Scanning technology selection impacts acceptability and usefulness of image-rich content

Kristine M. Alpi, James C. Brown, Jennifer A. Neel, Carol B. Grindem, Keith E. Linder, James B. Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Clinical and research usefulness of articles can depend on image quality. This study addressed whether scans of figures in black and white (B&W), grayscale, or color, or portable document format (PDF) to tagged image file format (TIFF) conversions as provided by interlibrary loan or document delivery were viewed as acceptable or useful by radiologists or pathologists. Methods: Residency coordinators selected eighteen figures from studies from radiology, clinical pathology, and anatomic pathology journals. With original PDF controls, each figure was prepared in three or four experimental conditions: PDF conversion to TIFF, and scans from print in B&W, grayscale, and color. Twelve independent observers indicated whether they could identify the features and whether the image quality was acceptable. They also ranked all the experimental conditions of each figure in terms of usefulness. Results: Of 982 assessments of 87 anatomic pathology, 83 clinical pathology, and 77 radiology images, 471 (48%) were unidentifiable. Unidentifiability of originals (4%) and conversions (10%) was low. For scans, unidentifiability ranged from 53% for color, to 74% for grayscale, to 97% for B&W. Of 987 responses about acceptability (n=405), 41% were said to be unacceptable, 97% of B&W, 66% of grayscale, 41% of color, and 1% of conversions. Hypothesized order (original, conversion, color, grayscale, B&W) matched 67% of rankings (n=215). Conclusions: PDF to TIFF conversion provided acceptable content. Color images are rarely useful in grayscale (12%) or B&W (less than 1%). Acceptability of grayscale scans of noncolor originals was 52%. Digital originals are needed for most images. Print images in color or grayscale should be scanned using those modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Medical Library Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Image compression
  • Image enhancement
  • Interlibrary loans
  • Pathology
  • Photographs
  • Radiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Library and Information Sciences


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