How to Select a Flatbed Scanner

Flatbed scanners have become quite powerful, compact and affordable. In this site, we review entry-level scanners based on common-sense evaluation criteria in order to arrive at product recommendations.

Flatbed Scanner Buyer’s Guide

Careful consideration of the features in the most affordable flatbed scanners reveals a dramatic continuum of capabilities. How should we choose? The most direct analytical approach is to consider – in relationship to your specific situation – the hardware and software attributes, the ease of use and the vendor’s help and support.

Most budget-oriented scanners can handle up to 8.5” x 11” documents. Actually, most of them can scan up to 8.5” x 11.7” documents to be exact. If you need to scan legal-sized documents or larger formats, scanners with those capabilities are going to cost more than $100.

As optical resolution has increased, the distinctions between document scanners and film scanners are fading. Some affordable document scanners support sufficient image density that they include adapters for the scanning of transparent materials such as film negatives. In the $100 price range and below the range of image densities is as high as 4,800 x 9,600 dots per inch (dpi) and as low as 1,200 x 1,200dpi.

Realize that above about 2,400dpi the human eye is challenged to discern a qualitative difference. And images scanned at the highest pixel densities that the scanner can achieve produce massive files. The actual density is the useful number. Vendors will also market “interpolated” numbers. Interpolation involves statistical guessing about which pixels to insert in order to inflate an actual scan up to a higher apparent resolution. The interpolation algorithms are not perfect and they can produce inaccurate colors.

Scanner bit depth is another attribute to consider. The previous generation of scanners employed 24- or 36-bit technology that required three passes to capture the red, green and blue color information. All of the current $100 products support 48-bit scanner depth to capture 250 trillion colors in a single pass.

If a scanner supports Optical Character Recognition (OCR), then it is possible to scan a text document in such a way that it is possible to edit the document from a text editor. Without OCR, every text document will be similar to a read-only PDF document, which will not open in a text editor. There are scanners without OCR, but all flatbed scanners can create PDFs and scan to email. All scanners include image-editing software, but there are usually better image editors available from vendors that specialize in image-editing software.

Ease of Use
Most scanners are marketed to Windows users. Some Windows scanners support Macs, but not all. If you plan to scan directly from bulky manuscripts or books or you want to scan 3D objects, look for those scanners with hinged lids designed to accommodate items more challenging than a sheet of paper or a photograph. Ease of use will also be greatly enhanced if the scanner has one-touch buttons to launch dedicated applications to copy, fax or scan.

Help and Support
A one-year warranty is the industry standard. Toll-free telephone support during the warranty period is a normal benefit. Some vendors also provide support via email. Epson posts frequently asked questions and answers online. Canon goes above and beyond the call of duty to include support via telephone device for the deaf. They also provide a product-exchange service to reduce downtime in situations where the scanner is critical to a time-sensitive home business or artistic project.

For further information, we invite you to read articles about flatbed scanners.

Epson Perfection V30

The Epson Perfection V30 is a flatbed scanner that works with Windows and Macs and includes impressive features for the price. In comparison with the Visioneer OneTouch 9520, the Epson lacks a transparent materials adapter. For those who require OCR (Optical Character Recognition), the Epson is preferable to the Canon CanoScan LiDE 200.

The Epson Perfection V30 can handle documents that measure up to 8.5 x 11.7 inches. The unit attaches to a PC or Mac via USB 2.0, and is therefore capable of transfer speeds up to 40 times faster than the Xerox 7600, which has a USB 1.1 port. The Epson scans at densities up to 4,800 x 9,600 dots per inch (dpi), which is sufficient to capture film and film negatives without deterioration. Unfortunately the product has no transparent materials adapter to conveniently take advantage of its film-worthy scan density. The impressive dpi range is nevertheless useful because any high-density scan will enlarge without noticeable deterioration. And crops and subsets of a high-density image will expand without being perceived by the human eye as degraded. Included software supports Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to allow the editing of scanned text from within a word processor. Photo editing software supports the restoration of faded photographs.

The flatbed scanner lid is designed to lift 180 degrees to accommodate 3D objects, photo albums and scrapbooks. Because the scanning engine is a Charge Coupled Device (CCD), scans with a depth of field up to half an inch are possible. By way of contrast, the Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 and the Xerox 7600 have a depth of field measured in millimeters because their scanning engines use a newer alternative technology called Contact Image Sensors (CIS). CCD scanners use a bright light source (cold cathode fluorescent lamp), mirrors and sensors to capture an image. CIS scanners have red, green and blue light-emitting diodes that produce white light. CIS scans sometimes have a washed-out appearance in comparison with CCD scans. CIS scanners draw so little power that the USB communication cord that attaches the scanner to the computer has sufficient juice to run the equipment. CIS scanners usually do not support the image densities in comparably priced CCD scanners, but they are often more compact, and therefore more portable, than CCD scanners. The Epson Perfection V30 is well suited for scanographic applications because it has a lid that accommodates 3D objects and a half-inch depth of field enabled by Charge Coupled Device technology.

Scanography (not the medical kind) is an emerging art form and successor to the 1960s Xerox art movement. Scanographers place 3D objects directly onto the flatbed scanner bed to create artistic compositions. If the objects are fairly flat (leaves, for example) an artist can place a piece of white paper over the objects to produce a white background for the scanned image. Scans of objects without a background sheet and with an open lid often produce a black background. An open-lidded scan of a 3D object on a scanner positioned outdoors during the scan will show the color of the sky as background to the image. The digital scrapbook applications of scanography are only limited by human imagination. A scanner is not just a business device or a means of archiving tax documents and legal records. A CCD scanner with the right kind of lid is a vehicle for digital art creation.

One-touch buttons dedicated to specific functions make it easy to make copies, create PDFs, email or scan.

Epson posts frequently asked questions and answers online. The warranty is for one year. The Epson Technical Support department responds to emailed questions and telephone calls while the product is under warranty. For products that are out of warranty, Epson publishes a list of service centers that users can call or visit. The latest drivers and downloads along with documents and manuals are all available online. For those who would like to donate used scanners, Epson receives contributed equipment and makes it available to economically challenged recipients and people with disabilities. Epson also recycles scanners for a $10 fee, including shipping and recycling. Customers who use the recycle service then receive a $5 coupon that can be applied to purchases at the Epson store.

For those who know that they will never need to scan slides or negatives, the Epson is a good, affordable flatbed scanner. It scans quickly and is capable of very high image densities. If you need to scan text so that you can edit it from a word processor, the Epson has Optical Character Recognition. The product is built around an engine that is capable of a depth of field that lends itself to scanography. It also has a lid design that facilitates the scanning of 3D objects. The Epson Perfection V30 contains no mercury, and when it comes time for the product and the user to part ways, Epson makes it convenient to recycle or donate the scanner to a worthy charity.

Canon CanoScan LiDE 200

The Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 flatbed scanner operates in Windows and Mac environments and offers a few surprises. The unpleasant surprises are that it supports neither transparencies nor Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The good surprises are that it is ENERGY STAR qualified and the toll-free telephone support includes telephone device for the deaf. The Canon is superior to the Xerox 7600 because the Canon has a faster USB port, higher density imaging and support for the Mac. However, the Canon is inferior to the Epson Perfection V30 because the Canon lacks Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

The Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 flatbed scanner can handle up to 8.5” x 11” documents. The unit attaches to a PC or Mac via USB 2.0 port. Communication with the computer and access to power is consolidated in the USB connection, so there is no need for a separate power cord. The product supports a high image density: 4,800 x 4,800 dots per inch (dpi). Software-enhanced interpolated scans support the creation of images up to 19,200 x 19,200 dpi. Support for OCR is lacking and there is no adapter for transparent materials. The product can copy, email and scan to PDF. A 300dpi scan takes about 14 seconds.

The Canon is ENERGY STAR qualified and is designed to work with Windows and Mac machines. The included installation CD is for Windows installations. Mac users must download the drivers from the Canon website. Some Mac users report that the Mac drivers from Canon do not work. The solution that works for Mac users is to ignore the Canon Mac drivers and simply attach the scanner to a Mac and then use Apple’s Image Viewer to scan the documents.
An automatic scan mode identifies the type of original and scans and saves it with the optimal settings. There are four preprogrammed buttons: copy, create PDF, email and scan. The flatbed scanner is compact and includes a clip-on stand to facilitate upright scanning. The lid is double hinged to allow scanning of thick documents. A letter-sized color scan takes about 14 seconds at 300 dots per inch.
The one-year warranty includes technical support via toll-free telephone and telephone device for the deaf along with a product-exchange service.

The Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 has a fast USB port so it scans high-density images quickly. At 4,800 x 4,800dpi, it has better image resolution than the Xerox 7600. However, the majority of competitors in the entry-level scanner market support 4,800 x 9,600dpi. The unit is compact, quiet, portable and affordable. The Canon lacks Optical Character Recognition, which means that it is not possible to edit scanned text documents. It also lacks support for transparencies, which means that it scans reflective documents only and cannot scan film, slides or negatives. The cover remains parallel to the document table when it is raised to accommodate thick documents.
Canon demonstrates a better-than-average level of corporate consciousness by meeting ENERGY STAR qualifications and by including toll-free telephone device for the deaf in the technical support plan. Canon’s product-exchange service called InstantExchange is an excellent and unusual support benefit that allows users to maintain productivity despite equipment failure.

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