade machinery exists to do this, but after seeing this I have more faith that some enterprising makers could actually put such tech within reach of an average hobbyist…or free information guerrilla.

  3. I may still be under NDA as far as the technology I’m about to discuss, so I’ll be vague :)

    I spent a few months working for a company that had a book scanning project, with a setup very similar to this. The page turning was all manual, though. If you’re dealing with books that have any sort of aging to the pages, that last thing you want to do is just stick them in a machine and let it go. Brittle, inflexible pages can get ruined very easily if there isn’t a deft hand doing the turning.

  4. I scanned books for with a scanner not much different… You know, except for the fact that the cameras cost 5 times as much as this whole set up does…

    Then again maybe if they used cheaper cameras I wouldnt have been laid off…

  5. #1 Outside of copyright expired works and government documents, I don’t think that there’s any real way for this to happen under copyright law. I don’t even think that libraries would be faxing and scanning journal articles to meet Inter-Library LOAN requests if the current market for buying individual articles from publishers had existed when the appropriate court cases were decided (and more importanly the 1977 copyright law was written)
    #7 And with severely brittle books, just about the only real option is to guilitine the bindings and scan from a stack of pages. Years ago I worked in the photoduplication division of the Library of Congress, although in those days we were microfilming books rather than scanning them. “We had to destroy the book to save it,” was an unpleasent part of our job, especially after a pretty impressive fire in the bulk de-acidification facility.

  6. This is a great project but man, 78 step and it doesn’t actually tell you anything. How about a parts list? How about some discussion of the camera used? A little less style and a little more substance please.

  7. JCCalhoun,

    Every step has a parts list, or pictures of the parts. I even describe the places and the types of dumpsters you might find them in, free.

    Step 74 specifically addresses which camera, and 76 describes exactly how to set them up. Step 37 covers how to hack the firmware on them.

    I even scanned a public domain book on hand tools and how to use them. If that’s not enough, I hope you can tell me what more to do. ;)

    You might want to give it a second looking-over. The PDF version is a bit easier to read.

    I think everyone would like to see an automatic page turner, but practically speaking it is not as useful as it seems. You can’t use them with brittle, old books (thanks Zaren) and what happens if you miss a page? It screws up all the software automation. The way this scanner is designed, you can actually relax and watch a DVD on its screen as you scan if it so pleases you.

    I am going to make a video comparing an automatic turner to me operating the scanner. I think you’ll see that my scanner compares favorably.

    Thank you all for your interest (and votes, if you voted!!)

  8. @ #11 My thoughts exactly! Though that scanning method involved a little less, er, preservation of the original copy, if I recall.

  9. For me, the open-source beta software they released to turn the scanned pages into PDFs is the most interesting part. Does anyone know if other software exists like this exists? I’d prefer a mac version, but I’m going to try their PC beta.
    I’ve been wanting to scan all of my documents and throw them out for years now. I’m pretty sure I will use a camera and tripod rather than a scanner. I have several pieces of software that can create PDFs but they typically only work with the scanner, and I’m still determining which has the best OCR. I’ve been meaning to write an automator script that would grab a bunch of scans in iphoto, run them through the OCR program, combine the PDF, and maybe delete the original scans.

  10. You should also really check out the work at The idea and the price are the same but it has many fewer parts and requires much less technical ability to put together or operate. Check out their youtube video of it in action.

  11. Say Jordan314, our Matlab script will work on the Mac (it was developed on a Mac) but you’ll need a Matlab license, which is far from free. Sorry about that — it’s only been in development for a couple weeks.

    But our software is really only useful if you have the book scanner. You might want to look into other options, like Atiz Snapter, or ABBY Fotoreader, but I’m not sure if they’re available on the Mac (in fact, I kind of doubt it — regretfully).

    I know everyone wants an automatic page turner, but I honestly don’t think they’re much faster than my system. To prove this, I used Youtube Doubler to make a mashup of myself scanning against the machine. I wasn’t even rushing. ;)

    This is the link:

    If it doesn’t work, you can get it on the first page of my instructable.

  12. #12
    I really do think this is a neat project but I did find it too much effort to read through the description of the process. I guess I just wanted more of the kind of instructions that come with a flatpack bookshelf or something.
    I couldn’t get the pdf to load. It looked like the url was messed up but there might be a problem on my end.
    Any attempt to OCR the books? Whenever I scan books in I always convert them to plain text and I’m curious if this method would be high enough resolution for the OCR software to work well.

  13. Hi again,

    I didn’t expect that you’d read the whole thing (after all, it is written instructions for people who plan to build one), but I do think your criticism was unfounded, and I tried to give evidence by linking you to the steps that addressed your concerns — that way you wouldn’t have to read the whole thing.

    You have to be a member of Instructables (and logged in) to download the PDF. I’ll see if I can upload it somewhere else for you tonight.

    This scanner produces more than high enough resolution for OCR of textbooks and every other book I’ve thrown at it. The error rate isn’t too bad. It will be better with the next version of software, and Aaron is working on it now.

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