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How to scan Arcade Game Sidearts

This is a translation version of the original article written in French by Zorg. The translation was performed by Jef Rothe with the contribution of Zorg.

Everything you ever wanted to know in order to scan sideart artworks.

There are several possible solutions to scan the sidearts of your cabinet. The easiest solution is to lay your cabinet flat on its side, then use a flatbed scanner and scan the artwork in segments.

However, this is not always possible for various reasons such as:

  • Lack of space to lay the arcade cabinet flat
  • Collectors have concerns about damaging beautiful existing side artwork or worse
  • The scanner you own does not work when flipped upside down
  • Many other unforeseen reasons why someone would not want to lay the arcade cabinet on the side...


Equipment needed :

Here is the minimum equipment you need for this tutorial (see supporting photos above);

- A scanner capable of operating upside down (make sure to get a fast scanner because it may operate slower when flipped upside down and scanning your arcade cabinet can take a lot of time !)

The important part is whether or not you can completely remove the lid of the scanner that covers the bed. If you can’t easily remove the lid from your scanner, try a hacksaw

Disclaimer: The editor of this tutorial cannot be held responsible for damage to your scanner in the very unlikely event that you actually followed the advice to cut off the lid with a hacksaw.

- You will need a 4×3 dowel or a ruler, or any other object that is long enough so that it will stretch over both sides of your cabinet. Usually an object 40 inches long is quite sufficient.
- You will also need some spring pliers, clamps, or a strap to hold the dowel on the cabinet.

- A computer (ideally a notebook)

- You will also need the cable connections and power cords, preferably extended cables if you are working in a remote area. There is nothing more frustrating then to get ready and realize that the cable is not long enough!

Equipment not mandatory, but it makes life easier: :

- A large bungee cord, large enough to hang over the sides and bottom of the cabinet.
- Oh, and don’t forget a beverage cooler, some music and other things of solace :D


Why even scan your arcade sideart?

Why would I even bother scanning my cabinet artwork, you ask? Before you start scanning, here are some reasons why you might want to venture down the arcade artwork reproduction path.

- Your arcade cabinet has heavily worn sides, scratches, gouges and you would like to restore the sides altogether by running off some repro sideart from your stitched together scans.

- Your arcade game machine is already minty, so much so that the light from heaven shines upon it, but your friend is not so lucky and has the same arcade cabinet that you do but the sides are devastated. You say, “Well, that sucks for him”? Definitely not! You propose to do scans of your artwork to help him restore his cabinet to its former glory. Don’t worry; yours will still be the better of the pair!

- You think that you will to make some easy pocket money while selling some reproduction artwork. Think twice about this reason, the reproduction process is a major undertaking, the potential buyers are far and few between and those collectors are particularly demanding about the details and quality.

- You are like the author of this article :), a bit of an utopian, and you think that any artwork scanned is a saved artwork for the future and will one day serve a purpose to someone else.


What is the best resolution for scanning arcade sidearts? :

I would say that it depends on the type of arcade artwork that you want to scan and what you want to do with said art. A piece of artwork that is simple in nature, composed of only a few colours, you would want to scan at 300 DPI. For a piece of true artwork that is hyper complex, full of colour and shading - more along the lines of an illustration - you will want to use 400 or 660 DPI.
Basically, as a general rule of thumb, you never want to scan artwork below 300-400 DPI.

This amount of resolution will make large files and can be difficult to work with without a good computer. But as technology keeps advancing, working with these scans becomes less and less problematic. Moreover, remember that you will be sending these files on some sort of disc, either a CD or DVD. It is a lot easier to just burn a disc and bring it to the printer than take the tremendous amount of time to upload and host the file online, only to have the printer take his time to download it again. There is no urgency in reproducing the artwork, so why even host the huge sideart file online?


What file format should I use for my scanned artwork?

My favourite format is PNG; it supports a good compression without loss.


To colour correct or not to colour correct

I would not trust the built in colour correction utilities with the scanning software, it is hard to know what is going on in the background or how the software is choosing what to correct. Just turn colour correction off when scanning. You can use PMS colour chip books to do the colour matching and correction.


How long will it take to scan cabinet artwork?

Frankly, scanning a full side of a cabinet takes a very long time.

Here is a quick calculation to estimate the minimum scanning time. On average, an arcade game is 30 - 36 in. deep, by 72 in. tall. A scan using a standard 8.5 x 11 scanner bed (A4) (an actual area of about 8 inches by 10.5 inches) will take at least three scans to cover the depth (left to right) of the cabinet.

To calculate the total amount of scans, take the 72 inches, divide it by 8 inches tall, multiply by 3 for each 8 inch pass and you have a total of 27 scans. So, rounding up for re-scans, differences in cabinet sizes and other unforeseen troubles (maybe this is your first try, you will not be perfect) you can count on about 30 artwork scans. You now need to take 30 scans times the amount of time it takes to make one scan.

