How to Select a Large Format Scanner

The world is going digital at a dizzying rate, but not every document destined for digitization is 8.5 x 11 inches. Our review of large format scanners should aid in the selection of a product that can scan documents larger than a normal page. It should come as no surprise that the more expensive large document scanners are not necessarily better.

Large Format Scanner Buyer’s Guide

Examine the specifications with a critical and objective eye. Avoid the temptation to prefer a product just because it has a brand that you know or have trusted. Technology vendors are engaged in a game of perpetual leapfrog, which means that on any particular day your favorite brand may or may not be the most prudent purchase.

Ask yourself a few questions to narrow the field. Which features matter to your situation? What is the maximum size of a document that you might need to scan? Do you want an automatic document feeder or would a flatbed scanner be better? How important is it to get the maximum pixel density? Is 4,800 dots per inch required or could you get by with 600 dots per inch? Does the product work with Windows and Macintosh? What kind of technical support do you prefer? How important is it that the large document scanner be ENERGY STAR and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive) compliant?

Are legal-sized documents the largest that you will scan, or will you need to scan up to two regular 8.5 x 11-inch documents at the same time? The large format scanners in our review have a wide variety of capabilities and prices, but when it comes to maximum document size, there are just two choices: 8.5 x 14 inches or 11.68 x 16.52 inches (A3, the metric functional equivalent to 11 x 17-inch paper). If you need to scan larger documents, then you will need to move up to a range of large scanner products that cost thousands, not hundreds, of dollars.

Some of the large format scanners in our review use photoelectric devices called contact image sensors and some use a color charged-coupled device. What is the difference? Contact image sensors use red, green and blue light-emitting diodes to produce white light. Charge-coupled devices use mirrors and lenses in combination with a cold cathode ray fluorescent lamp. Contact image sensors cost less, draw less power and occupy less physical space than charge-coupled devices. However, charge-coupled devices provide higher quality scans than contact image sensors and are capable of a greater field of focus. Greater depth of field is important for copying opened thick books, so that the gutter is included in the scan. Greater field of focus is also important for practitioners of scanography, a form of art that involves scanning three-dimensional objects.

Help & Support
All of the large format scanners in our review have one-year manufacturer warranties. The technical support policies have differences, varying from email support during the warranty to telephone and email support during the life of the product.

For further information, we invite you to read articles about large format scanners. If you often copy large books simply by opening them and placing them face down on the scanner, the Plustek OpticPro A320, would be good because it is more likely to copy the book’s gutter. If maximum density of scan is of highest importance.

Plustek OpticPro A320

The Plustek OpticPro A320 is a strong contender in the large format scanner market. The Mustak Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro can scan at higher resolutions and includes the support for Macintosh computers that the Plustek OpticPro A320 lacks. The Plustek OpticPro A320, in turn, gets the better of the HP Scanjet 8300 in two areas: maximum document size and technical support.

Unlike the competing large format scanners from HP, Xerox and Canon, which are limited to a maximum document scan size of 8.5 x 14 inches, the Plustek OpticPro A320 scans 11 x 17-inch folios or two 8.5 x 11-inch documents side by side at the same time. Scanning speed is fast: 8.5 seconds for an 11.68 by 16.52-inch (A3) color document at 300 dots per inch. Scan densities can be as high as 1,600 dots per inch, which represents a much higher saturation than most basic archival scanning jobs require. The higher the density, the slower the scan (and the larger the corresponding output file).

There is no automatic document feeder on this large format scanner. Instead, the document feeding mode is a flatbed. The technology of the scanning engine is a color charge-coupled device, which uses a cold cathode ray fluorescent lamp in combination with mirrors and sensors to produce high-quality scans. Although charge-coupled device technology is more expensive and occupies more space than the competing technology of contact image sensors, it provides a greater depth of focus. Because the charge-coupled device technology can scan items that are up to half an inch above the scan bed, it is better able to capture the gutters created by an opened book or to render 3-D objects. Therefore, for scanographic applications, the Plustek OpticPro A320 is a large format scanner that is preferable to the Mustak Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro, which is based on contact image sensors with a depth of field restricted to millimeters.

