Scanning technology has reached the point of being useful for every corporate worker. A few years ago, scanners were expensive and fussy units used strictly by graphic arts professionals. But today, even an inexperienced computer user can deliver high-quality scans with a minimum of hassle.
Scanners are a great way to take printed illustrations such as documents or pictures and convert them into an electronic format to be used for your corporate Web site or contact database. However, there are many kinds of documents and many ways to scan them.
First, you must decide whether you want simply to make an electronic copy of the document or whether you want to convert it, using optical character recognition (OCR) technology, into text you can work with in a word processor or other application.
Next, you should look at the various features, including resolution; whether the scanner can handle colours or just black and white images; and how the scanner connects to your PC. The most important criterion is the resolution of the device: the higher the resolution, the more accurate your scan.
Finally, you need to choose a scanner to match your needs. They fall into four very different categories:
-- General scanners handle the widest range of documents, from single sheets of paper to pages in a book. Flatbed scanners are the most versatile. They are similar to a copier: you open the lid, place your document on the glass shelf and proceed to do your scans.
-- Document or sheet feeder scanners are best for jobs that involve multiple but similar-size pages, such as printed reports.
-- Business card scanners are used only for that purpose and come with dedicated card-scanning software. I tested CardScan, from Corex Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it worked well.
-- Portable scanners are useful for doing some scanning on the road away from your desktop and saving documents for later filing or manipulation.
-- OneTouch 7600
Visioneer has a full line of scanners, and the 7600 flatbed is a workhorse of a unit.
The unit hooked up to my PC's parallel port. It took about five minutes to install it and configure the software. But once you start scanning, be prepared to have lots of disk space on hand because high-resolution, full-colour scans can take up several megabytes a page. Scanning is easy to do, and documents can be quickly previewed and filed on your hard disk, as well as saved in a variety of standard image formats such as Tag Image File Format (TIFF), JPEG and PCX.
Visioneer uses the Textbridge OCR software to interpret scanned text. It's about 98 per cent accurate and easy to use. Overall, it's a good value as an all-purpose scanner and is useful in a variety of applications.
-- CapShare 910
The HP CapShare device was designed to be portable for scanning on the road. It's best for copying newspaper articles or other multiple-column documents, because its scanner is less than 5in wide. It has a small LCD screen and a series of buttons on each side. It connects to your PC via a serial or an infrared port and runs on two AA rechargeable batteries. It can hold about 50 pages of letter-size text.
It produces files in either TIFF or Portable Document Format. It doesn't have recognition software built in. Getting it to work with my HP Windows CE palmtop took a quick search of HP's Web site for instructions. Transferring and viewing the scanned files on a Windows 98 PC was simple, using Adobe Systems' Acrobat viewer.
-- CardScan 300
Corex Technologies Corp.
Corex CardScan was designed exclusively for scanning business cards into your computer. This small box connects to your PC via a parallel port and runs on AC power.
Its software installs in a few minutes. Once the scanner is calibrated, you feed in business cards one by one. The software then reads the data on each card and attempts to organise the information in its database, matching phone and fax numbers and other fields with the information on each card.
The recognition software was about 90 per cent accurate, and almost every card needed some tweaking or editing after the scan. Still, this was easier than typing in all the information from scratch.
$99.95 to $199.95, depending on featuresPerhaps the most interesting scanner of the bunch is the WordWand, a portable text scanner that's the size of a gun stock with a small scanner window on the bottom.
You scan by passing the device over a line of text at a time, going from right to left so you can see where to point it. As with the CardScan unit, if your materials contain mixed font sizes, colored text and other graphics, it will be harder to interpret the text. I found the most recent recognition software to be about 95 per cent accurate.
This scanner is only for taking text from a page and placing it inside an open document. About the only tricky step is to first bring up its software and then start whatever word processing software you want to use to receive the text.