Copy Stand - Cheap and Easy to Build




I collect lots of documents as part of my work; recently I decided I should let the sheets of ‘tree stuff’ return to the environment and clear up my living space and office by scanning everything I could. I had recently got rid of a flat bed scanner; it was far too slow and I hardly ever used it. I needed something that was convenient and fast; it didn't need to make ultra high fidelity scans, just readable would do.
For some time I had been photographing some documents instead of scanning them; it was quick and convenient, but hand held was slow and a bit ‘hit and miss’. Photographing documents is nothing new:
(and many more)
Most of these setups had some convenience problems for my use; I needed a more or less permanent compact setup that I could pump a few thousand documents through quickly to catch up with the backlog, and then handle the day to day accumulation. Some of the links above refer to the use of commercial copy stands. Many of these are now surplus from old darkroom enlargers. eBay had quite few copy stands for sale but they were too big, too expensive (postage) or not quite right for A4 pages. I decided to make one myself preferably using bits and pieces from around my house (yes I am a hoarder).

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Even if you buy all the materials you could build this copy stand for under A$30 and take less than an hour. Like me you will probably find most of the materials around your house or well stocked workshop.

To make one you will need:
(This list looks long but it is very comprehensive; mostly nuts, bolts and washers.)
A camera (preferably >3M res. or greater)
A remote shutter release (optional but a darn good idea).
Power adaptor for the camera (optional but a darn good idea).
Optional USB cable for the camera.
A flat base board 2 inches bigger in width & length than the pages you want to scan.
3x 8mm threaded rods (length depends on camera, see below)
1 x ¼” threaded rod length roughly enough to go halfway across the width of the board
3x lengths of ~1” aluminium angle extrusion, (length depends on base board, see below).
1x ½” long ¼” round headed screw with nut and two washers (pivot)
7x Rubber Tips to suit the 8mm threaded rods.
1x 8mm round head bolt screw ~1” long
13x nuts to suit the 8mm threaded rods (lots of nuts = lots of adjustability.)
14x washers to suit the 8mm threaded rods
4x nuts to suit the ¼” threaded rod (one of these can be a wing nuts for convenience.
1x 2”long ¼ “ 20 TPI bolt to suit your camera mount thread.
1x Bottle cap ~1” diameter.
1x Washer for the camera mount
1x Bicycle rear view mirror – as cheap as you like but easily adjustable.
1x ~4” piece of tubing the right diameter for the bike mirror.
1x 5” long ¼” round head bolt. I used a ¼” coach bolt.
1x nut to fit long bolt.
2x washers to fit long bolt; one should be the same diameter as the tube if possible.
2x desk lamps with little diffuse spot light bulbs
or a single desk lamp with a reflector. (see below).
Some scrap corrugated cardboard or similar page centring stops.
Masking tape.
Fabric book binding tape or thin rubber tape if you can get it.

A square
A saw to cut the aluminium extrusions
A tape measure and pen
A file and/or emery paper
A drill and drill bits
Adjustable spanner or a couple of spanners the right size
Screw driver

Optional tools: Drill press, small pipe cutter, gauge block, scissors, deburring tool, centre punch, craft knife or scalpel.

Step 2: Construction

The construction of the stand is fairly obvious from the pictures in this Instructible. You just cut your aluminium to length, drill all the holes and then bolt it together. So I will just offer a few tips and then the following steps will explain some of my design choices:
It is best to start by marking out the board ready to drill 4 holes - one in each corner. Then before you drill the holes transfer the hole markings to the aluminium angles. This will ensure that the hole spacing on the board perfectly matches the top frame.
I always use masking tape to protect the surfaces of already finished items; it is easier to mark out on too. Use a drill press if you can; this helps to keep the rods perpendicular to the board. I used a centre punch when drilling the aluminium and I also drilled pilot holes and then expanded them out to the rod size for best accuracy.
Round all the cut corners on the aluminium parts with a file to avoid painful snags.
When assembling mount all the legs on the base board first and get it level before putting on the frame.

