Choose the Best Scanner

May 7, 2009

in computer hardware

by David Hakala

A scanner is a handy device for getting graphic and text information into digital forms that your computer can use. Scanners come in many different forms with different features. Choosing the right one for you depends on your needs.

A flatbed scanner is the simplest and cheapest kind you can buy. You lift a lid, lay down what you want to scan on a glass plate, close the lid and click “scan” either on the device’s control panel or in a software control panel on your PC. Flatbeds are good for occasional desktop scanning.

If you have a mountain of paper photos to scan, you’ll find all that lid-lifting very tedious. A general purpose sheet-fed scanner or a more specialized (pricier) film scanner is better for high-volume scanning. You can just place a stack of paper into the feeder, click “scan” and go have lunch. The scanner will save each scanned image to similar files named sequentially, i. e., IMAGE0001.JPG, IMAGE0002.JPG.

Portable or handheld scanners are available for laptops. They come in handy at libraries for scanning a page or two from a book or magazine. Some are designed to scan business cards and extract the text information to a database file; these are handy at trade show booths. Unsteady hands and a jerky scanning motion can spoil images captured by handheld scanners.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software attempts to actually read scanned images of text and store the information in a document or database file. OCR is an imperfect technology and mistakes will be made, but its reliability rate is steadily increasing. Many scanners come with low-grade OCR software. If you need something industrial-grade, Omnipage at $149 is pricey but popular. Several hundred thousand users have been satisfied with the freeware SimpleOCR program.

The maximum resolution of your scanner determines the quality of the images it creates and the size of the image files. Software will let you find a compromise between the quality of an image and the amount of hard disk space it consumes.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at

{ 1 comment }

Todd Whiting 05.08.09 at 8:13 am

David, you left out a relatively new segment of scanners, Book Scanners.

Book Scanners, are being used to scan libraries full of books for archival, research, print on demand and eBooks.

The Kirtas Technologies APT 2400 Robotic Book Scanner will scan a book at speeds up to 2400 pages per hour, automatically turning the pages with a system that is gentler than the human hand.

Here is a video for those who would like to see it in action.

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