How to scan your linework for your comics with the Mustek Scan Express 1200 Pro on the Mac

Mustek Scan Express A3 1200 Pro

Mustek Scan Express A3 1200 Pro

For all you comic artists who haven’t yet went to an all digital workflow, this one’s for you.

As you probably know, most comic artists work on 11″ x 17″, or tabloid size bristol board. This just works out better for many reasons, chief of which are the fact that it’s just easier to work bigger for many artists, and also that the linework usually reproduces better when it’s reduced in size.

Unfortunately, most artists find out right away that getting your hands on a tabloid-size flatbed scanner is easier said than done. These things are EXPENSIVE.

Enter, the Mustek Scan Express A3 1200 Pro USB Large Format Scanner.

Mustek Scan Express A3 1200 Pro

If you haven’t heard this by now, I’ll just get it out of the way. This is not a quality scanner. I repeat, this is NOT a quality scanner.

If you’re looking for accurate color, vivid color, Hell even DECENT color, well you have the wrong brand. Looking for a sharp scan of a photo or printed piece (ie scanning in a panel of your favorite comic for a review)? Expect to deal with serious dot-pattern and moire issues.

Man, this thing is not even really built well. It just doesn’t feel well-constructed when you pick it up.

So with all that said. I want to give a heartfelt, enthusiastic THANK YOU to Mustek for making this scanner.

The reason for this is that it’s the ONLY affordable tabloid scanner on the market, apparently. Go ahead, search around, the Epson and Agfa scanners will run you at LEAST $1800 (US). SHEESH, that’s pretty steep just so I can scan in some linework.

And that’s the key. All I really use this for is linework. For that purpose, this scanner is more than good enough, so Mustek really did the right thing for comic artists everywhere.

Scanning on the Mac with Photoshop

Anyway, I’m using this on the Mac, and I did have some issues that made things kind of hairy for awhile. Mustek isn’t exactly a brand that software makers cater to, so you have to use some workarounds at times.

When I first bought the scanner, I was running Photoshop CS3 on Mac OSX 10.4.11 (aka Tiger). With this version of Photoshop, it seems the Twain drivers were built right into it, so I was always able to use the File>Import>Twain command to access the scanner. No problems there.

Unfortunately that all ended when I upgraded to the Intel 10.5 (Leopard) operating system.

Scanning on the Mac with Image Capture

When I upgraded to Leopard, I also upgraded to Photoshop CS4. Apparently there are no Twain drivers in this version, so I was cut off from accessing the scanner.

I searched high-and low for a scan program to do it, and I couldn’t find one (not even Vuescan worked!)

It turns out I had the answer the whole time. Namely the Image Capture program already residing in my Applications folder. Very nice.

Image Capture Scan Procedure

There’s a little bit of unorthodox menu hunting to deal with when scanning with Image Capture, so I’ll walk you through the steps here:

  1. Open up Image Capture. Right away you’ll see a dialogue box that says “No Image Capture Device Connected”. Yikes. That doesn’t look good. Not to worry, however, it will find the scanner if we dig a little deeper.IMAGE-CAPTURE-01
  2. Go to the top menu and choose Devices>Browse Devices.
  3. A window will pop-up here that lists any device Image Capture can get to. Your Mustek will appear under “Twain Devices”. If you look you’ll see Image Capture even spotted my bluetooth phone as well. Sweet.

    **NOTE: Every once in a while, you’ll see a crazy error symbol instead of the USB symbol in the “Kind” column. When this happens you need to unplug the scanner and plug it in again. Keep doing this until the regular USB symbol reappears or the scanner won’t be seen.
    I’m not sure why this happens. I couldn’t get it to reproduce for this tutorial but if/when it happens again I’ll update the article with a screenshot of what the error looks like.
  4. Click the “Use TWAIN UI” button on the right. Now you’ll get a window where you can choose where you want the scanned file to be written to. You can also name the file here, and choose the format.It always defaults to jpeg, as seen in the screenshot. You can also choose Tiff or PNG. I always choose Tiff, but decide what’s best for your workflow. For comic linework tiff is the best choice.The Automatic Task dropdown lets you choose an application the file should be opened with once it’s finished scanning. I never use this or anything in the “Options” button in the bottom left but explore that at your leisure.
  5. Click the “Scan…” button on the bottom right. Now you’ll be brought into the main scanning window (you’d be brought right to this window if you were able to scan directly from within Photoshop).

In this window I only concern myself with the defauly “Main” tab. Clicking the “preview” button on the right window will cause the scanner to make a quick scan so you can see a preview.

From the top down these are my settings:

  1. Scan Mode: Choose “Lineart”. You won’t need the color or grayscale options. (This setting will only see lines with a higher level of darkness/weight. Your lighter lines and blue lines won’t be picked up)
  2. Scan Source: Reflective. I’m not sure why this is here. it makes it look like you might have the option to scan transparencies or film but as far as I know you can’t anyway.
  3. Scan Size: Custom. There are standard sizes in here like A3 or Letter, but I usually just drag the box in the right hand window to match the size of the piece I want to scan. When you do this the drop down will change to Custom.
  4. Resolution: 2400. In my screen shot you’ll see that my resolution is set at 900. More on this later, but normally I always scan my linework at least at 2400. The scanner goes up to 4800 but I don’t really see the need for this.

