Large Format Scanning: The always up-to-date guide

Scanning documents is commonplace in most offices today. An A4 document scanner is a permanent fixture in most offices—as common as a desktop printer—an essential in office equipment.

But sometimes, businesses encounter documents that are oversized or 'large format.' And the office A4 scanner is not of much use if you want to scan these!

That's when you hear questions such as these:

How do I scan an A3 document? Or: Can I scan a blueprint on my office scanner?

Well, the answer is that you cannot scan these on your desktop scanner. Large format scanning requires larger, specialized flatbed scanners that can accommodate papers of a larger size.

We have put together a definitive guide to scanning your large format documents and converting them to high-resolution digital files. 

In this guide, we'll review what exactly is meant by large format scanning, what the options are to get it done, and how and where you can get your oversized documents scanned. Scanning converts them to digital formats such as .PDF, .TIFF, .DWG, .DXF, and .JPEG, that are small and easy to manage, access, and distribute.

We'll look at some benefits of digitizing large format documents and share some tips to achieve high-resolution digital conversion of large format documents such as architectural plans, engineering drawings, blueprints, and more.

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What is large format scanning?

Large format scanning refers to scanning and digitizing large documents, also called oversized or wide format documents. 

Large format documents are papers that are larger than what we commonly understand as a 'standard' size page or A4 size.

Typical examples of large format documents are newspapers, maps, blueprints, engineering drawings, convocation certificates, and large-bound books.

Many of these large format documents contain critical information that needs to be preserved over many years. 

But storing, retrieving, and sharing oversized documents can be problematic. 

The odd size of the paper itself presents challenges in storing and protecting such records. Laying them flat takes up a lot of space. So, they are usually rolled up and stored in cardboard tubes. But originals stored in tubes over long periods may become creased, brittle, and damaged due to age and wear and tear. So, you must take precautions in handling such documents to avoid damage and prevent the loss of valuable information. 

Scanning is the perfect solution to prevent irreversible damage to old and fragile documents. By scanning large format documents, you convert them into easy-to-manage, high-resolution digital files that you can easily store at a central location and securely access or share across devices anytime and from anywhere. 

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Benefits of large format scanning

Large format document scanning is beneficial for both employees and the organization as a whole.

Let's look at some of these benefits:

  • Remote access to essential business documents: In an increasingly digital world, the office is wherever you open up your laptop to work! It may be at an airport, in the garden during summer, at a client meeting offsite, or in your living room on your weekly day off. No matter where you are, you'll never hold up work for want of a document lying in your office drawer. With document digitization, you'll always have access to any business document and be able to access it via a cloud-based document management system. Enhanced accessibility is the #1 reason to digitize large format documents, especially as these are particularly challenging to carry around, courier or store.
  • Faster collaboration: In today's digital era, work happens at the speed of light—or at least at the speed of your internet connection! Today's business people don't have the time to wait for a courier to receive important documentation or to retrieve old documents from offsite storage areas. They expect digital copies to be searchable and ready at the click of a button. Moreover, they expect these digital files to be shared over cloud-based apps so that work is not held up. Faster collaboration is one of the main benefits of large format scanning.
  • Increased efficiency: When you can access business information and essential documents anytime from anywhere, and you can share them easily with colleagues, partners and vendors, you increase work efficiency. Digitization leads to speedier workflows. This is another important benefit of large format scanning.
  • Reduced storage costs: Digital files are easier to store than cylindrical tubes carrying large format documents! A range of affordable cloud-based file storage and data archival solutions are available. A robust document management system to manage, distribute and share files is all you need to free your organization from the shackles of large format documents stored in their physical form! You'll save on expensive storage space and make collaboration easier for your teams.
  • Improved business bottom lines: All of the above benefits contribute to making the digitization of large format documents a better business decision. Remote access, better collaboration, increased efficiency, and reduced storage costs all finally boil down to better business bottom lines!

What document sizes are considered large format documents?

The most common paper sizes are of the ISO format, an international standard developed and published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Around the 1980s, the US Government adopted the ANSI format as the national standard size. Developed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), it standardized the paper sizes used by American businesses.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has defined a series of paper sizes based on the Letter (8.5" x 11") format as a standard document format. These are commonly known as A4 size or A4 documents as defined by the ISO standards. North America also has a special series of paper sizes defined for architectural purposes with a different aspect ratio from the standard sizes, starting from Arch A to Arch E.

Documents that are larger than the ANSI standard size or A4 (8.3″ X 11.7″) are called large format documents or wide format documents, or oversized documents. 

Paper sizes ranging from size B to size E documents, also called A0, A1, A2, or A3 documents, are considered large format documents. 

The table below provides a quick summary of the typical sizes of these documents. 

Size

Width x Height (mm)

Width x Height (in)

Aspect Ratio

Closest ISO

B

279 x 432 mm

11.0 x 17.0 in

01:01.5

A3

C

432 x 559 mm

17.0 x 22.0 in

01:01.3

A2

D

559 x 864 mm

22.0 x 34.0 in

01:01.5

A1

E

864 x 1118 mm

34.0 x 44.0 in

01:01.3

A0

 

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What makes large format scanning different?

  • Handling & care: Preparing large format documents for scanning requires special care and effort. These documents are fragile, and you must unroll them meticulously from their packaging to ensure that there is no damage to the originals and that the information is legible for accurate conversion. 
  • Specialized equipment: Scanning large format documents requires special scanning equipment. The scanners must be large enough to scan documents in a single pass and offer high-resolution scanning for accurate reproduction in digital format. Sometimes overhead scanners are used for multi-page documents whose pages cannot be separated. 
  • Trained technicians: Careful handling and knowing how to treat each specific type of large format documents, such as blueprints, fragile legacy paper, and bound books, requires skill and knowledge. We have experienced and trained technicians to handle these large format documents.
  • More time & cost: Due to all the reasons quoted above, large format scanning is more labor-intensive, time-consuming and expensive than scanning standard-size documents.

