How I scanned and stitched newspaper pages with Microsoft Image Composite Editor

Scanning and stitching pages and stories from old broadsheet newspapers has been a problem for a long time.

I’ve been a newspaper journalist for most of the past 30 years. My story portfolio is a pile of yellowing paper. It is now fraying around the edges. There’s enough to fill three filing cabinet drawers.

My news cutting hoard is a prime candidate for scanning and digital storage. Yet turning broadsheet newspaper pages into .pdfs or .jpgs isn’t easy.

Home office flatbed scanners are A4 size or maybe fractionally larger. They rarely scan a whole newspaper story in a single go, Full pages are out of the question.

You can scan and store pages in sections, but converting from, say, The Sydney Morning Herald, into six overlapping A4 pdfs is clumsy.

And the saved documents aren’t much use for anything.

Software stitching scanned pages

Applications like Adobe Photoshop or Gimp can stitch photographs together, so they should do the same with newspaper pages.

In practice the job is tricky, although I’m told recent versions of Photoshop do a better job.

There are specialist programs able to piece together overlapping images to form bigger documents. Photographers use them to create panoramas. Most are optimised for photos rather than printed pages. I came across ArcSoft’s Scan n Stich which automates the task making it easy.

I’d give ArcSoft nine out of ten for ease of use and practicality. There are two versions of the program. I’ve previously used the US$20 Standard Edition to deal with magazine and tabloid newspaper pages in my portfolio. The program whizzed through the task producing stunning results. I also use Nuance’s PaperPort to organise scanned documents and the same company’s OmniPage optical character recognition so I have both text documents of my old stories and facsimile pdfs.

To scan my broadsheet pages, I’d need to shell out a further US$40 to ArcSoft for its Scan n Stich Deluxe version. I don’t objection to paying for software to do this kind of job, I don’t use credit cards making it hard for me to buy software online.

Free alternative software

I looked for something available from local retailers or a free downloadable alternative. I wasn’t optimistic and braced myself for a lot of Photoshop work. On the other hand, I could just hang on to the paper.

Luckily I found Image Composite Editor (ICE) from Microsoft Research. ICE is a free downloadable application designed to process photographic images but it can meld six A4 scans into a single broadsheet-sized document.

ICE has been on version 1.2r1 since November 2008, so the application is clearly not a priority at Microsoft. There are rough edges and little documentation, but hey, it not only gets the job done, it does things quickly.

Best of all the application is simple to use. You simply drag and drop images in any order on the main Window and let the program do its stuff. One complication is that you’ll need to have roughly 20 percent overlap between the various pages – but this would be standard in any stitching application.

When you’ve finished there’s a basic crop tool and the option to export the completed image in a number of formats.

I had to play around a little with the images to get the best output. My scans were initially black and whites – it was hard to get the contrast level right and some text was always left unread. My scanner software has an enhanced text mode, but I didn’t use this for the composite image instead opting for gray-scale images captured at a potentially unnecessarily high 400 dots per inch resolution. The results looked more like photo images, which seemed to help with the stitching.

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