Scannable Papers & Notebooks

So there’s a new thing out from Moleskine, a scanning pen and special notebook paper that will let you digitally capture your hand drawn notes as you draw them.  But they’re very expensive.  In addition to a prohibitive price-point, this doesn’t especially appeal to me because it requires the proprietary pen and proprietary paper in order to work.  But there are other alternatives, including the one I used for this Friday map which is (almost) completely free.

20160408-115631In addition to posting this old-school map, I am also reviewing the tools I used to make it, and examining the idea of scannable and digitizable notebooks.

After seeing the announcements (and then the price) of the Moleskine set, I went looking for something I had first seen around the end of last year.  I learned about white line grid paper from Dave Millar (of Dave’s Mapper fame), and I discovered a company that makes notebooks with this kind of paper (with a light gray background and white lines for guidance, rather than dark lines on a white sheet).

When I first found Whitelines, I also found their Whitelines Link notebooks, which can be scanned with an app, so that you can have digital copies of your notebook pages.  I was intrigued, but didn’t want to buy a notebook that had to be shipped from Sweden, so I held off at the time.  But, what I’ve found now is that they have free PDFs of their Whitelines pages that you can print out and draw on and then scan with their app.  So you can try it out for free.*  (The conditional “free” assumes that you already have a device (phone or tablet) with a camera and an internet connection, and that you have a printer.  B&W laser is probably preferable, but you might be able to do it with others, as well.)

So this was drawn on a sheet of Whitelines paper and then scanned with the camera on my phone.  Note that, since Whitelines is a European company, their paper sizes are A5 and A4.  Those don’t exactly fit onto American paper sizes, but it doesn’t really matter, unless the precision of knowing the scan’s size exactly matters to you.  I printed some A4 sheets scaled to fit on a letter page, and I expect they’ll scan just fine.  The app can’t tell whether the paper is full size or not, it is looking for corners and then working with those as its guidepoints.

You’ll notice that the scan is incredibly flat and even, for a hand-held scan.  That’s because it was done using the Whitelines Link app (available in Android and iOS flavors; but I didn’t find a link on their site, so you may need to search for “Whitelines Link” at your app source of choice). This automatically locates the page and takes the picture when the four corners are in frame and the image is in focus. It then processes the image and adjusts it so that you have a completely squared off image, without any keystoning or warping that you’d have just doing it by hand.

IMG_20160408_115755102Camera resolution (for me, currently) is around 2400 x 4200 pixels.  (I’ve downsized the copy of the camera image here just to avoid choking the bandwidth.)  The scanned document is at 1106 x 1550 pixels, so it probably loses some resolution in the process.  But it’s still completely readable and functional.  You can see the QR-esque marks in the corners that the software uses to identify the field of the image and adjust the scan to its final version.

I’ve been using some whiteline grid paper I made using the Incompetech inverted graph paper generator which has been fantastic to work with.  (The old-school map from a couple months back was one of the first experiments working on that paper, and I’ve really liked using that.)

If you’re the kind who can work with a looseleaf notebook, printing a dozen sheets of Whitelines Link paper and downloading the app for your device of choice can be a quick and super-inexpensive (compared to the Moleskine kit) way to start merging your hand drawn maps (or notes, or whatever you want) with your digital life.  Anyone wants to give me a Moleskine set, I would be happy to try it out.  But I expect I’m going to be set just with using the Whitelines system as I have it now.

I’d still really like to try out an actual Whitelines notebook, and that’s probably where I’d make a frivolous purchase (some other reviewers have really liked the quality of their paper, as well). 


We have a new Google+ group for people who are really into their map-making tools: Pens & Grids for RPGs  Come check it out.

If you’re an Amazon customer and you’d like to support me by buying it from them, you can use these links for:

Whitelines Link A4+ Squared Notes (WL241 LinkWA4S)

Livescribe 3 Smartpen Moleskine Edition for iOS & Android Phones &Tablets (APX-00019)

Leuchtturm Whitelines Academy Pad A4 Dots Blk (another notebook manufacturer with Whitelines Link compatible pages – this one has white dots instead of a white grid!)

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