Archivist Quill Guide

The Archivist Quill is a book scanner kit designed to help you make high quality scans of most books. There are two pieces to the quill. The most obvious piece is the framework made of aluminum, plastic, and steel which provides a photographic environment. The other piece is the electronics and software which capture the photographs and store them.

The difference between a good scan and a poor one is often the environment in which the scan takes place. A poorly lit environment or a curved page can be corrected after the fact in software, but usually the quality of the scan suffers. The Quill frame is about making an ideal environment for photographing a book. One where pages are as close to flat as possible, the lighting is even and color-balanced, and the geometry of the scan does not shift as you scan a book.

The controller for the Archivist Quill is a Raspberry Pi. The Pi Scan software lets the Pi act as a standalone kiosk for book scanning. You configure the cameras, capture scans, and inspect them via a touch interface. Your scans are saved to your USB thumb drive or SD card as you make them.

The cameras run a piece of software called CHDK which allows them to be remotely operated over a USB connection. This is how they are controlled by Pi Scan which configures them, triggers them, and downloads the resulting photographs.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about building and using your Quill.

Table of Contents

Specifications and Limitations

The assembled specifications of an Archivist Quill:

The Archivist Quill does not try to automatically scan books on its own. The operator turns the pages and triggers the cameras. An experienced operator can expect to capture more than 1000 pages per hour. You will probably not be able to get consistently faster than 1200 pages per hour.

The largest page size that the Archivist Quill can scan is 300 mm (11.8 in) x 400 mm (15.75 in). Small trade paperbacks will be difficult to scan because they tend to snap closed every time you lower the cradle. Books thicker than 80 mm (3 in) will be difficult to scan.

Using the recommended cameras, you can capture images that are about 300 DPI. Keep in mind that the 'spatial resolution' will likely be worse than this because consumer grade point and shoot cameras have small sensors and lenses. For a discussion of spatial resolution, see the article on Wikipedia.

If you are planning on tackling a large book scanning project (hundreds of books), you must be willing to treat the cameras as a replaceable item. Most cameras have mechanical pieces which will likely fail after many actuations. After scanning enough books, the shutter mechanism or some other piece will eventually fail. There is no reliable data on how many actuations this will take for point and shoot cameras. An advantage of using point and shoot cameras is that they can be replaced relatively cheaply.

Other Resources

For community discussion, visit the forum.

To report a bug in this document or if you have another problem assembling or operating your Archivist Quill, send email to help at tenrec dot builders.

For all other inquiries, send email to info at tenrec dot builders.


The Archivist Quill was designed by Jonathon Duerig and Tenrec Builders. If you would like to purchase a kit, visit the Tenrec Builders shop.

The Quill was directly inspired by the incredible work of Daniel Reetz and his extensive design documention of the Archivist Book Scanner. The Quill would not have been possible without his leadership and the six years he spent developing and refining book scanner design.