OPTICAL SCANNERS FALL into that category of electronics that, once adopted, you wonder why you waited so long. Scanners transfer text or graphics from hard copy sources to computers for storage, faxing, e-mailing, enlarging or reducing an image, or for incorporation into client communications or other documents.
Today’s generation of desktop flatbed scanners are well-priced, generally high quality, and easy to set up and use. Most units have a reading area that accepts letter-sized 812-by-11 sheets.
Typically, new desktop units come bundled with basic graphics software for editing and manipulating the images and helping speed them on their way through a business day. If you have a CD burner on your computer, you will find it is a snap to store important documents on disk for safe keeping or archiving. You can create CDs that hold job photos and captions — and even a musical background — as promotional pieces to pique the interest of prospective clients.
Optical character recognition software that comes with most scanners enables conversion of a graphical representation of text into a word processing file, database, spreadsheet or other text format. For many jobs, you can use the scanned graphics — photos or catalog cuts and hand-drawn sketches — for incorporation into bids, project submissions and contracts. In a pinch, a flatbed scanner can also do double duty as an occasional copier and fax machine.
Word of caution
Most scanners today connect to computers through a USB connection. Caveat emptor. There are three USB data transfer rates: Low speed with a transfer rate of 1.5 megabits per second, called USB 1.1, or Original USB; full speed with a data transfer rate of 12 Mb/s; and high speed with a data transfer rate of 480 Mb/s.
Although the Universal Serial Bus organization states that only the high-speed data transfer rate of 480 Mb/s should be labeled USB 2.0, many manufacturers also label their slower 12 Mb/s models USB 2.0, calling them USB 2.0 Full Speed. In order to get the true USB 2.0 data transfer speed (which can be up to hundreds of times faster than USB 1.1), make sure the scanner, cables and hubs state “High Speed USB 2.0” and not USB 2.0 Full Speed or Full Speed USB or USB 2.0.
Your computer also needs to have a High Speed USB 2.0 interface and at least the Windows 98 operating system to achieve the high transfer rate. If you have any doubts as to what you are getting in terms of speed, we suggest selecting another model that makes the data transfer specifications clear.
To streamline operation and simplify user settings, some scanner manufacturers have added dedicated buttons on units that set into motion software programs to scan, copy, e-mail, scan-to-Web or create interactive CDs with one click, along with other choices.
We are working with a new HP 5500c flatbed scanner that has an automatic photo feeder incorporated into the cover and includes many convenient features. The unit, which comes with a lighted transparent media adapter for scanning 35-mm negatives and slides and with optical character recognition, photo and imaging, and disk-creating software, scans up to 2,400 dpi and 48-bit color for printing, e-mailing and posting on the Web.
It sports dedicated one-touch buttons, including selections for scanning to Web, CD, printer and e-mail. Requiring no warm-up, the scanner, which supports USB 2.0 full- and high-speed connectivity, can scan and show an image on a monitor in about seven seconds.
The automatic photo feeder, which accepts a stack of up to 24 3-by-5-in. or 4-by-6-in. photos, moves each photo onto the glass. The scanner takes exposure and color readings, scans the photo and then ejects it. Though noisy, the APF can be a tremendous time saver when inputting years of archived photos or even a current roll from a 35-mm camera (if you haven’t yet made the move to a digital camera). Front-panel controls let users make up to 99 color or black-and-white copies.
When scanning photos for manipulation with image-editing software, use the RGB Color mode, also called “24-bit color” or “16.7 million colors.” That setting works best with image-editing software.
The best resolution for scanning 3-by-5 or 4-by-6 photos is 200 to 300 dpi. Higher resolutions create very large files. However, a very high dpi is recommended when scanning in 35-mm slides and negatives.
When placing a photo directly on the scanning surface, put it near the center, where the quality of the scan will generally be best. You can use a right angle triangle to align the photo.
When positioning a photo on the glass, align it at right angles (in 90-degree increments) so you do not need to rotate the image with software because that action degrades the image. If you plan to increase the size of the image, you’ll get the sharpest results if you scale it with the scanner software directly, rather than with the image-editing software.
William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].