What should I look for when buying a scanner?
This question was answered on September 22, 2000. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
The first questions that you should ask yourself is "Do I really need a scanner?" and "Will I really use it"?
If you determine that you are ready to take the scanner plunge, here are a few items to look for when buying a new scanner:
Paper handling - The two most common types of scanners are sheet-feed or flat-bed A sheet-feed scanner is much like a traditional fax machine It can only scan an item that can be fed through the slot A flat-bed scanner, much like a copier, can scan virtually anything that can be placed on the scanning surface In most cases, lower cost systems use sheet feed and moderate to expensive systems use the flat-bed design Our recommendation is always get a flat-bed model.
Interface - There are several methods of connecting a scanner to a computer Older scanners used a serial or SCSI port Serial is very slow and SCSI requires a SCSI adapter to be installed which adds to the cost In recent years, parallel port scanners which use the same port as your printer were introduced which increased the performance over serial ports and reduced the complication level of installation The main problem with parallel port scanners is they often conflict with today's printers and can cause various communication issues The latest development in interfaces is called "USB" (Universal Serial Bus) and is highly recommended if available (You must have USB ports in your computer and be running Windows 98, 2000, ME or MacOS)
Resolution - This specification can be very easily confused because of the many ways that "resolution" is represented Scanner resolution generally refers to the number of dots that are used when scanning to represent an image and is represented as "DPI" (Dots Per Inch) The higher the DPI the better the image The two most common specifications that you will encounter are Optical resolution and Interpolated resolution Optical refers to the actual number of dots that a scanner can capture and Interpolated refers to an enhancement that can be made to the image by the scanner's software Interplation allow the scanner to add dots to the image which can potentially improve the image quality While 300 dpi is certainly adequate for most scanning needs, 600 dpi is pretty standard on all entry level scanners, so don't settle for less Unless you are attempting to produce professional quality images, paying for more than 600 dpi is generally not worth the difference Many new printers incorporate a "600" x "xxxx" specification in which "xxxx" is generally "600", "1200" or "2400" Again, the higher the number, the better the potential image quality.
Color bit rate - This spec can also be misleading Don't assume that a 36-bit scanner will automatically give you better output than a 30-bit scanner, or even a 24-bit one A higher-bit rate scanner is capable of recognizing more detail between colors, but you may not be able to tell the difference At this point in time, a 30-bit color scanner is the best choice for the average user.
Features - Many new scanners incorporate one-touch buttons for scanning, faxing, copying or e-mailing images These features can be very handy, but don't always work the way that you want, so don't pay alot more for them Optional attachments for scanning negatives, slides or other transparent media can be expensive, so make sure you are really going to use them before paying for them.
A note on the All-in-one products....
Most companies offer an all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax model that claims to make life wonderful In most cases, you get a mediocre printer, mediocre copier, mediocre scanner and a fax machine from HELL! These types of units can be a one way ticket to tech support city, because of the complexity of the software drivers, so we recommend staying away from them.
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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on September 22, 2000