In case you were wondering, scanography is a form of art that is similar to the Xerox art movement that began in the 1960s. Scanographers use large format scanners to create art by scanning arrangements of objects, including 3-D objects, which are placed on the scan bed. If the scanography is limited to relatively two-dimensional items such as thin leaves, then contact image sensor-based large format scanners such as those from Mustek and Canon are up to the task. More ambitious scanography involving 3-D objects such as jewelry, gems, seashells, little figurines or flowers turns out much better if the scanning engine of the large format scanner is based on charged-coupled device technology because of its greater depth of field.

The Plustek OpticPro A320 large format scanner provides seven one-touch buttons that can be customized for commonly used tasks such as scanning to file, copy, email and PDF. Plustek provides a button utility called Plustek DocAction so that users can specify personalized scanning configuration settings. The software bundle is extensive. NewSoft Presto! ImageFolio, for example, provides the tools to edit and process new images or to enhance older images. ImageFolio supports the TWAIN interface, which is a software protocol standard that guarantees interoperability between software products and image-acquisition hardware such as wide format scanners.

The TWAIN Consortium sprang from the Macintosh Scanner Roundtable group in 1990, exactly a century after Rudyard Kipling published the poem that inspired the TWAIN Consortium’s name. Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” contains the line, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” which summed up the situation that caused so much frustration at a time when individual device drivers were required to be customized for any combination of image-acquisition device and software. The TWAIN application programming interface and related interoperability standards have brought the “twain” together in a way that greatly benefits users while speeding time to market for hardware and software vendors in the image-capture market space. (Contrary to popular belief, the “twain” in the TWAIN Consortium name is not an acronym for “Technology Without An Interesting Name.”)

TWAIN technology is also foundational to the included document management software (NewSoft Presto! PageManager), which supports optical character recognition, PDF creation, and format conversion to Microsoft Word and Excel. Optical character recognition allows for the editing of scanned text using a word processor.

The Plustek OpticPro A320 large format scanner is compatible with Windows PCs but not Macintosh computers. The warranty lasts for one year. Technical support via telephone, email or web form is available for free during the life of the product. By way of contrast, the large format scanners in our review from HP, Canon and Epson include free technical support for the first year only.

If you have not heard of the Plustek brand, perhaps it is because Plustek began in the 1980s as an original equipment manufacturer for companies that attached their own brand names to the products that Plustek manufactured for them. It is an international corporation with a presence in France, Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Manufacturing is in China. Some users complain that the Plustek OpticPro A320 is a wide format scanner with lackluster visual appeal or that the dedicated function buttons look cheap, but this large format scanner scans quickly, accommodates large documents and is supported by the vendor with a generous technical support policy for a price that beats the better-known wide format scanner brands.

HP Scanjet 8300

The HP Scanjet 8300, one of the best large format scanners in our review and offers a less generous technical support policy than the Plustek OpticPro A320 but it includes three features that provide an edge over the Xerox Documate 515. The three advantages are: a higher capacity automatic document feeder, inclusion of a transparent materials adapter, and better hardware and optical resolution for higher-density scans.

The HP Scanjet 8300 is an ENERGY STAR-certified large format scanner capable of scanning up to legal-sized documents (8.5 x 14 inches) on its flatbed or through the optional 100-page automatic document feeder. The option for this unit to scan at an extremely high density (4,800 dots per inch) is a standout feature in a product category where a density of 600 dots per inch is considered acceptable. Although scans at 4,800 dots per inch cost scanning time and produce large computer files, they are necessary for situations where the scans might need to be enlarged without any loss of fidelity. The product’s enlargement range (image scaling) is from 10 to 2,000 percent in one-percent increments.

The HP Scanjet 8300 is the only large document scanner in our review that includes a transparent materials adapter. The 4 x 9-inch transparent media adapter includes film templates for scanning slides and negatives. In addition to the ability to scan 35mm slides and negatives as well as medium and large format film, this large format scanner scans plain and photo paper in addition to envelopes, cards and 3-D objects.

The HP Scanjet 8300 large document scanner is suitable for scanning 3-D objects because its scanning engine is a color charge-coupled device. Charge-coupled devices use a cold cathode ray fluorescent lamp as a light source that works with sensors and mirrors to produce a high-quality scan with a depth of field up to half an inch. The ability of this large format scanner to focus on items or portions of items that are not pressed directly against the scan bed means that the gutters formed near the binding of an opened book are not out of reach. Another application for HP Scanjet 8300’s depth of field is the ability to scan 3-D objects, which means that it is a suitable platform for artists who use scanners to create visual compositions of 3-D objects, a form of art called scanography. The HP scanner’s adjustable lid accommodates the scanning of 3-D objects, books and other bulky items.

The technology that competes with color charge-coupled devices is contact image sensor technology. Two of the products in our review employ contact image sensors: the Mustek ScanExpress A3 USB 2400 Pro and the Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C. Large format scanners based on contact image sensors produce white light with red, green and blue light-emitting diodes. Contact image sensor-based large document scanners are less expensive to build than products based on charge-coupled devices and they occupy less space, which results in more compact product designs. Contact image sensor large format scanners have a focusing depth measured in millimeters, which renders them less suitable for scanography because they cannot focus very well unless the object to be scanned is pressed against the scan bed.

This large format scanner supports three scan input modes. The user can initiate scans from the front panel using HP Photosmart software. Alternatively, the user can initiate scans from the attached computer using HP Solution Center. Another option is to start scans from any user application that is compatible with TWAIN.

All of the large format scanners in our review support TWAIN, a software protocol standard promulgated by an industry consortium of software vendors and image-acquisition device manufacturers. Prior to the TWAIN Consortium, hardware and software vendors were challenged to write separate device drivers for each unique hardware and software combination. TWAIN created an application programming interface that guarantees interoperability with less effort.

An example of a TWAIN-aware software application is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is included in the software bundle for this large format scanner. Adobe Photoshop Elements allows users to edit and restore images and control color accuracy. Other software applications are included to support document management. It is possible to scan to printer, scan to PDF and scan to email. It is possible to scan text and edit the text from a word processor because the product supports optical character recognition. Dedicated function buttons reduce the number of steps required to accomplish a particular task with this large document scanner.

The HP Scanjet 8300 is a large format scanner that is compatible with PCs and Macs. The other two large document scanners in our review that support Macintosh computers in addition to PCs are the Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro and the Epson GT-20000. The warranty lasts for one year. Technical support is free until the warranty expires.

The HP Scanjet 8300 is an extremely capable and versatile large format scanner with a high-quality software suite and by far the best hardware and optical resolution of any product in our review. It is the only large format scanner in our review to include a transparent materials adapter. With this product, it is not necessary to decide between a flatbed and an automatic document feeder because it ships as a flatbed but the user can always add the optional 100-page automatic document feeder.

Xerox DocuMate 515

The Xerox DocuMate 515 is a large format scanner for Windows computers. Xerox provides a more generous technical support policy than Canon provides for the imageFORMULA DR-3010C. Although the Xerox large format scanner supports a scanning density suitable for a majority of applications, it cannot match the hardware resolution of the HP Scanjet 8300. With a maximum document-handling capability of 8.5 x 14 inches, the Xerox DocuMate 515 barely qualifies as a large format scanner. For scanning that requires being able to handle 11 x 17-inch folios or two 8.5 x 11-inch documents at the same time, the Mustek ScanExpress A3 USB 2400 Pro is the ticket.

The document feeding mode on this large document scanner is a 50-page automatic document feeder. Xerox recommends a duty cycle of up to 2,500 pages per day. The scanning engine is a color, charge-coupled device. Although not as compact or as inexpensive as large format scanners that are based on contact image sensor technology, charge-coupled device scanners are able to scan objects that are up to half an inch from the scan bed, so the gutters created by open books are readable. By way of contrast, large document scanners built from contact image sensors have a depth of field measured in millimeters, so they can only copy whatever is pressed against the scan bed. With a scanning density of 600 dots per inch, this large document scanner is adequate for most applications. However, at such a density, enlargements of scans will degrade the quality in such a way that the human eye can detect loss of fidelity.

