Sunday Mailbag

August 4th, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: In your previous mailbag reply you addressed the large size of your original art for MAD. However my main question to you is, working traditionally is always good, but how exactly do you scan them in? Does MAD scan them for you, or you have a kickass large scanner in your studio? If you do, can you advise on a larger then a4 scanner which is good and reasonably affordable as well online.. I’m from Singapore and its extremely hard to find a larger then a4 scanner here.

A: The previous mailbag referred to is here, and briefly the question was why is my MAD artwork so large (200% of print size as opposed to 130-150% of most illustration originals). The short answer is MAD has always done it that way, so I followed suit, but read the full answer for more details.

MAD does not scan the pages for me, I have a tabloid-sized desktop scanner in my studio, which has a total scan surface of 11.5″ x 17″. I’ve had a couple of different scanners of this type over the years, and I will say none of them have been perfect OR inexpensive.

I used to have a Microtek Scanmaker 9800xl. This was a pretty good scanner but only lasted for a few years. Eventually what seems to happen with these large format scanners is that the carriage that carries the actual scanner across the glass under your art has problems staying at a consistent speed. Eventually you will notice that the areas in the center of a full scan will has a very slight distortion compared to the edges of the scan. This is basically impossible to notice with the naked eye, UNTIL you attempt to stitch two large scans together like I have to do all the time with my MAD pages (it takes two full scans to get one full page). Then it’s very obvious that, while the outside edges of the two scans line up nice and neatly, the interiors are off. That causes me to have to spend time fixing the mis-registered lines. They aren’t off by much, maybe 1/64th of an inch, but that still needs fixing.

Once that Microtek was getting bad, I tried to get a new one only to find at the time Microtek had abandoned the consumer product arena and didn’t make scanners anymore for regular Joes to buy anymore. On top of that there was no driver for the latest Mac OS even if I could find a leftover one. I had to switch to an Epson A3 scanner called a GT-20000. This was ridiculously expensive and has had numerous issues since I got it. First, the cover is hinged on the long side, not the end. This might be the dumbest design decision in the history of scanning hardware. Anyone wishing to scan something really large and in sections will want to hang the image over the long side, and move it along to do the larger section scans. This is impossible with the cover hinged on the 17″ side. Even worse, Epson placed a gigantic rod on a spring right in the center of the hinged edge which tells the scanner when the lids has been opened so it can warm up. If you remove the cover to attempt to scan a big piece, you have to somehow tape this rod down in its fully recessed position. I’m not crazy about the scanning software it comes with, either. If I want to do multiple scans with the same setting of contrast, etc, I have to manually redo the settings with each scan as they get reset with every preview. On the plus side, it works well with a Mac.

I see Microtek is back doing consumer products, and has it’s 9800XL available now with an LED lightsource. Sadly the company has a very bad reputation for customer support and its scanners tend to have a short life after the warranty expires. However they are less expensive than some. My Epson seems to be doing well despite the annoying issues, but it costs a ridiculous amount of money. I see Mustek now makes an A3 scanner that is considerably cheaper than the Microtek and less than 1/10th the cost of an Epson, but I have no experience with that brand. I also have no clue what these items cost outside the US.

Bottom line, large-format scanners are expensive and problematic. There is no really good one at a reasonable price anywhere that I have found. Maybe the Mustek is the answer.

Thanks to Dante for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Jeffrey Niffen says:

    I have a Mustek 11 x 17 scanner. It is good for inked pages, but not for pencilled pages… At least the one that I have. It also isn’t that great with color.

  2. don says:

    Do not use the Mustek!! Though they say it is Mac compatible it is not gonna work with anything after snow leopard. You can do all sorts of crazy jury-rigging and install all sorts of extra softwares but any time the mac, or any of your programs, update then you’ve lost the ability to scan and have to go through it all over again. The Mustek SUCKS. For those on a budget the Epson WF-7510 can scan up to 12 x 18 and print 13 x 19 and does a pretty good job.

  3. Paul McCall says:

    I have a Mustek scanner and it works well on one of my back up computers but not my main Mac. From my research it seems buying a Mustek is a crap shoot – some work, others don’t.

    • Paul McCall says:

      And to address Don’s comment – I am using Snow Leopard on all my machines so I’m sure he’s correct. Another of many reasons I’m staying with 10.6.8 as long as humanly (and computerly) possible!

  4. Nick says:

    I recently picked up an EPSON WF-7510 to use for my proofing and everyday needs. The units 11 x 17 format makes it quite the asset for a multitude of tasks including scanning. I am very pleased with the results of the scanner. I have a close friend that purchased a high end EPSON scanner a couple of years back for around $3000 and the unit that I have matches his pixel for pixel.

    The best part is that the WF-7510 retails for around $175. Okay, I get it, It’s not the highest end unit but to be honest all I am doing is scanning in inks and the resolution goes up to -not that I would ever use it EVER- 9600dpi.

    The last BIG perk is that it is wireless. All that to say the WF-7510 is a lot of bang for the buck and its bed is 11 x 17. Whoowah!

  5. Allen Meilach says:

    I investigated large format scanners a couple of years ago. Most venders obfuscate their specs; they say they support 16-bits per pixel, but what they don’t tell you is that it is only internal to the scanner…8-bits are delivered externally. Back then only the very high end large format scanners supported 16-bits internal and external.

    My inexpensive Epson 8/5″ x 11″ scanner supports 16-bits per pixel internally and externally, and delivers excellent results with pencil.

    I am still stitching with my small format Epson.

    It was a significant effort to get Mustek Taiwan to disclose that their scanner was only 8-bits external. Mustek USA would not even respond to my queries.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: