Straighten images

Tilted images are the rule, not the exception. Problems like this are unlikely to have any relevance unless someone has a desire for their images to look professional. Obviously, that should include all dealers and those amateurs aspiring to sell more items on eBay.

Why are so many images tilted?

  • no importance
  • assumptions that borders are parallel to trimmed edges
  • hard-to-use photo editors
  • use of cameras
Bond from Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico

Canted image of a large bond from the
Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico


Based on informal counts, approximately 35% to 40% of all railroad certificates offered on eBay are canted in some way. (I count all certificates with trapezoidal appearances as "tilted.")

There are so many free photo editors available on the web that we must assume professional appearances do not matter to many would-be certificate sellers on eBay. Unfortunately, I must admit it is harder to straighten images with almost every photo editor other than with Photoshop. And sadly, the word "Photoshop" can instill fear in anyone who hasn't used it. 

Still, why don't seller fix their images? Are they trying to sell for the least amount possible?

Many sellers (and I assume collectors) take photographs of their certificates and a large percentage end up a bit tilted. But so do a substantial percentage of images produced by scanners.

Are aligned images important?

I genuinely cannot say. I TRY to straighten all the images on this site because their presentations are important to me. Nonetheless, a few poorly-aligned images have no doubt escaped my attention. Would fewer people use my database if the majority of my images were tilted haphazardly. Again, I can't say, but I don't want to find out.

If collectors browse professional dealer websites, they will rarely see a single tilted image. It would appear that professional dealers consider properly-aligned images to be highly important. And who is selling the most? Professional dealers.

What about certificate edges?

It was not until the later years of paper certificate production that printing/engraving companies were able to trim edges of certificates parallel to borders. Certificates were printed one at a time throughout much of the period of certificate use. With the exception of early securities, stocks and bonds were usually printed with several separately-engraved plates or lithographic stones. Colored borders were normally printed fiirst. If colored backs were required, they too were printed separately. Then text was printed one or more days after ink had dried on the borders. If needed, overprints came later still. It is very common to see text out of alignment with borders. When flipping through images of certificates, it becomes readily apparent that alignments can be "all over the place."

Many collectors who own scanners align their certificates with one edge touching the frame that normally surrounds at least two sides of the glass scanning surface. That sounds perfectly logical and reasonable until a certificate gets caught under a frame. A couple of those occurrences, often with torn certificates involved, and we gradually learn to scan in the middle of scanners and not along the the edges.

Stock certificate from Western Carolina Scenic Railroad

Slightly tilted image of a stock certificate from the Western North Carolina Scenic Railroad as scanned on a letter-size scanner


The truth is that most borders around certificates are NOT parallel to cut edges and that is why so many certificates appear titled.

How to align borders horizontally or vertically.

So far, I have encountered three primary methods of aligning certificates exactly to a cardinal direction.

  • draw a measuring line along a border and the software will automatically orient that line to horizontal (or vertical)
  • measure the angle of the border relative to horizontal (or vertical) in the photo editor and then tell the editor to rotate the image by that amount 
  • place a point on a border line and use that point as an "axle" around which to rotate the image

These methods work equally well for scanned or photographic images. Trapezoid-shapes photographs usually need re-shaping of three sides to make them appear rectangular. Well-worked photographs can closely resemble scanned images.

I have two tutorials you can download to help you learn how to align certificates horizontally and vertically. See:

Other photo editors will have processes similar to Photoshop and GIMP.