Photomerge ~ Not Just For Panoramic Photos!


I don’t know if you realize this or not, but you have an extremely power means of digitizing your over-sized paintings, drawing, and other images, with your tiny-ass scanner. That’s right. The one you could only afford because a tabloid-sized scanner costs almost as much as a new computer. Sure you can try to capture it via your cheap little digital camera, but I bet you’ll notice some distortion of your works after taking a shot. A professional digital camera with the right lens might be able to help you ease or eliminate field of depth issues, but it would cost a little more than your checking account could handle.

What is this miracle of modern technology? How can you get your grubby li’l hands on it? Is it another PhotoShop plug-in? Nope! But it can be found in your copy of Adobe PhotoShop. It’s called Photomerge.

Photomerge? Huh?

Okay, maybe you’re not thinking any of this. Allow me to go into some detail about Photomerge. This feature was first introduced in Adobe Photoshop CS 3. The selling point is that this amazing feature will allow users to quickly create large panoramic photographs by “stitching” together smaller photos (pieces of the panorama). With each development cycle, Photomerge has gotten better at stitching and blending together photos.

Before Photomerge, I would have to go through the frustration of scanning in halves my tabloid-sized comic book pages, rotating and lining them up correctly, and struggle in my crappy attempts at over-coming the distortions that result from scanning anything larger than my standard-sized scanner. I eventually gave up and only scanned in US Letter-sized roughs, enlarged them, and completed all the pencils and inks digitally on my Mac.


Using Photomerge

This process is pretty straight forward. The first step is to find your over-size piece and your tiny scanner.

For this tutorial, I will be using an old pencil submission from a few years ago. It was a page out of a Romano Scarpa and Guido Martina mouse story, “The Blot’s Double Mystery” (In the original Italian, “Topolino e il Doppio Segreto di Macchia Nera”). I own a copy of both the Italian and English translations. My version was submitted to both Disney Publishing Italia and Disney Hachette Presse without ever receiving a response. I can only assume that my submissions are sitting in landfills somewhere in both France and Italy. Or maybe they were recycled. Even though I’ve notice a few errors in the pages, I’m still very proud of my submissions.

My pencils from page 1 of "The Blot's Double Mystery". Copyright own by the Walt Disney Corporation.
My pencils from page 1 of “The Blot’s Double Mystery”. Original copyright own by the Walt Disney Corporation.

Your next step is to figure out how many times you’ll need to scan your work. To achieve this, you’ll need to consider how you’ll break down your work. For my pencils, which are on tabloid-size (11 x 17 in) paper and the art is within a 10.5 x 15.5 inch drawing area, I can get away with using two scans. (One scan for the top. The second for the bottom.) Since I’ll want a smoother scan, I’ll use three scans, creating a middle scan. One of the reasons why I’ll scan the middle is due to the fact that the more overlap between scans, the better the result.

I’ll scan in the pieces with my Epson scanner and Hamrick’s Vuescan. I consider Vuescan “pro-sumer” software. It has enough power to be used professionally, yet you can simplify the interface to the point where the average consumer can work it without difficulty.  Any scanner software can be used. The key details you’ll need to cover are that you’re scanning at a resolution of 300 dpi (or greater), the scan is magnified at 100%, and the color space is RGB. Here are my scans:

top scan of comic book pencils.

Middle scan of comic book pencils.

Scan of bottom section of comic book pencils.

The images will get passed along to PhotoShop. You may or may not want to rotate your scans. It can be done in either your scanner software or within PhotoShop. Image menu >> Image Rotation >> 

If you have a copy of Adobe PhotoShop CS 3 or later, click into the File menu, and select Automate >> Photomerge… This will bring up the following window:

The Photomerge window in PhotoShop CS 5 on my iMac
The Photomerge window in PhotoShop CS 5 on my iMac

We’ll next need to tell Photomerge what files we need it to work with. You can either click the Browse… button to select your pieces, or click the Add Open Files button, which will immediately drop in your scans (if they’re open in PhotoShop) into the big list beneath drop-down menu under Source Files.

We can keep Auto selected within the Layout section of the Photomerge window, on the left-hand side. Also check the Blend Images Together box. Finally, click the OK button.

Photomerge will do its thing and provide you with a perfectly stitched together image.

Comic book page stitched together with Photomerge

My results look pretty damn good. The only anomaly that I notice is the space in the upper left-hand corner. That’s not a big deal to me because it’s way outside of my image area.

Screen shot of the Layer palette after Photomerge.

If you look inside your Layers Palette (Windows menu >> Layers, see image above) you’ll notice that Photomerge has created three new layers. These layers are the scans you fed to Photomerge. If necessary, errors happened, and you can further adjust the results. You even get layer masks. That means, none of your data was destroyed. Pretty neat!

Closely inspecting your image, you’ll notice how PhotoShop blended the layers to the pixel, without any overlap. Below I adjusted the transparency of the middle layer, and dropped in a red background layer to show how Photomerge masked the layers.

A screen shot of how PhotoShop blends the layers down to the pixel.

Now that you have working knowledge as to how Photomerge in PhotoShop works, give it a try. See how it works for you.


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