Consumer scanners

Introduction

Everybody seems to have a Web site or iTools photo-album these days. If you’re still using an analogue camera instead of one of those new-fangled digital models, then, a scanner is a must. They range from the cheap and cheerful at £50, to £5,000 monsters. If you’re scanning for the Web, or even home printing, you don’t need 3,000dpi resolution. To scan for a Web page, 72dpi is enough – anything more is pointless. Even ink-jet printers will slow to a crawl when faced with a file over 600dpi. This makes the scanners featured here ideal for home use, and some can even come in handy for real graphics work. Ease of use is the key to a good home scanner. The pro scanners featured in this issue require a PhD in colour-mumbojumbology, so are not much good for the average user. Fortunately, I’m an expert in all kinds off mumbo jumbo. Most consumer scanners now have single-button operation. Using buttons on the front of the scanners tested, you can scan directly to a printer or a selection of other output options. This makes these scanners suitable for even the most ardent technophobe. Resolution range
The scanners we looked at have either 600 or 1,200dpi resolution. At 1,200dpi, you can enlarge originals for printing. Canon has updated the CanoScan range. The sleek ultra-thin styling has changed slightly, but they’re still the most attractive scanners in town. Functionally, the 600dpi N656U remains the same, but added to the range is the 1,200dpi N1220U and a 1,200dpi model that includes a basic transparency adaptor. All the models share a single button on the front, which opens the CanoScan Toolbox. From the Toolbox you can, with a single click, scan directly to a printer, fax-modem or graphics package. This is the kind of usability that has become standard on most entry-level scanners. There are also three vacant buttons that can be assigned to whichever application you want, such as the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) package supplied with the scanners. Unfortunately, this function only works when drag-&-dropping files already scanned. The CanoScan D660U is bulkier than the N656U and N1220U. This is to house the transparency unit, which can be used to scan slides and other transparencies. It sports 1,200dpi resolution and 42-bit colour sampling. Even though it lacks the high-end features of the pro-scanners featured on page 89, it would be an extremely handy thing for any designer to have. You wouldn’t use it for most magazine work, but for newsletters or mock-ups it’s fine. At £234, compared to around £4,000 for a pro scanner, it measures up very well. The other two Canon models look practically identical (see Spot the difference, below), and the only real difference is that the N656U has a resolution of 600dpi , and the N1220U can manage 1,200dpi. If you don’t care to enlarge your scans too much, then the N656U is adequate. You’re undoubtedly paying a little over the odds for the design, but that – unfortunately – is getting normal in the Mac world. Multi-button boon
The new ScanJet 5370C (above), from Hewlett-Packard, makes scanning even simpler than the single-button operation of the Canon range. The four buttons on the front of the 5370C means you can scan to print, fax, or a graphics apps with a single touch of the button. It makes scanning as easy as photocopying. HP uses a relatively unknown OCR package called ReadIris, but it’s impressive and can read many languages. The ScanJet has a transparency adaptor, though it’s not built into the hood as in the other models. It consists of a small lightbox that sits over the scanning plate. It isn’t as convenient as having the adaptor in the hood, but the results were excellent. The last scanner tested was the Umax Astra 3450 – an amazingly cheap scanner, considering it includes a transparency adaptor. At just £89, it offers outstanding value for money. However, it has its quirks: it uses a four-button control for scanning and relies on an auto-cropping function to scan just the object rather than the whole scanning bed. Unfortunately, the transparency adaptor disrupts this process and the scanner scans it as well as the artwork. This isn’t a serious problem, but annoying none the less. I’m not sure a transparency adaptor is of any use on a scanner only capable of 600dpi resolution.
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