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Scanners buying guide

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Scanners Guide - An Introduction

A scanner optically scans text, images, objects, or handwriting, and then converts it into a digital image. There are several common types of scanners, including desktop or flatbed scanners, hand-held scanners, and 3D scanners.

Scanners let you store a digital copy of your document electronically. They are widely used in both home and commercial applications. Drum copiers were the first type of scanner, capturing image information using photomultiplier tubes. The item being scanned was mounted on a rotating drum cylinder, which is then passed in front of the equipment that captures the image. Drum scanners are still in use because they capture extremely high quality images. However, they are too expensive for home use or everyday office use.

In the 1990s, small hand-hand scanners became available. Users would slowly draw the scanner over the page to be reproduced. These scanners usually created a monochrome image. Another drawback was that they required a very steady hand and that the scanner be moved at a consistent speed. Later in the 1990s, the flatbed scanner became affordable. The item to be scanned is laid on the glass, while the optical reader is facing upwards underneath the glass. This type of scanner can capture colour, image quality has improved, and prices have decreased, making it the most common type of scanner.

If you are buying a scanner, whether for home or office use, photos or documents, Price Inspector is the best place to buy. We answer your questions in our buying guide, giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice. When you’re ready to buy, we make sure you get the cheapest prices. We compare prices to bring you the best deals in the UK.

Scanner Quality

  • Colour: Colour scanners read RGB, or red-green-blue, colour data from the document being scanned. This information is then processed using a proprietary formula to the particular manufacturer; this formula is designed to correct for different exposures. Once these corrections are made, the data is sent to the computer. The colour depth will vary depending on the scanner’s characteristics, but it will usually be at least 24 bits. A high-quality model will have 48 bits or more for the colour depth.
  • Resolution: The other important measure of a scanner’s quality is the resolution, which is measured as pixels per inch, or ppi. A high quality flatbed scanner can scan images with up to 5400 ppi; a high quality drum scanner will provide an optical resolution of around 12,000 ppi. This is based on true optical resolution.
  • Manufacturers sometimes try to use the interpolated resolutions, which is the number after the software enhances the resolution. These numbers may be as high as 19,200 ppi, but this figure is basically meaningless. Base your comparisons on the optical resolution.
  • Higher resolution will result in a larger file size. Doubling the image resolution will quadruple your file size. Therefore, it’s important to find a resolution that gives you high enough quality, but does not create an excessively large file or exceed your computer’s capabilities.
  • The next measure of quality is the density range. This refers to the ability to recreate brightness details and shadow details in a single scan.

Popular Brands

There are many brands and models to choose from when selecting your scanner, including:

  • Cannon 8800F: This is a high-speed, professional quality photo and film scanner that does not require any warm-up time. It produces maximum colour ppi of 4800 x 9600. It’s simple to operate, letting you quickly scan your photo to copy, create emails, or create PDFs. Its built-in technology will help enhance the final images. As an added time saver, you can scan a batch of up to twelve 35mm pictures or four slides, either pictures or negatives. The Cannon 4400F scanner is very similar, but with a max of six 35mm pictures. They both have an expandable lid that lets you copy thick items that don’t lie flat, such as books.
  • The Mustek A3 Flatbed Scanner is a good option for any home office. It offers 36-bit colour, with 300 x 600 ppi optical resolution. Its hinged lid lets you scan book pages, two letter-size pages, or magazines.
  • The Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Scanner gives you professional-quality 4800 x 9600 ppi resolution. The Epson Easy PhotoFix lets you restore colour to faded pictures. The built-in transparency unit helps you scan slides more uniformly. The scanner includes film holders for 35mm negatives, slides, or 2 ¼” transparencies.
  • The Epson V700 scanner gives you 6400 ppi optical resolution, and it has a dual lens system that selects the correct lens automatically based on the resolution you need. You can batch scan slides, negatives, and medium format film. The V750 is the professional model, with an anti-reflection optical coating on the glass.
  • The Epson GT 20000 offers a large 11.7x17 scanning area, and it can automatically detect your document size. It provides 600 x 12000 ppi resolution. The optional Automatic Document Feeder can hold up to 100 pages, scanning as much as 23 pages per minute.
  • Epson’s V200 scanner is an affordable but powerful scanner. It scans up to 4800 ppi, and it offers one-touch scanning, email, and copying capabilities.
  • The HP Scanjet G2710 gives you beautiful picture scans with 2400 x 4800 ppi and 48-bit colour. Your photos will be more lifelike, as you can remove red-eye or increase details in shadowed pictures. With the HP PhotoSmart Essential software, you can print, organise, and share your scanned photos.
  • The Ion Scanner Slides2Go makes it easy to transfer your 35mm negatives and slides to your computer. It offers fast scanning, two slide trays, a negative tray, optics cleaning tool, and a software CD.
  • Plustek MobileOffice scanners are some of the lightest, smaller portable scanners available. They are perfect for anyone who travels for business, as well as for the small office. The AD 450 model can be used indoors or outdoors. Power it from the USB port of your laptop or using the adapter plug. It has three customisable buttons, which means you can define your common settings, rather than having to set up the job each time. It can also scan plastic cards such as insurance cards, credit cards, and driving licenses.
  • The Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 is a sheet-fed scanner. You can digitize both sides of your documents in a single pass, scanning up to 18 colour pages per minute. It’s an ideal scanner for small offices or home offices.

Tips to Consider before Buying Scanners

  • Consider the balance between ppi and file size. You want a high-resolution image, but if you go higher than you really need, your systems can be overwhelmed by large file sizes. Try to pick a model that provides the quality you need, but not more so.
  • If the manufacturer lists both optical and interpolated ppi numbers, ignore the ppi. Optical ppi capabilities are what you should be comparing. If possible, choose a scanner that provides at least 2400 ppi optical resolution.
  • In addition to quality, you need to balance speed into your purchase decision. The higher the quality, the slower the output. If you have need for high volume scanning, you may not have time to wait for the very highest quality.
  • Consider available features. Now that scanners have become so affordable, many manufacturers are adding features rather than dropping the price. For example, they may increase the number of pages that can be scanned at once. Photo scanners may include software to correct red eyes or signs of damage in old pictures.
  • Decide what type of interface you want with the computer. Most scanners come with USB connections, while some offer FireWire connections. FireWire models are usually more expensive, designed more for professional users.
  • Decide what type of scanner you want. Flatbed scanners are the most common and will fit most needs. A good use for a hand-held scanner is for students who frequently have to pay to make copies if the library won’t allow you to remove certain books from the premises.

Jargon Explained

RGBThe RGB colour model adds red, green, and blue light together in various ways to reproduce a wide array of colours.
PPIPixels per inch is the measurement of how fine of details the scanner recreates. Scanners use a collection of tiny dots to recreate the pictures; each dot is a pixel. The digital image is recreated using millions of these pixels. The higher the number of pixels in an inch, the smaller each dot is, which means the less visible it will be. Higher ppi means finer details and higher quality.
DPISome scanner manufacturers use DPI while other use PPI. The terms are used interchangeably, either referring to Dots Per Inch or Pixels Per Inch. Both terms mean the same thing.
A3 and A4Paper sizes are defined as A1, A2, A3, A4, and so forth. The most common size is A4, which is 210 × 297mm. An A4 flatbed scanner holds a single sheet of A4 paper on the glass, while an A3 scanner holds one sheet of A3 paper or two sheets of A4 paper.
FireWireFireWire: A very high-speed cable connection, frequently used to transfer large files between cameras and computers. A FireWire connection for your scanner can reduce the file transfer delay. 

Buying Guide to Scanners
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