The Ultimate Scanning Guide for Video Game Preservation


For a simpler (which requires less software / hardware) see:

Preservation of analog data is by definition a lossy process. This guide focuses on getting it 99.9% correct. The goal is not to cut corners and avoid a need to rescan by getting you the best feasible scan possible. Based on my research, it's very unlikely scanning will ever get much better, at least as far as discernible quality is concerned, so it's as good of time as ever to start scanning.

Note: This guide is dedicated to giving you a color calibrated scan. If you wish to skip the calibration process to get a "Good Enough" output with VueScan, skip straight to "Calibrating your Scanner & Settings Setup" section Step 11.

  1. The Epson Perfection v550 scanner is the sweet spot (170$ on Amazon). Another scanner often mentioned in the same breath is the Epson Perfection v600, however it doesn't offer any useful features or benefits for our purposes.
  2. A computer: Windows, MacOS, or Linux.
  3. An IT8 Color Card (choose "R1" option). Download the .it8 file for it as well from the same webpage, you can find the right zip to download by looking for the "Charge" number on your card (example: R131209) and searching for that number on the website. Unzip the download and put it somewhere on your computer that won't be deleted (it's a permanent file for use with scanning - I put mine in Documents > Scanner Settings folder).
  4. Purchase and install VueScan scanning software. It is the best professional option. (Windows, MacOS, Linux compatible).
Calibrating your Scanner & Settings Setup
This should be a one-time process for initial setup.
  1. Turn on your scanner and align your Color Card along the edge of your scanner (you want to scan with it perfectly straight, without rotation).
  2. Open VueScan app, the rest of the section "Calibrating your Scanner" takes place in this app.
  3. On the "Input" tab change:
    • Options: Professional
    • Task: Scanner Profile
    • Source: Make sure your scanner is visible / selected.
  4. On the "Color" tab change:
    • Color balance: None
    • Scanner ICC Profile: Set the location to save your scanner.icc file which you'll soon be creating in the calibration process.
    • Scanner IT8: Natigate to the "R161209.it8" file you downloaded in Hardware Step 3 section above.
  5. On the bottom left of the app click "Preview".
  6. Your image should scan and a scary-looking grid will appear. Ignore the grid for now and Rotate your Color Card preview-scan so it is upright (with text oriented normally). The Rotate options are near the bottom right of the VueScan app.
  7. Zoom in to the Color Card (magnifying glass is bottom right on the app).
  8. Now, it's time to align the grid. Click and drag from black-corner to black-corner, like this:
  9. You may notice it is slightly tilted. It can be hard to get this perfect, but as long as the square color blocks align closely this is fine.
  10. From the top menu, choose Profile > Profile Scanner. This will update your scanner.icc file with calibrated settings.
  11. Now it's time to test the integrity of your calibration for unnatural hue. Go back to the "Input" tab to make the following changes:
    • Task: Scan to File
    • Media size: Maximum
    • Bits per pixel: 48 bit RGB
    • Media: Color
    • Scan Resolution: 800 dpi (Note: If you're using a Canon scanner set this to 900dpi. Canon scanners operate optimally at intervals of 300dpi.)
    • Rotation: Optional, but I set mine to "None".
    • Default Folder: Defaults to "Pictures", optional where you want to set it.
  12. In the "Crop" tab set "Crop size: Maximum".
  13. In the "Color" tab set "Color Balance: None". (Alternately, you can set it to "Neutral" for a more finished look if you don't plan to PhotoShop/Color Correct or calibrate).
  14. In the "Output" tab make the following changes:
    1. Uncheck "PDF File".
    2. Check "TIFF File".
    3. Tiff file type: 48 bit RGB
  15. In the upper left app menu choose "File" > "Save Settings".
  16. In the bottom left of the app choose "Scan".
  17. Open your scanned .tiff file in Photoshop (or another photo editor with an eye dropper). Since you didn't choose autocrop, the image will have a white background (the scanner lid). Since this background is true white, when you eyedrop a few of the random places on it, the eye dropper should lean towards different colors each time (SLIGHTLY). This randomized deviance of hues accounts for a non-bias towards any one particular hue (note: colors will be darker/greyer than in the screenshot below):
  18. You can download my calibrated example scan .tiff file here (NOTE: This should actually be darker, but with same neutrality, file size 358 MB) to compare to your own calibrated version.
Placing Your Game Manual / Etc on the Scanner
Do not alight your paper against the edge of the scanner, doing this will cut off the edges of it. Instead place in the center of your scanner, it's okay if it's crooked, you will fix it in editing. If you're scanning a manual, consider removing the staples for a higher quality scan. Also, playing a heavy object, such as a book, on top of your scanner will give it pressure to flatten the paper being scanned for perfect focus and reduce bend warping.

Ok, now it's time to scan. Assuming you didn't change any settings since the Calibration / Setup portion of the guide then you're ready to scan.
  1. Press the "Scan" button in the bottom left part of the app.
Open the file in Adobe Photoshop (or Gimp) for straightening it out and cropping.
File Output to tiff format at 800dpi, 48bit (same as scan specs). Tiff is currently the only format that supports 48bit raw images which is necessary to reduce banding and maintain color integrity. For color application, you will import your scanner.icc file and apply it in Photoshop (Edit > Assign Profile > VueScan Device Profile).

Great, now what do I do with my scans?
Upload to with a good description. There is no centralized database for full quality scans and is a tried and true way to preserve data. Sign up for an account (it's easy), and upload your scans!

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What about De-Screening, Post Processing, etc?
These processes are not recommended for maintaining a master file. The best way to de-screen isn't during the scan itself, but via software. For this reason, we don't recommend it for archiving masters. If you really want to de-screen, the Sattva plug-in for Photoshop is a high-quality, professional option - but again, de-screen images should not be archived as masters for preservation due to artificial inaccuracy. Future software will always be developed to do better and better, so an non-descreen image is always necessary to maintain as an archived master. For a quick-and-dirty adjustment to make the tiff appear closer to the source, use Auto-Tone and Auto-Contrast options in image editing programs such as Photoshop.

Looking ahead, the .avif image format is right around the corner from release. Based on the AV1 spec, it is very likely this format will see mass adoption eventually - perhaps on the same scale of jpg. What makes avif so special otherwise is that it supports 48bit lossy (but VERY high quality) at a size reduction of 20:1 versus source tiff. In the future we may very well add a final step of converting tiff to avif. Don't let this stop you from scanning, .tiff is a lossless format, so conversion will not result in any quality loss whatsoever.

By Kirkland and dizzzy
The Ultimate Scanning Guide for Video Game Preservation The Ultimate Scanning Guide for Video Game Preservation Reviewed by Dizzzy on 7:15 PM Rating: 5

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