Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

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Scanning large certificates

If you scan large certificates in multiple pieces using a letter-size scanner, you will need to patch or stitch them together with software afterwards. Up until recently, this was a time-consuming process requiring software with advanced capabilities. Several years ago, I prepared guidance on the task on three of the main image manipulation programs.

Specialized image stitching software has advanced dramatically in recent years. Some programs have advanced to the point where huge composite images can be constructed from thousands of overlapping images. Much of that software is very pricey.

During this same period, Microsoft developed stitching software that is absolutely amazing. What's really amazing is that the software is completely FREE!

The software is Microsoft Image Composite Editor, or "ICE" for short. It was developed by Microsoft Research and is currently in release 2.0. It can be used on 32-bit or 64-bit Microsoft XP, Vista and Windows 7 machines. I can't show you any fancy graphics or logos because there aren't any. There's no flash. No trash. Just serious programming. Download from

Since discovering ICE, I have already abandoned Photoshop for almost all image stitching. Being a long-time Photoshop user, I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but ICE is that good!

ICE is so intuitive and simple that the only thing you really need to do is open the program and get to work. There is a video tutorial, but why? The only thing hard about getting to work stitching images is installation. See my special page, Install Microsoft Image Composite Editor for hints.

I took the largest bond I could find (21" x 23") and unfolded it to its full extent. I then scanned the certificate in nine pieces. Alignment is not crucial. In my example, I scanned six letter-size pieces with the bond facing one direction and the other three pieces with the bond facing the opposite direction. Here is a collection of my images. (You can't see it in these tiny images, but the attached coupon sheet was scanned upside down.)

(I scanned the bond against white, but I artificially added the colored background for this illustration so you could see the individual pieces easier.)

Next, I dropped all nine images into ICE. Simply open your Windows Explorer window so you can see all the file names of your images.

Select all pieces and drag and drop them into the main ICE screen. That is it! You can try to make it more complicated, but if you simply drag and drop all your pieces into ICE at one time, you can just step back and let the program work.

You won't need to wait long!

I scanned this bond at 200 dpi and all nine images totaled 11 megabytes. I dropped all nine pieces into ICE and stitching took 33 seconds. Here is what the ICE screen looks like.

During those 33 seconds, the software examined all the separate pieces, calculated which edges matched, re-oriented all the pieces, adjusted coloration along the overlapping edges and created a whole image.

(I added the colored background again so you could see the edges of the finished stitched image.)

Next, I saved the image in JPG format.

ICE is a panorama stitching program, not an image manipulation program. (What do you want for FREE?) Consequently, you will need some other program to perfectly align and trim your final product. Here is the final finished image.

As one would expect, images MUST be overlapped sufficiently in order for the program to find pixels to match. Minimum overlap is a function of scanning resolution. With certificates, the minimum necessary overlap is around 150 pixels. Since I scanned this image at 200 dpi, my minimum overlap needed to be about 0.75". As always, the more overlap the better.

Back to Scanning home page

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(Last updated July 18, 2011)


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