Step 3: The Base Board

The flat base board or panel has to have enough space to mount the 3 threaded rods and still have room for the pages you want to scan. About 2 inches (1” margin) is just enough for the rods, for me in Oz with typically A4 pages at ~8 ¼” x 11 ¾” this means a board ~ 10” x 14” or bigger.
I have made two copy stands one uses a polypropylene kitchen cutting board (office) and one a laminated bamboo kitchen cutting board (home). You can use practically anything for the base board as long as you can drill holes in it and it is strong and thick enough to provide stability. If it is less than say ~10mm thick it might not provide enough stability. If you can find something with a ferro-metal top eg a magnetic white board, then you have the added bonus of being able to use magnets as page hold downs or centring blocks. You can get great magnetic strips from old refrigerator door seals.
Warning: If you grab an old cutting board from the kitchen you will possibly have an angry wife and the smell of onions while you work. :-)

Step 4: The Short Leg

There are 3 long legs and one short leg. This leaves a big window for easy access and high speed copying. You should first decide where you are going to place the finished copy stand as this will decide which corner has the short leg. I have the stand on my desk to the left so the short leg is on the front right. If you are planning to have your stand on the right perhaps you should look at the photos in a mirror. It is very easy to mirror the design; in fact a few extra holes and it could be made a convertible. The short leg is attached by a nut and washer. This leg defines how high the base board stands above your desk so install it first.
The rubber tips are to stop the ends of the rods from scratching your desk and also to prevent the stand from sliding around when doing vigorous copying. I also put rubber tips on the the tops of the rods to protect against ripped sleeves. I guess you could as an option use cap nuts here instead.
I used ¼” tips on 8mm threaded rods, a bit tight but they screwed on nice and firm.

Step 5: The 3 Threaded Rod Legs

The 3 threaded rods I used were 8mm diameter but this is not critical. The length of the rods will depend on the distance the camera has to be from the document to just frame it perfectly. The best way to determine the distance is to measure it. Use a test document with the largest length, width and smallest text you are going to work with, set the camera for the widest view and the right focus range. Move as close as possible to just frame the whole document, keep as steady as possible and take a few test shots. Remember the page should be in portrait mode so turn the camera to suit - don't waste any pixels! Check your shots have a good focus and readability. Once you have the settings worked out get someone to measure the distance from the camera mounting screw hole to the test page when you are at the right distance to suit your camera.
This distance plus about 2-3 inches to allow for the other components, is the minimum length for the threaded rods. You could add a bit more to allow for photographing documents a bit bigger than A4 like I did; I ended up with rods 18 ½” long.
The rods are held onto the base board with two nuts and two washers.

Step 6: The Top Frame - Overview

You can see from the photo that the top frame is "L" shaped with a pivoting arm attached to the shorter leg of the "L". The 3 lengths of ~1” aluminium angle extrusion should have a reasonable wall thickness 1/8” or greater. You could possibly substitute hardwood here but I have not tried it.
One piece of the L frame will be as long as the width as your board and the other piece will be as long as your board.
The pivot arm has to be long enough to support the base of your camera and also place the lens right above the middle of your board and stiil have some extra length for the adjustment screw and wing nut. The FZ20 has the mounting hole offset with respect to the lens axis and many cameras have similar idiosyncrasies. So measure and calculate carefully.
You can of course drill additional holes to allow you to use other cameras on the same stand. I eventually added another hole in the pivot arm to suit my FZ50. I had to move the wing nut to the other end of the pivot arm screw to give the FZ50 more clearance; keep that in mind when cutting your pivot arm, be generous.

Step 7: The Pivot for the Pivot Arm

The pivot point for the pivot arm is a short round headed screw, I used ¼” dia. but it is not critical. The position of the pivot point is critical though; mark the middle of the shorter aluminium angle of the L frame and then mark for drilling the camera arm pivot offset to this. The offset is the distance from the base to the centre of the camera lens, plus ½ the width of one of the outer faces of the aluminium angle. See the diagram:

Step 8: Pivot Arm Adjustment and Locking

The pivot  arm is adjusted and locked in aligment with a ¼” threaded rod about half the width of the board long. You can use a wide range of threaded rod diameters here; even the same dia. as the legs.
Despite the wingnut I seldom adjust this so you possibly could get away with a nice looking cap nut.