I scan so high because I noticed that if you just scan at 300dp or so, the lines can get really ratty and chewy when you convert from linework to grayscale to RGB. Scanning the lineart at higher resolutions takes care of this.

So that’s really all there is to it. Once you press the scan button the scanner will begin it’s final scan. I have to say that both the preview and the final scan are very slow, but for the price it’s by no means a dealbreaker.

My Scanning Troubles

Well, it’s not over yet. It seems I’m having an issue these days with this scanner, and I’ll just detail it here in case anyone else has the same problem. I don’t have a true fix for it but only a workaround. Man, I HATE workarounds.

I noticed that recently, all tabloid size scans I make in the lineart mode have a crazy ghosted reflection along the right edge of the scan. You can check the screenshot below of the Batman and Robin piece I did to see what I mean.

Everything below the red line is a mirrored ghosted image (click for larger view)

Everything below the red line is a ghosted and mirrored reflection of about a 1 inch strip of the art above the red line. Very weird.

After some testing, I determined that you only see this effect when scanning in the lineart mode with a piece wider than 15 inches or so.

This means 8.5 x 11 linework stuff is fine, and any size scan will be fine as long as it’s grayscale or color.

Unfortunately, that kind of defeats the purpose of what I bought the scanner for.

So more testing was necessary. Unfortunately/fortunately, I discovered that lessening the resolutions will prevent this error from occurring. Any resolution above 900dpi will trigger the error, so for now I have to scan all my linework at 900. It hasn’t resulted in a noticeable loss of quality, but it’s still annoying.

Hopefully if anyone else runs into this they can still get some more life out of the scanner before it becomes necessary to buy another one.

And that wraps up this episode. Even with all the drama this scanner brings, I still have to wholeheartedly recommend it for the price. Even if you have to replace it, you’re still not out $2000 (US).

Yes, I wish I could afford to pony up $2000 for an Epson tabloid, but until that day, I’m very happy with my Mustek Scan Express A3 1200 Pro USB Large Format Scanner.

If anyone has any other suggestions or has encountered any other issues just let me know in the comment or contact me.

This article contains links to products that I recommend and that I may receive compensation for financial or otherwise.

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15 thoughts on “How to scan your linework for your comics with the Mustek Scan Express 1200 Pro on the Mac

  1. I know this is off topic but the other day I was walking on the street and I say a comic book store. And I really want to read something GOOD but don’t really know what.
    What do you advise me to buy? I used to love the Justice League man!
    And of course all Manga.

    1. Yeah Amr, it’s crazy isn’t it?

      As long as you’re not looking for crazy high-end color scanning you just can’t beat this thing! I’m glad I found it and I hope others can take advantage of it, too!

  2. Well, John. I don’t have or need a scanner. I’m not into comics. And I don’t have a Mac :D

    So all I can say is… We got a foot of snow a couple days ago and I remember your post about how much winter in Wisconsin sucks. I thought of that picture of the car with a couple feet of snow on it and I thought to myself, “Man. I’m glad I’m not in Wisconsin…”

    1. Hey Sam,

      I don’t know off-hand. I’m not sure what voltage you take in Australia but you’d think you could just import one. At least I hope so!

  3. It’s really surprising that Mustek isn’t making a better quality scanner by now, they’ve been around for ever. But for under $160 for a tabloid scanner that is unbelievable. I’m still using my ancient 8.5×11 Epson Perfection 1650 that still works great but sure would be nice not to have to piece together scanned artwork. Granted I’ve fallen off the artwork wagon and haven’t had to scan anything really big lately. Nice little tutorial (I hate having to do those workarounds too – but when you deal with computers you are always finding workarounds :) ) good luck with the comic biz.

    1. I guess when their business model is sell ’em cheap and the poor saps will buy another one when it craps out.

      We have an Epson Perfection 31-something at work, it scans slides better than our native film scanner.

      I truly wish I could afford one of their tabloid sized scanners but for now it’s Mustek all the way for me!

  4. I remember back in elementary school, this animations company came and taught us about how animations work. Mind you, this was before everything was simply done using the computer. We were actually allowed to make out own mini animation by line drawing and scanning all our work on a scanner similar to this. I think it’s great seeing this device. It only reassures me that line-drawing comics are still being done, even with the advancement of technology.

    1. Hey Jes, thanks for sharing. There seems to be a divide in the comics biz between those who are moving to an all digital workflow and those like me who are kind of doing a hybrid thing.

      I’ve tried doing all digital. Maybe one day I’ll go that route but for now I love the feeling of pencil on paper too much to change entirely!

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