Scanner Time, by Charlie Weekley

So you want to buy a scanner.

Why? .

This may sound like a funny question initially, but it is the first and possibly most important step you will take in deciding what to purchase. Because there are such a large number of scanners available, knowing what you will use your scanner for can narrow your search. Fortunately these will all fit into one or two broad categories, so you can make a lot of headway by answering just that one question.

This article is meant to provide help to the novice, someone who is looking for their first scanner or one who has an older scanner and wants to upgrade.

There are several categories of scanning devices that our user will be considering; they are flatbed, sheet fed, hand held and film scanners. However, I will discuss the one that the novice user will benefit most from: the flatbed scanner. It is the most versatile of our group. The others are special application devices.

Next, think about how much room you have for your scanner. Today scanners come in a wide variety of sizes. Choose one that will fit your workspace.

One of the most important decisions is resolution. Consumer scanners are available with up to 2400 ppi (pixels per inch) optical resolution. Always make your choice based on optical resolution, not interpolated resolution, which is not true resolution. High resolution scanners are capable of picking up more detail than lower resolution units; some can scan film and slides (those that come with a special adapter; not all do). This high resolution is great, if you need it. Most people buy a scanner with more resolution than they will ever use, in fact it can sometimes cause problems, like sending grandma a 2400 ppi scanned photo (you don't want her to miss any detail). It just won't work. The file size would be huge! Buy the highest resolution scanner in your price range and learn how to use it correctly. The scanner's "driver" will assist you.

Bit depth is similar to resolution; higher is better. Get 36 or 48 bit color. This will not be a problem as modern scanners have at least 36 bit color depth. This controls how many colors your scanner will pick up.

How you will connect your scanner to your computer? Scanners come with a USB connection, which is faster than the older parallel port connections. Most current computers will have a USB port. Make sure your computer has a USB2 connection to match your new scanner. Other choices are firewire, currently the fastest, and SCSI. These normally require an add-on card in your computer.

Software is also a major consideration. Higher end software can add quite a bit to the cost of a scanner. Many times you will find similar hardware specifications with a larger price difference than expected. This is usually due to differences in software bundled with the scanner.

Remember the projects we needed a scanner for in the first place (the "Why"), things like preserving old family photos and e-mailing pictures of the party. There are also many other things you may not have thought of, like optical character recognition (OCR). OCR allows you to scan text into a word processing program and work with it as if you had typed it in yourself. You can scan in almost anything you can fit under the cover of the scanner; this can get quite interesting.

Once all of these things have been considered, and you have narrowed your choices down to a manageable level, rank the scanners as to features and price, and buy the best one you can afford. Sounds easy. I wish it were that easy. Like any decision concerning computer hardware, you need to do some research. You should read this Magazine's reviews and talk to friends who own similar models. With a little effort you can choose a scanner that will serve you well for a long time.

Charlie Weekley is a HAL-PC member who is the Leader of the Scanning and Digital Imaging SIG and owns a graphics arts business. He can be contacted at