Step 9: Camera Mounting Area

I covered the area where the camera is mounted on the pivot arm using fabric book binding tape. It works, but thin rubber tape might work better if you can get it. It is a good idea to cover this area, not only is the camera held more firmly because of the increased friction,  it also protects the base of your precious camera. I used a scalpel to cut the hole in the tape.

Step 10: The Camera Mounting Screw

The camera is held in position with a  2” long ¼” 20 TPI bolt combined with a bottle cap, 3 nuts and 2 locking washers. You will need to have one locking washer under the head of the screw and one under the opposing nut and do it up tight to make sure the cap does not free wheel. 
You could just use a short screw to mount the camera and tighten it with a screw driver but it is much easier to mount and unmount the camera with my bottle cap kludge.

Step 11: The Mirror

By now you are probably busting to know what the bicycle rear view mirror is for!
The  mirror allows you to see the back of the camera while the user is seated; this allows easy checking that the copying is going OK. It also shows if the camera has been left on inadvertently, very important if you are running from batteries.
The mirror is mounted on a short piece of tubing the right size for the bike mirror. I used a scrap of tubular steel broom handle; it was white vinyl coated and looked good. I cut it with a small pipe cutter so the ends were already square and finished.
The tubing is held in place by long round head bolt down the middle (I used a ¼” coach bolt). I found a washer to put under the head that was the same diameter as the OD of the tube. This makes it easier to put on the mirror. If you can’t find a washer the right size then put on the mirror before you mount the tube.

Step 12: The Camera

Chances are you are going to press your precious personal digital camera into service on this stand and that is fine; more than likely it will exceed requirements for this project.
I have indicated that the camera should preferably be greater than 3 Meg in resolution. My reasoning for this is as follows. For an A4 page size field of view, the pixels per inch are given by approximately 105 times the square root of the camera resolution in megapixels. For example a 4M camera would be 105 x 2 = 210 PPI. This is just a bit better than a fax machine, by the time you take into account a little noise and focus blur I don’t think a camera much less than ~3M (182 PPI) would work well enough. So forget about webcams and that cheap digicam you found in a show bag.
Nevertheless if you want a dedicated camera for the stand you should be able to pick up a cheap camera of sufficient quality from eBay.  I know Samsung make several cameras with a text mode eg the S860. The S860 is quite cheap, but I have not tried it. I would welcome a bit of feedback about suitable cameras.
I used an old Panasonic FZ20, this has a 5M sensor providing images that are 2560 x 1920 pixels; so assuming an A4 page goes right across the image this gives a resolution of 1920/8.25” ~= 233 pixels/inch. I also have a Panasonic  FZ50, this is a 10M camera and provides ~332 PPI on A4 paper. This extra resolution is occasionally a good thing but the files are much bigger too.

Step 13: Lighting

I better say something about the lighting to use; if you go through Daniel Reetz's link:

and other links off that one, you will find a lot about lighting for this sort of copying. As a professional photographer I have to say everything that I read from Daniel about lighting is absolutely correct. If you are archiving books for the future you have a responsibility to get some good lighting, so read up what Daniel has to say.

For my purpose I only have to be able to read the text on an LCD screen; it is the content of the text I am after not a perfect and accurate rendition of the document or book.
I first tried bed-head lamps clipped on the legs but they gave lots of reflections on shiny pages. Two desk lamps with little pearl spot light bulbs work the best when about a foot or more away from each end of the board and not too high. This solution though uses a lot of desk space. Currently at home I use a single desk lamp standing on the desk return at one end of the board. At the other end I have a curved foil reflector clipped to the legs with clothes pegs. Over the foil I have a translucent plastic sheet; bare foil on its own produces uneven spot reflections from wrinkles when this close to the subject.
I made the light more diffuse by taping a folder tissue over the lower half of the desk lamp. (See the photos)
At work I use ambient lighting, a mixture of daylight from windows and the dreaded fluoros. Occasionally I get reflections on shiny pages so I either block the direct light with a plastic bag or turn off some of the lights.