Ease of use is enhanced by the inclusion of three preset buttons, powered by Visioneer OneTouch technology, for commonly used functions. The three preset buttons are configurable so that users can customize them to specific requirements. The software suite is TWAIN compliant, which means that the software takes advantage of the TWAIN Consortium’s standard data acquisition interface to promote interoperability between software and hardware.

The Visioneer OneTouch capabilities are integrated with Kofax VRS (VirtualReScan) technology, which provides tools to correct scans from imperfect originals. If the original scan needs cropping, straightening, brightness manipulation or edge clean up, the software provides the means. The Visioneer OneTouch software also links to document management software such as Microsoft SharePoint, DocuWare and Xerox DocuShare. It is possible to scan directly to email or to PDF. To support the ability to scan a text document into a word processor for editing, the product includes optical character recognition. Another member of the software suite is Nuance PaperPort, which helps in the organization of digital files by providing document search capabilities and the ability to scan directly to a specific local folder or to a network drive.

The Xerox warranty for the DocuMate 515 large format scanner is for one year, and the vendor extends free technical support by telephone for the life of the product.

The Xerox DocuMate 515 is an affordable large format scanner from an imaging pioneer. The product’s ENERGY STAR compliance and the fact that it conforms to RoHS (the European Union’s directive on Restriction of Hazardous Substances) is laudable. If legal-sized documents are the largest that you will need to scan, and if you can get by on 600 dots per inch, this product is a viable solution.

Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C

For those who prefer technical support via telephone as opposed to email, the Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C includes a slightly better technical support policy than the Epson GT-20000 large format scanner. Canon and Epson provide free technical support during their one-year warranty periods. The Xerox DocuMate 515, however, includes a better technical support policy than either of them: telephone access for the life of the product.

The ENERGY STAR-compliant Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C large format scanner has a 50-page automatic document feeder capable of accepting up to legal-sized documents (8.5 x 14 inches). A “Long Document Mode” extends the length of a document that can be scanned up to 39.4 inches. This large format scanner is physically robust, constructed of rugged parts and sports a heavy-duty feed tray. It feeds reliably due to a slanted paper path. It is possible to mix different kinds of documents in one scanning batch. The output tray has two adjustable stoppers to accommodate multiple document sizes. This large document scanner accepts multisheet forms, 11 x 17-inch folios, thick documents, onion-skin paper and embossed plastic cards. Canon suggests a daily volume of up to 3,000 scans.

The scanning engine in the Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C uses contact image sensor technology: red, green and blue light-emitting diodes that produce white light. Contact image sensors are an alternative to charge-coupled device technology, which uses sensors and mirrors in combination with a cold cathode ray fluorescent lamp to scan documents. Contact image sensor technology enables more compact products that cost less than charge-coupled device technology, but it supports a shorter depth of field. Therefore, for practitioners of scanography, who want to scan artful compositions of objects with more depth than a thick piece of paper, this large format scanner would not be ideal.

The included scanning software in this large document scanner is TWAIN compatible. TWAIN is a standard data acquisition interface maintained by a consortium of software vendors and image-acquisition device manufacturers such as large format scanner vendors. Canon’s CapturePerfect software enables scans to email and PDF. Support for optical character recognition allows text scans that word processing applications can edit. The software bundle is extensive:

  • Adobe Acrobat Standard
  • ScanSoft PaperPort SE
  • Nuance OmniPage SE
  • Presto! BizCard
  • Kofax VirtualReScan

This large format scanner works with Windows machines, not Macintosh computers. Canon’s warranty is for one year. Technical support by telephone is free during the warranty period.

The Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C treads lightly on the environment because it is ENERGY STAR compliant and conforms to the European Union’s directive on Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). It is possible to synchronize this large document scanner with the Windows machine that it connects to so that it turns on or off depending on the state of the PC. Standby Mode is yet another way in which the Canon conserves power. Compact and robust, it has advanced document handling abilities and it scans rapidly. One-touch buttons make it easy to scan to email, scan to print and automate other routine scanning tasks.

Although some of Canon’s competitors provide technical support beyond the warranty period, the unit itself is excellent.

More Top Stories