Scanners are a staple in nearly every office environment - whether it be at home or in the corporate world. And, much like any other electronic device, there is a wide range to choose from – offering a variety of features designed to fit nearly every budget. The choice really comes down to what you are expecting the scanner to do, and how you want it to perform. Will you simply be scanning black and white documents? Or, will you be scanning high-resolution photographs? Will your need require a flatbed or sheetfed scanner? And, which scanner offers the best bang for your buck? Canon vs. Epson? Well, to help you make an informed choice, we’ve put together some of the most important elements that make up the best scanners of 2017.
There are different types of scanners, some designed for home use, others for office use, some even meant to be used on the go.
Most of us have used a flatbed scanner before. Perhaps it was in the office copy room, or at your local library. These types of scanners are particularly good for scanning things that aren’t well-suited for a sheetfed scanner. Some of the things that come to mind are pages of books or magazines, photographs or fragile documents you don’t wish to risk damaging by sending them through a sheetfed scanner.
While many of us have used flatbed scanners to scan a single sheet of paper, it’s often a welcome relief to discover the sheetfed scanner, or Auto Document Feeder (ADF), when you have multiple pages to scan. Much like how a copier works, you simply slide the stack you wish to scan into the sheet feeder and your documents are scanned quickly and easily.
There are two types of sheetfed scanners: simplex scanners, suitable for one-sided scanning, and duplex scanners, which can scan both sides of a paper. However, simplex scanners can do the job of a duplex scanner. You just insert the stack into the feeder to scan the first side. Once completed, you flip the stack and scan the other side. The scanner will interfile the pages correctly. This manual duplex feature is enough for the occasional duplex scanning job, but if you regularly scan two-sided documents and have to deal with high-volume scanning, you should consider a duplex scanner. These advanced sheetfed scanners are equipped with dual scan elements, enabling them to scan two sides of the document at once. This is a real timesaver if you find yourself doing a lot of duplex scanning.
Generally, flatbed scanners do a fine job of scanning photographs for everyday use. Once you scan the photographs into your computer, you can use photo editing software to correct flaws and achieve the effect you desire.
However, professional photographers and advanced photo enthusiasts may find they desire some of the features that a photo scanner offers. Features include high resolutions, the ability to scan both positive and negative film, color calibration, and dust and scratch removal.
Portable scanners are the fare of business travelers and individuals who are on the move and must transfer documents, receipts, and other paperwork into their computer or cloud-based storage while remaining mobile. These little scanners have come a long way from the handheld scanners of yore. They’ve been downsized for lightweight portability, and beefed up to provide excellent scanning capabilities.
When you’re in the market for a scanner, it pays to do your homework. As we all know, it can get a little daunting when you’re standing in front of a display of shiny, new scanners trying to decide which one will best meet your needs. So, let’s look under the hood of a scanner and see what makes it tick.
First, of course, is resolution. Resolution is generally associated with the quality of an image, either high resolution or low resolution. There are two different types of scan resolutions - optical resolution and interpolated resolution.
Optical resolution is the actual resolution that the scanner is capable of capturing, and is the number you should find most important. If the scanner doesn’t capture it, then that aspect of the image cannot be improved digitally.
Flatbed scanners usually come with a minimum of 300 x 300 dots per inch (DPI). This is determined by the number of sensors on the CCD imaging array: the x-direction sampling rate, and the precision of the stepper motor or the y-direction sampling rate. However, the number consumers will see written on the scanner packaging might be something like 9600 x 1200 DPI. That number is a result of the interpolated resolution.
Interpolated resolution is, essentially, a digitally enhanced, post-production, achieved resolution. Interpolated resolution can improve, to some degree, the image the scanner has captured. It creates extra pixels between what the CCD sensor scanned.
Among the specifications listed for a scanner, you will find something called “bit depth”. Essentially, it determines the scanner’s ability to read and replicate the color spectrum of the information being scanned.
Most scanners have the bit-depth of at least 24-Bits. That’s 8 bits for each of the primary three Red, Green and Blue (RGB) color channels. Each one offers 256 shades of their respective color. This allows the scanner a range of 16.8 million colors.
Scanners are also available in 30 bits. This results in a total color range of 1 billion colors - 1,024 shades within each color channel. Some of the best scanners offer 36 bits, which ends up being 68.7 billion colors – 4,096 shades within the three color channels. Keep the bit depth in mind when considering a scanner and what its ultimate purpose will be. Scanners with a high bit depth will read and reproduce the best quality of detail, depth and color.
Dynamic range is similar to bit depth, except that rather than the RGB color range, it signifies the scanner’s ability to read tones from the whitest white 0.0 to the blackest black at 4.0. On lower end scanners, the dynamic range is generally 2.4, which is suitable for applications where crisp color is not necessary. The higher-end scanners offer a dynamic range between 2.8 and 3.2 EVs, and are suitable for most demanding color jobs.
If you’re planning on doing a significant amount of scanning in a day, your first step will be to make sure the scanner can keep up with you. Among the wealth of information you’ll find on the specification sheet, you’ll see specs for page per minute (PPM) for black and white scanning and for color scanning, both determined by the resolution you’ve chosen the document to be scanned at.
If that number looks suitable, the next step is to see what the daily duty cycle is determined to be for the scanner. This is the number of pages that the manufacturer designed the scanner to be capable of doing each day on a regular basis. As a rule, the higher the daily duty cycle, the faster the scanner will be, and the more expensive the scanner will be, as well. Another aspect to be aware of when choosing a scanner is the feeder capacity. You don’t want to keep being interrupted by having to jump up and feed the scanner.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
In a world that is working hard to become paperless, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is one of the most important features to look for when considering a scanner. The OCR allows the scanner to convert images of text into actual editable text. This feature allows you to scan your paper documents modify them easily in a document editor. It can also save you hours of retyping when you’ve accidentally deleted the digital copy, but still have the hard copy.