The only trick I use is to make sure I set the white balance on the camera before I start.

Yes I get lots of various shades of colour toned grey instead of white and lots of noise but I find for me this reduces eyestrain when I blow the images up for reading. (I should mention here I normally wear reading glasses, it is great to be able to blow the images up and screen and read them strain free.) The colour variation is actually helpful to find particular pages in the thumbnails.
If I was to get into my photographer’s ivory tower I would point out that at for black text on white a lot of the noise is generated by the camera’s jpeg compression. So when shooting for art sake I get out the studio lights and shoot RAW.
Nevertheless ultimately the lighting is up to you and what works for your needs is all that matters.

Step 14: Centering the Original

I tried various ways to centre the pages on the board while still allowing rapid changes. The best method I have found so far are 4 strips of scrap corrugated cardboard held down with masking tape:

(At work you could place your “in tray” on the board as a page guide and use the recycle bin as your “out tray” ;-) .)

Step 15: Using the Stand

As I mentioned earlier, set the cameras white balance to suit the lighting with a white (or pref. 18% grey) page. Set your camera up to have the right focus and possibly macro setting. I also find it a good idea to have the shutter sound switched on. When rapidly going through a pile of documents the audible feedback becomes very important so you know you have the picture.

Depending on the quality of the camera you may get some pincushion or barrel distortion. This is usually not a problem for me because it does not affect the readability of the text. There are plenty of lens distortion correction applications, if you need to have your image perfectly undistorted.

For fastest throughput go through your originals and get them ready to go first; right way up; in the intended order and stacked in a position with easy access. I sometimes put a small object (coin, blu-tak) on the board in the corner facing me so that the page does not lie perfectly flat; this makes it much easier to pick up the page after copying.

When the camera is not being used for some time I put a business card over the LCD to stop dust. I also have a piece of paper dangling from my lens cover so I don’t forget to remove the lens cover before I start shooting.

A peculiarity of the FZ20 is that you have to unmount the camera to access the memory chip and battery. I have found it more convenient to have a USB cable connected to the camera so I can just run the pictures straight into the computer. It takes longer but it is far easier. So I have all 3 sockets on my FZ20 in service = Power, USB and Remote.

I have also found the stand useful for macro photography, enlarging small instruction books, business cards and saving all those little scrap paper notes with miscellaneous data. I wanted to get the maximum use out of this design so later I might get my daughter to sew up some white rip lock nylon to go over it as a light tent. I made an extra full length leg to occasionally replace the short leg; this will support the 4th corner of the light tent later on.

The copy stand is very sucessful, I can archive about 3000 pages on a single DVD; so far the only “thumbs down” has come from the evicted silverfish that used to live in my office.



  • Classroom Science Contest

    Classroom Science Contest
  • Woodworking Contest

    Woodworking Contest
  • Gardening Contest

    Gardening Contest

31 Discussions


8 years ago on Introduction

A few people have remarked that threaded rods make camera height adjustments slow. For me the threaded rods with ordinary nuts are perfect because I don't need to adjust very often.
Early on I supported the camera frame with "twising nuts". These were over size nuts with the top filed to be at an angle (ie just big enough to slide up and down without turning.) . When a load is resting on the nut it twists against the thread and locks. To adjust you just twist the nut back to slide it up an down. In the twist position you can still turn the nut a little for fine adjustments.
For example on 5/16" rods use a 3/8" nut (18 TPI and 16 TPI but it doesn't seem to matter). You will have to slightly expand the hole in the nut to provide clearance but be careful not to take off too much; it should only just slide on the rod. You must leave some thread in the nut. Then slide it on the rod and twist it (not turn it) to lock on the thread. Note the angle and file the top of the nut to that angle so that the top is level when it is in the twist position (bias should be towards a steeper angle).
The bigger the load on a twisting nut the more it locks. When my frame had no camera it would slide down even if it was bumped accidentally. So if your camera is very light you may want to add some extra weight.
Here is a diagram to make things clearer.


