How to make your scans look like the cards in hand

I take a lot of pride in my scans. I spend the extra time and effort to make them look like the cards in hand do (or at least as close as possible- some, like Finests and foils, do not scan properly no matter what you do), and lately several people have noticed my effort and complimented me on it. I appreciate that my work is being noticed and I thought I would take the time to show YOU how to make your scans look their best!

I am going to presume that you already know how to make scans while reading this. I can't really tell you how to do that because each computer/scanner is different.

So...the first thing you need to do is download PhotoScape. This is a FREE program and does not come with malware or adware. I've been using it with no issue since 2009 or possibly even late 2008, I don't remember exactly. EVERY scan and EVERY photo I've taken since I discovered the program has been run through PhotoScape. Each scan needs to be edited, and I also use it to put my copyright on my photos...but that doesn't apply here. It only takes a couple of minutes to download, but it does take some time to master the program. I still find new features that it has, but I mostly use it for cropping and editing the scans and photos I make. If you saw the gifs I made for the new Star team sets I got for Christmas 2015, those also were made with PhotoScape.

OK, so now you've downloaded PhotoScape and you have your cards scanned. Now you have to find where you have the scan stored using the PhotoScape program. Again, this varies by computer. My scanner is set up to create a new file each day in a "Scans" folder I created. You can find your scan using the top left portion of PhotoScape after you click on "Editor".  You then click on an image you want to work on and it shows up in the large main "working window" on PhotoScape. (Note: You can manually adjust the sizing on PhotoScape, I have it set up to show nine scans across- the number you can fit on a page of standard size cards) Also remember you can make each image I've posted here larger by clicking on it, to see more detail.
Here is the raw scan. The front scanned pretty well, so it only needs the standard color edit.
Click on Bright, Color and the editing box opens. The standard color edit is 30 contrast, 40 darken. It does not matter which you do first...and in the small preview, it may look like it's not accurate, but when you crop the cards down, it's right. I don't know why it works that way but trust me, after more than 100,000 scans, it is.
Note that the preview image has changed. This happens instantaneously. When you are happy with the colors, simply save. You can either do this on the far right side of the screen, or by hitting Control+S.

The backs of the cards usually don't scan as well, usually much more washed out, like so. For some reason scanners usually put a grayish film over each scan.
When that happens, you have to adjust the colors differently.
You have to use much more "darken" and much less "Contrast". It's not uncommon where I have to adjust the Darken to 140 for pages that are mostly white but not all white. (all white- like checklists for example, usually need no editing). This page needed 90 darken and only 10 contrast. Sometimes no contrast at all is necessary. Each scan is different and must be "played with" until you get it right. Don't be afraid to "undo" and try again. Trial and error is a must and each scan, like I say, is different.

Once you've learned how to adjust the color, and are comfortable with doing it, it takes literally three seconds to adjust the color for the a set of scans. (yes, I counted) It seems like a lot of work to do this, but once you are familiar with it, it goes quickly. I've scanned and edited as many as 700 cards (both front and back) in one day before, all using PhotoScape.

Now that you'd adjusted the color, you have a page of 9 cards but they are still all together. I make 8 copies of the image, and crop them down. The crop in PhotoScape is the best I've ever used, and really needs no instruction.
Back before I discovered PhotoScape, I would fight endlessly trying to make sure each scan was lined up properly, and when they weren't, they would be deleted and I'd have to try again. After 10 times, this can get very frustrating. With PhotoScape, you don't need to worry.
You can see this scan is crooked. I've cropped it down from the page of 9 scans.
The tool the arrow points to rotates the scan. The box that opens up has a sliding bar that you use to correct the scan. Problem solved! The arrows to the right of the arrow I made rotate the scan left or right. A very common thing to do, I will use it 4 times in the set of scans up above.

But wait, there's a bit of scanner scuzz over the second K in Kentucky. That too can be fixed with Photoscape.
The green arrows point to the scuzz and also the Tools tab and "Clone stamp" Use the Clone Stamp to copy a small piece of the black from elsewhere in the border to cover the scuzz over the K.
Here's the finished scan.

Some other bits of information:

A sheet of green construction paper between the cards and the scanner lid provides a better color balance to begin with, and also helps to ensure you have cropped the cards properly. It also prevents the scanner from cropping what IT thinks is the end of the card. You ever see scans where the white border was missing? That's because the scanner couldn't tell the difference between the white border and the white of the scanner lid. I only use the standard white backdrop for die cut cards, and white die cuts get scanned with black construction paper between cards and lid.

Do NOT mix Finests or foils in with other cards. They MUST be done with other Finests or foils, or else they will not look correct- and they can't be made truly correct anyway. But the won't appear all black if you do them together. For Finests and foils my standard edit is 30 contrast, NO darken. 

Do NOT mix old-school brown back cards with other cards. Either truly vintage or Heritage style cards, they must be scanned with other cards of the same style, or else, again, they will not look accurate. There is no standard edit for the brown backs, as they don't always scan the same, even from set to set.

Refractors and Prizms CAN be scanned with other cards of any sort, as is shown by the Quincy Acy card in my example.

You will find some cards scan the best only when they are with other cards from the same set, or else the color will be all wrong. A good example is 1999-00 Topps NBA. The border is bright orange, but if you try to scan them with other cards, it appears red to brown. When scanned with other cards of the same set, you can maintain the bright orange. Another example is 1992-93 Upper Deck NBA base cards. If you scan them together, the colors on the back stay correct, but if you scan them mixed with other cards, the NBA logo behind the stats and writeup disappears. The more you do, the more you learn, of course.

The whole process is very fast and I actually find it enjoyable as well. As I said, I've done more than 700 images in one day. (although that IS pretty rare, I average around 250 cards scanned per day).

Hopefully this helps you make your scans the best and look just like the cards do in hand. There's no reason to accept the grayish film the scanners always have for some reason.

Thanks for reading!


  1. That is an excellent tutorial! Makes me think that I could even get it right the first time I try.

  2. Thanks for posting this information. Do you have any tips for speeding up the cropping process (cutting the cards out). Love the blog by the way!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Unfortunately no, that is the slowest part of the process and I have not been able to come up with anything faster.

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  4. Thank for the help Billy. I'm thrilled to improve my scans on TCDB.

  5. I just know this is a really stupidly obvious question but... do you scan the cards in one at a time or 3x3 grid? I used a green paper laid over the cards but don't see the green like I do on your scans. I know there is a learning curve but I only need to scan in 6 cards, so I can see about selling them. I really appreciate the tutorial you have put together and I know I'll be using this info on some other things I've scanned. Thank you so much. Sherry.

    1. Hi Sherry, not a stupid question at all! I do 9 cards at a time, unless they are too large to fit that many onto the scanner tray. Not sure why the green does not show up for you but all scanners are different and it may be automatically editing that out.

  6. Went back and saw this. Great info and PhotoScape is amazing!

  7. I was able to successfully use to get images added that I saw were missing. Thanks for putting this together.

  8. I use my Epson scan and it is the best one I have ever used. My other scanners you had to scan each card but with the Epson if you lay our say nine cards you can crop each card one at a time instead of scanning 9 different times. I also can make the cards appear as if they look identical in person. When my autographed cards are signed in black sharpie and the cards background is dark, I can lighten the scan, so the autograph is easily seen. Thanks for the interesting post.

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  10. Awsome, real talk tutorial. Thanks

  11. Any tips for scanning silver colored cards? Everyone that I do comes out super dark.