How does the process of large format document scanning work?

Scanning and data capture of large format documents requires utmost care and is an intensive process. 

  1. Our scanning teams first prepare documents for scanning, removing all staples and clips, straightening out folds and creases, and removing taped notes. 
  2. Next, we use special production-grade equipment that can accommodate the odd-sized papers so we can scan the entire document in a single pass without the need for tacky splicing and piecing together separate scanned images. 
  3. We scan large format documents at high resolution for clarity (usually 300 dpi, unless the client specifies a higher resolution).
  4. OCR technology extracts critical data and indexes the files to make them searchable. 
  5. Stringent quality processes ensure that the scanned images are legible and accurately captured. 
  6. Then digital documents are stored on a hard drive, a document management system or cloud-based storage.

Where are large format documents found?

While most offices have scanning requirements, certain departments and industry sectors have specific large format scanning requirements.

Let's look at some of these: 

  1. Building & planning departments: City planning, engineering, public works, and community development departments have high volumes of large format documents. Architectural blueprints and engineering designs are essential for planning, building & construction. Maps, as-built documentation, and circuit diagrams are other large format documents these departments handle.
  2. County recorders, clerks, and assessors: County recorders, clerks, and assessors maintain years and years of citizen records. They usually have large bound books comprising vital birth records, death certificates, or marriage licenses—many of which are out-of-size. Digitizing these records is a huge task for government offices and is essential to preserve and protect valuable citizen records.
  3. Title insurance companies: Title insurance companies have a large number of land records, property records, and title insurance records which are in large formats. Land records typically have to be stored for long periods. When there are supporting documents like building plans, layouts, schematics or photographs, these insurance companies often need specialized large format scanning services.
  4. Libraries & archives: Guess what's the most common large format documents that your local library needs to digitize? Newspapers! Libraries or archival societies also need to preserve old photographs and original bounds books, and legacy manuscripts for historical record-keeping. They have large volumes of wide format documents in their collections or archives. Digitizing these is the best way to prevent excessive handling of fragile originals and loss of valuable information.
  5. K-12 schools: Scanning school building blueprints is now a new government initiative to make schools safer. Digitizing blueprints makes school floor plans, and campus layouts easily accessible for law enforcement agencies and first responders, helping them to plan rescues quickly and reduce damage in emergencies. Schools must now digitize large format documents like building blueprints, architectural drawings, engineering drawings, and construction layouts as part of the Collective Graphics Response Project. 

How can I scan a large format document?

How many documents do you need to scan? How soon do you want to complete your scanning, and what is the budget you have available—these are some crucial factors to consider when you want to digitize large format documents. 

Let's look at some methods you can use for large format scanning: 

  • Scanning apps: These days, mobile phones have high-quality cameras. If you have just a few documents to scan, such as certificates, you can use any of the popular mobile scanning apps to convert your oversized documents to PDF files.
  • Large office supply stores: If you have a larger volume of documents to scan—like a binder full, your neighborhood office supply store may be a good option. It likely offers you scanning of wide format documents at economical rates.
  • Rent a large format scanner: If you want more control over the documents you scan or want the scanning executed within your office premises, you can temporarily rent a wide format scanner.
  • Outsource to a reputed scanning company: If you have huge volumes of large format documents to be scanned, if your documents are fragile, or if you have to comply with stringent information security regulations, it is best to leave the job to the experts.
    Leading document scanning companies are equipped with the most advanced wide format scanners that accurately convert your blueprints, engineering drawings, or schematics into digital formats. The digital documents are then indexed, organized, and stored in the preferred format to make them easily shareable while complying with confidentiality and security regulations. 

Digital format outputs

What format do you want the digital outputs to be saved? Do you prefer a PDF or a JPEG file? What are your requirements for image resolution and delivery methods? These factors will impact the time and budget for your large format scanning project, so ensure that you consider and specify your requirements carefully. 

  • Resolution: Large format documents typically require a standard resolution of 300dpi (dots per square inch) or higher.
  • Document format: We usually save scanned documents in PDF or PDF/A, TIFF, or JPG formats. These are standardized formats that are universally accepted and do not require special software to read them. Specify any other format if you need something different.
  • Image format: Documents can be scanned in black & white, grayscale or full color, per your requirements.
  • Delivery method: Request encryption of sensitive data and transfer on a hard drive or use FTP or store on cloud-based storage or a robust cloud-based document management system. Mercury, our industry-leading ECM, may be the perfect choice for securing and managing your valuable documents. Talk to our document management experts if you need a demo or free trial.

Where can I scan large format documents?

Many scanning companies offer regular scanning services. However, for large format scanning, it's best to choose a company that has a SOC 2-certified facility with specialized wide format scanners and trained staff to handle your large format scanning project with care and precision.

DRS Imaging is your reliable and secure partner for digitizing large format documents.

We scan any large format document, whether on-site or in our scanning bureaus, using specialized wide format scanners. Moreover, we offer a range of efficient data storage solutions. So no matter how vast your data archives are, we'll find a way to store your content securely and affordably.

But it's not enough to simply convert paper into digital formats.

Our powerful data capture technology converts your files into powerful digital information that you can access and search through easily. We use advanced OCR to extract readable text from static images, allowing us to index your files and create a searchable digital repository.

And Mercury, our ECM, is the perfect solution to manage and secure your digitized documents.


Speak with a DRS scanning expert today and take a vital step toward digitization and automation with DRS!