8 years ago on Introduction

I really regret over-explaining this Instructable, I made it seem more complicated than it is. I built the second one in less than 30 minutes with just a drill, saw, file and screw driver on the coffee table in the lounge room (I didn't even have a vice). Still this was my first Instructable, 'live and learn' eh?
A salutory lesson for all budding Instructable writers, keep ithe instructions simple or you will drive people to make a whole lot more complex designs.
I wonder if I will ever get a medal from the manufacturers of threaded rod for pioneering a new application {^_^}.


8 years ago on Introduction

Great build & 'ible; definitely favorite'd! Comments & questions:

1) As tough as drilling in metal can be for less-experienced/less-tool-equipped DIY'ers can be, I suggest you could use any number of pre-drilled alternatives to the aluminum stock, such as pre-drilled steel angle, or even heavy-duty shelving standards (the "metal shelving-you-bolt-together" kind). For perfect hole alignment between the horizontals & the board, determine & mark what holes in the metal you'll be using for the threaded rods, then transfer those hole positions to the board.

2) While obviously lower in resolution/image quality/exposure adjustment options, couldn't you use a webcam in place of a digital camera? If you used a higher-quality webcam (if that's not too oxymoron-ish) & could get an acceptable image from it, you could set up next to your desktop computer (or place a laptop next to your copystand; whichever's more convenient) and drive the webcam from your computer. Advantages: no need for the mirror, since you'll be seeing the image framing on-screen, and no interaction with the "camera" itself, not even through a remote, so even less chance of things moving (addressing schorhr's question about using this setup for stop-motion).

3) OK, I know your first reaction to the next item will be "Dude, that's why they call it 'confidential'!", but you've piqued my curiosity something fierce: without revealing any of the secret bits, can you tell us anything about what kind of confidential stuff you're digitizing (I mean, are we talking just tax records or the like, client/business records, etc. or more along the magnitude of the "Area 51/ proof of the men in black/ who shot JR (...oops, JFK)" kinda stuff? Aw, comeon, even just a hint?


1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Hi Lafnbear,
Sorry to take so long to respond been flat-out like a lizard drinking:
1) Aluminium is very easy to drill; I just used a hand held power drill on scrap timber on the lounge room coffee table. I don't have a vice setup or even a work shop at home. Having said that, I don't see any reason why you couldn't use pre-drilled shelving. It is available here in Oz but to my eye a bit ugly and much harder to cut to length with a hacksaw. Actually I am thinking of making one with a polished wood frame and brass fittings; sort of antique looking.
2) I agree a webcam would make acquisition easy but, unless you have a webcam with higher resolution than I have ever seen you will not be able to read small text on a full size page. (I explain that in detail in the instructible.) Many Canon cameras and some other brands can be used by remote from a computer. You can also put an Eyefi SD chip in most cameras and images will go straight to your computer as you shoot.
3) I work in government R&D developing new technologies. Most of what I do gets patented and if it is publically released it can't be patented and loses it's commercial value.


9 years ago on Introduction

Update: OCR now tested.

A few people asked about OCR so I tried a few free OCR programs. The best were TopOCR V3.1 and FreeOCR.V2.6. Both these programs gave about 98% accuracy with a poor contrast image straight from the camera. It was easy to get this to about 100% accuracy with a little image tweaking.

Cheers, Light_Lab

3 replies

Adobe Acrobat captures the text of a PDF file as… text. May also work for JPG or TIF files opened in Acrobat. Generally, OCR applications are useless.


Can't afford AA. TopOCR might change you mind about OCR applications. It changed my mind. It seems to do pretty good OCR on most images despite quality and is virtually 100% on a good image. And it is free unlike Adobe's overpriced apps.


8 years ago on Introduction

Very neat instructable! I was thinking of a similar setup for a portable stop motion box, then I saw your project in instructable's newsletter :-) What I am still wondering is, how stable the rod setup is. While for single photos that might not be an issue, for stop motion it would have to be pretty sturdy and stiff to avoid slightest movement which would show as jiggle in the final movie.

