TWAIN is an application programming interface and software protocol standard to facilitate communications between software applications and scanners (and other image acquisition devices). Every product in our large format scanner review supports the TWAIN interface, so a brief orientation to its history and role might be indicated.

In  The Ballad of East and West,  Rudyard Kipling describes a peaceful resolution to a Victorian Era border dispute between the British and the Indians in the Punjab district, east of present-day Pakistan:

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Fast forward one century to the early days of desktop publishing when hardware and software developers were attempting to solve the challenge of how to acquire and insert images into applications. As hardware and software developers began to code proprietary image acquisition interfaces, it soon became obvious that the one-off approach to compatibility would not scale for a hardware manufacturer (such as a large format scanner vendor) to create and support a separate driver for each software application. And even if hardware vendors could create all of the separate drivers, it would have placed a burden on users to grapple with so many different device drivers. Until the industry figured out that an open interface would be beneficial, it seemed as though, when it came to joining images with applications,  Never the twain  would meet.

The TWAIN Consortium sprang from the Macintosh Scanner Roundtable group in 1990. Members of the consortium created a specification to support a standard data acquisition interface for the image acquisition industry. Although TWAIN did not begin as an acronym but simply a word from a Kipling poem, some people avow that it is an acronym for  Technology Without An Interesting Name. 

In order to provide consistent and easy integration of images between software applications and sophisticated input devices such as large format scanners, TWAIN s Working Group is committed to the following goals (from The TWAIN Working Group  White Paper: The Origin of TWAIN,  November 2009):

  • Multiple platform support. The interface must work across many Operating Systems. Use of platform-specific mechanisms should be kept to a minimum.
  • Support for multiple devices. These include digital cameras and scanners ranging from personal to high volume production.
  • Widespread acceptance. Provide an interface that is well-defined and enables the majority of the leading hardware and software developers to provide drivers for their devices or include support through their applications.
  • Extensibility and revisions. As the industry grows, the specification's architecture should be extensible and able to handle new, unknown conditions.
  • Backward compatibility. All revisions will be backwards-compatible with code written to earlier versions of the specification.
  • Easy implementation. The interface, its documentation and sample code should be clear, well structured, well written, and intuitively designed for developers to learn and write the code for it.
  • Longevity. The ongoing goal of the Working Group is to provide a single solution for the industry that will last for many years.
  • Multi-data Capacity. This general data interchange mechanism must be able to transmit data in existing and future file formats.
  • Future technologies. The ongoing mission is to enhance the standard to accommodate future technologies.
  • Public standard. TWAIN solicits feedback from the imaging industry. The source manager is open source under the LGPL license (GNU Lesser General Public License) encouraging the contribution of the developer community.

The result of the TWAIN Consortium s goals is that the industry now enjoys a simple methodology to connect TWAIN-aware devices such as large format scanners with TWAIN-compliant applications such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. Vendors of large format scanners now have an application programming interface that makes it easy to ensure compatibility with hardware, operating systems and software applications. Twenty years ago it seemed as though  never the twain  would meet, but thanks to the TWAIN Consortium, we users greatly benefit from the cooperation between vendors of image acquisition devices such as large format scanners and software application vendors.

Our research identifies the following best buys when it comes to TWAIN-certified large format scanners: the Mustek ScanExpress A3 USB 2400 Pro, the Plustek OpticPro A320 and the HP Scanjet 8300.

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