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, however Hewlett-Packard includes a 90-day warranty. Toll-free telephone support during the warranty period is a normal benefit. Some vendors also provide support via email. Canon goes above and beyond the call of duty to include support via telephone device for the deaf. Canon and Visioneer provide a product-exchange service to reduce downtime in situations where the scanner is critical to a time-sensitive home business or artistic project.
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