No scanner on hand? You can take a picture of any form, book page, or document with your phone and make your picture look like you scanned it by using Photoshop.

There seem to be a lot of times in life when I curse my college apartment for not having a scanner. Maybe I have to include a book passage in a paper I’m writing or presentation I’m creating. Maybe I’m hoping to send a document for my workplace without walking all the way to the library. Maybe I need to make a copy of a sheet of paper. Whatever the reason, I’ve gotten pretty good at fake-scanning things using only my iPhone camera and a complicated list of Photoshop commands—and I will now bestow that knowledge upon you.

How to Make a Document or Picture Look Scanned

  1. Take a picture of the page and open it in Photoshop.
    Any picture will work, but this will be far easier for you if your paper is flat and the lighting is decent. For this tutorial, I’m using a page from the book The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, held as flat as I could do with one hand.

    Picture Taken to be Scanned
  2. Use the levels panel to give it scan-worthy contrast.
    This is where the magic happens! Click command + L (ctrl + L on a PC) or go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. You should see a graph of the light in the image. A “hill” on the left shows how much black is in the image while a hill on the right shows how much white is in the image. (Pictures of paper usually have way more white.)

    Make Your Picture Look Like It’s Scanned

    Your goal is to bring the right-most slider to the beginning of the “hill” on the right side of the graph. This will flatten all of the white in the image to be pure white, instead of giving shades of gray. (If your black looks washed out, move the black slider to the farthest point of the black hill to intensify that, too.) You should see your image shift from a photo to a crisp image that looks like a scan.

    You can spot-correct the levels if your image is darker on the top or bottom. Using the bounding box, I drew a square over that bottom-left corner that included a bit more color data, re-opened the levels panel, and adjusted it separately from the rest of the image.
  3. Use perspective warp and rotation tools to make the document flat.
    If you took a tilted image like I did, you’ll want to make the document look more flat. Go to Edit > Perspective warp. Draw a box over the part of your scan that contains the document information and click enter. (If your image is slanted, this might not be a perfect rectangle!) Then, drag the corners until it looks more flat.

    imageDraw a box over the area that contains your document information. If your image is slanted, this might not be a perfect rectangle!
  4. Save the file as a .pdf or .jpeg.
    For most documentation-type files, you’ll want a .pdf. For an image file, save as a .jpeg. And you’re done!

    Photoshop Makes Picture Look Like Scanned DocumentIt’s not perfectly straight, since I was holding the book open with one hand, but it does look like a scan!

Using a similar technique, you can edit your drawings and learn how to digitize handwriting samples in Photoshop.

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