Finally, do not forget the time you will need to adjust the dowel, the cords and other setup.
So basically, do not start scanning a piece of arcade cabinet artwork right before you have to go off for a really important meeting with your friend Robert. Expect to set aside a couple of hours of un-interrupted time to scan one side of your arcade game.

One encouraging thing is that you do not have to scan the cabinet artwork in one setting. Just leave the dowel in place to mark your place so that you can come back to finish the scanning later.


Let’s get starting scanning that game!

Now that we have reviewed all of the considerations prior to scanning, we are still crazy enough to take on this project. For this tutorial, we have chosen to scan a true classic - Pac-man.

The victim :

Here is an easy way to have scanned artwork that will include the edges of the cabinet. Put the scanner on the side and use your finger to be sure that the scanner is set up few millimetres from the edge, this way you are sure to include the edge of the cab. Looks really scientific, doesn’t it?

Here are some screenshots of the details for your scan, your resolution and other miscellaneous settings.

Make sure you properly choose your settings and position for your first scan using the preview function if necessary. Once you scan the first piece, the first thing you want to do is save the scan (you are never safe from a computer crash, so do not leave the scan unsaved because you will loose your hard work). You will find that you want a certain area of overlap between the previous scan and your new scan. This will help you later for alignment.

After you get four sections or so scanned, do not forget to check the quality. It’s simple, reduce the display size of your images and superimpose them. This gives you a visual example of what I am talking about.

Here I made one 8 inch ’slice’ of the cabinet artwork - 4 scans.

The edge of the cabinet is really important, so make sure to hang your scanner over the back of the cabinet. The edge gives you a straight line in your artwork to help position and overlay all of the artwork.

Repeat the process of scanning, moving up to the next section of sideart. You will now have something like this:

We are now going to incorporate the equipment mentioned previously.

To make your life easier, and not have to keep hand scanning through the duration of the project, we are going to affix a dowel to the side of the cabinet about a foot off the base of the machine. (A foot is specific to Pac-man because the artwork starts about a foot off the ground. Results may vary if you are scanning an Atari machine with full length cabinet artwork - edge to edge) Fix the dowel to the sides of the cabinet using the clamps, using the opened up back and the front edge on this Pac-Man cabinet to secure the clamps.

I recommend using plastic clamps with the padded grips. They are easier and faster to change, and unlike most metal clamps, you won’t damage and dent your cabinet.

A couple of close up shots on clamping:

If you don’t have a Pac-Man cabinet, and cannot easily clamp the backside of the dowel onto the cabinet, there is an alternative to using the dowels. Use your bungee cords, wrap them around the cabinet horizontally and this will help secure your scanner as you slide it around, left to right and up and down.

Each time you scan a ’slice’ of the cabinet, move the dowel up 6.5 inches. Why 6.5 inches and not 8 inches? Because, again, you want some overlay to help align your scans.

Scanning arcade artworks is a lot of work

I know some of you are thinking, “I can’t balance my scanner on a three inch dowel, or the thickest dowel for that matter. This doesn’t really help me automate the process.” Well, I will break down your options again for scanning the arcade artwork with corresponding photos below;

1). The basic method where you use the dowel to balance the scanner and move and hold the scanner by hand.

2). You can find a friend that will help you move the scanner around and manipulate your equipment, saving some time.

3). You can use your bungee cords, tie them around the height of the cabinet to secure the scanner against the side of the cabinet.

Each person will choose the cabinet scanning technique that suits him best, personally I choose the method of the bungee cord tied down as you see

Worth mentioning although obvious, you understand that at the end of each ’slice’ of the cabinet artwork, you will have to go back and adjust the dowel. Here are some more photos showing that step from different angles and as I move upwards on the cabinet.

In the end, you’ll have accumulated a number of scans which will allow you to rebuild the artwork digitally in a mosaic form. It will look something like this:

The assembly of all of these artwork scans (commonly called stitching) will be another tutorial. You will also need to possess some general knowledge of Photoshop if you are going to print directly from your scans instead of vectorizing the artwork first.

To finish up with your scanning project, don’t forget to take measurements of your cabinet (height, width) so that you can verify that when you do assemble your final piece of artwork that the scan is the correct dimensions.

Final related artwork tips :

An easy way to check the accuracy of the size is to scan a ruler, see: one scanned millimetre should still be one millimetre long. If not, you must adjust the size of the scan before stitching.

Exemple : 

You can lightly draw one foot squares all over your cabinet using pencil (don’t worry, it comes off easily with a soapy sponge) to help you re-assemble your scans. If you use this process, it helps you choose your naming strategy.

Give each of the squares coordinates and name your scanned artwork files accordingly. It’s logical and simplifies your process of assembly, and should help remove potential errors.

If you are lucky and the sidearts are symmetrical, you can just flip your scan. Otherwise, you will need to scan the other side.

That’s it. Scanning the artwork of an arcade game cabinet is hard work, but the more scanning we all do, the more we can bring back life to these games, preserve and bring them back to their original condition, and make reproductions available to everyone.

Thanks to Jeff Rothe from for the translation. You can find great arcade related articles on his blog:


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