2 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Yes you are absolutely correct it has to be rock solid or else everything moves when you are banging things in and out at 3 a second. I have actually tried stop action with this setup and it works very well. I originally did a 4 leg version of the stand but the extra leg got in the road so I removed it and the design still worked. Even my wife thought it wouldn't be stable. Provided the camera is close to an imaginary hypotenuse drawn between the two widest spaced legs the design is perfectly stable. It is a bit like the trick of balancing two forks on a glass rim with a toothpick. I think it is the same principle that allows army jeeps can run on 3 wheels.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Actually if you look at the image on step 6 you can see why the design is stable. The camera is clearly supported by the diagonally opposed legs and the other leg merely stops it from twisting on that axis.


8 years ago on Introduction

Nice build. Reflections from glossy originals can be a problem. The best way I have found to avoid them is to use a sheet of rigid black card mounted below the camera with a hole cut out for the lens to poke through. The card needs to be a bit bigger than whatever you are copying. Position the lights at 45degrees or less to the subject. This should get rid of most unwanted reflections, it may be worth painting the copy stand matt black as well. If you have a camera that uses a IR focusing light then the hole in the card will have to be a bit bigger so as not to cover the IR lamp and focusing sensor.

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Thank you for mentioning the idea of using a black page below the page. I have used this excellent trick in the past for other work. I have here in my office a piece of A4 blackout cloth for that purpose. I should really have mentioned that in the article. Yes reflections are a real pain and that is why I use the low angle lighting shown. Sometimes when reflections are really bad I slide the lamp back about a foot and that does the trick. In the office I am using the ceiling fluoros and these can make reflections that I can't adjust. I have tried all sorts of tricks including black cards with lens holes; cardboard boxes, black cloth, black plastic film. The problem is when you block the light reflections you loose illumination too. The best trick I have found so far is to use milky white plastic film (eg shopping bags) like a tent over the stand so I get very diffuse lighting. No reflections and plenty of light. Mark three will have a wire frame for just that reason.


8 years ago on Step 13

Couldn't you take a picture of a blank sheet every time you set it up, and use that as a template to subtract from the rest of the images to correct for the lighting hot spot?

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Yes you certainly can do that and it is an excellent way of flattening the light intensity. It is really only a question of numbers; easy for a few pages; a pain in the neck for more than 20; insanity generating for a few thousand. For me readable is fine most of the time; but I am finding more and more uses for this copy stand and I use every image processing trick under the sun if it will get to what I need.


8 years ago on Introduction

Another tip, if you are copying illustrations from a book and get images or text from the other side of the paper showing through these can be eliminated by putting a sheet of black paper behind the sheet you are copying.


9 years ago on Introduction

Your wish is my tricky afternoon :-) was pretty difficult to comply with this simple request. Everything I have already scanned is confidential work data, I looked around the house and everything I saw was copyright.
In the end I decided to print out a excerpt of my Instructible on my old Ink Jet printer then photograph it with the copy stand.
The result was quite good considering the original photograph was placed in a Word document then printed out and photographed again.
Depiction in the Instructible has actually done more damage than my processing!

Cheers, Light_Lab


9 years ago on Introduction

Have you attempted to OCR the text from the scanned pages? I'm wondering if the resolution/quality are high enough for this to work well.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Good question -- thanks.
I have not tried OCR on the images from the copy stand yet, I have no need to.
My past experiences with OCR on my old flat bed scanner were not that satisfying. It takes a lot of time to proof read the the resulting text and then edit out all the errors. Most of the time I only want to read a document once so OCR is for me a waste of time.
Nevertheless I would say though that the quality of the scanned pages I have made would be more than adequate for OCR most of the time.
I have thought about OCR and then text to speech so I can listen to some documents on my MP3 player while out walking but so far I haven't found a good enough text to speech app that can handle scientific papers with clarity.

Cheers, Light_Lab


9 years ago on Introduction

Nicely done, I especially like your lighting setup, which has gotten around several issues with shadows, reflections and bright spots that other copy stand instructables have. The little extra touches also make this a wonderful project. Kudos to you, 5 stars