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Buying Guide
If you need to take a physical document or photograph and convert it into ...
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Buying Guide
If you need to take a physical document or photograph and convert it into a file that can be used on your computer system, then a scanner is really the only way to easily do that. Another method than I can think of would be trying to take a digital photograph of it, and with the complexity of trying to do that properly I don’t think we will even consider that method, and neither should most people. Although we may not use them on a day-to-day basis, a scanner is something we will find ourselves needing every now and then. With the prices of scanners now lower than they have ever been, and the prices of multi-function scanner/printers being the same, then why not brief yourself on what to look for in a good scanner.

Probably the only important specification that might vary between scanners is the resolution. This spec is given as the optical dots per inch, or optical dpi. You will typically see a number such as 600 X 1200 dpi. This means that the scanner sensor is optically capable of scanning a area 600 dots (or pixels) X 1200 dots (or pixels) at a time. All of these individual areas are combined to form the final image. Just be aware that you are comparing only the optical resolution numbers between scanners. Some scanners provide another higher set of numbers that are obtained by software manipulation. This is sometimes called Scanner Resolution Enhanced, and could be numbers such as 19,200 X 19,200 dpi. Remember that these enhanced resolution numbers are not the optical resolution and should not be used for comparison of a scanners true optical quality.

Flatbed scanners are the most common type of scanners on the market. This type of scanner lays flat on your desk with a lid that opens upwards to reveal the scanner bed. Most flatbed scanners are capable of scanning paper sizes up to Legal size unless otherwise stated. To make the scanning of thick documents and books easier the lids on most flatbed scanners have hinges that can raise an extra inch or so to allow you to still close the lid over large documents and keep equal pressure on them. Let's take a quick look at a few key features you may want to shop for with a flatbed scanner, or any scanner in general.

Sheet fed scanners are much more compact than a flatbed scanner. A sheet-fed scanner works by feeding one sheet at a time over top of a small stationary scanner area which captures an image of whatever you are scanning (often not much larger than 1" wide by 8.5" long at a time). Some of the more expensive scanners and multi-function units with scanners will have a sheet-fed scanner portion on the lid. By means of an input and output tray, you can usually stack several sheets that need to be scanned and the feeder will scan them one by one into your computer without you needing to manually feed the sheets after each scan.

Transparency Adapter - A transparency adapter usually takes the form of a long bar with a backlight. You can insert film negatives or slide positives into this adapter, set it on the bed of the scanner and scan them. These adapters will turn off the internal light of the scanner and use their own internal light to illuminate the film negative or slide positive from behind and send this image to the scanner element. There is usually software that will take your film negative image and convert it into a positive image. Slide film doesn’t require this conversion of course because the image is already a positive. This is an excellent way to take your large collection of non-digital photograph negatives or your slide film positives and transfer them into digital form yourself - without paying the expense of a third party to do this for you.
If scanning film is one of the main reasons you are buying a scanner then you should probably consider buying a standalone Photo/Film Scanner. These types of scanners will have a much better optical resolution designed for scanning images as small as film negatives and slide positives to keep the quality very high. These units can have optical resolutions of 4800 X 9600 typically, and easily up to 6400 X 9600 or more.

Hotkeys - Most flatbed scanners and multifunction printer/scanners will incorporate a few hotkeys on the unit itself to help take care of basic functions. These keys will either launch your scanner software into a certain mode or execute macro's such as photocopying on a multifunction printer/scanner to aid you in doing most basic functions easily and quickly. These hotkey buttons make the basic functions of using a scanner much easier for the average computer user who doesn’t have the time or experience to learn complicated software.

Software Bundle - The included software can become a very crucial part in buying your scanner once you've narrowed it down to a few good models. If chosen correctly, some scanners come with very useful software that will save you having to purchase certain software after the fact! I'm going to concentrate on OCR software because that will likely be one of the bigger software bundles you may or may not find with a new scanner. OCR, or, Optical Character Recognition software will allow you to scan typed, handwritten or hand printed documents into a PC document that you can edit. For example; if I was given a printout of an article I could scan that printout into my computer as a text document, edit it to add more detail, save it as a new document, and then print it out again - all without ever having the original computer document file.

Multi-Function - The way most home users will own a scanner is by means of a multi-function printer/scanner/copier combo. With the prices of these units so low when people go out to buy a printer it's often only a few dollars more to get a unit with a printer, scanner, copier and sometimes even fax capabilities all-in-one. The upside to these units is that you can not only save a lot of desk space but also a lot of money by not having individual components to buy. The downside is that you are less likely to see feature-specific software bundles with them; such as OCR software for the scanner portion. You would probably not see a transparency adapter for scanning film negatives or film slides either. If you are buying a multi-function unit then take a look not only at the software bundle but also at the scanner specifications because if scanning is an important feature you will find that the output resolution can vary a lot on these types of units. Probably most mid-priced units will have a scanner that has just as good resolution as any standalone scanner when it comes to quality, but many will lack some of the extra features that a flatbed scanner might provide.

Based on how you plan to use the scanner, you will probably know right away what style you need and features are best for you. From there, just narrow things down based on what companies are offering the best bang for the buck.

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