Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The cost and quality of scanners

The first scanner I worked with cost $20,000! (I don't remember if that included the software or not.) The large table-top scanner, with a sheetfeeder, was a sensitive piece of equipment and didn't like to be moved. The software used with it allowed us to OCR (optical character recognition) documents. The scanner could scan many documents per hour, but what slowed down the process was the OCR, since the software had problems with various fonts -- especially if the text was skewed a bit. And although anybody could operate the scanner, only a few understood how to get a "good" scan so that the OCR went "better" and then understood how to check and correct the documents efficiently.

Now I own a flatbed scanner that is also a printer and fax machine. It cost around $100, including software. The multi-purpose machine can scan or print in color or black-n-white.

As the technology has gotten cheaper, people think that these small low-cost scanner will work on digitization projects that require high-quality images. That is not always true, since the inexpensive scanners may not scan at a high enough dot-per-inch (DPI) or pixel-per-inch (PPI). Some scanners (and their software) won't even create TIFF files, whcih is the preferred high-quality file format used in digitization projects.

So these inexpensive scanners are great for the office, but not for working on digitization projects where you are creating images that you hope will last for years. In order to find a scanner that is appropriate for your digitization project:
  • Talk to others who have worked on a digitization project and see what hardware they have used. (You can check for projects through a local library consortium or archives organization.)
  • Check the Internet to see if any projects have posted information on the equipment used. (Consider checking or contacting those projects that seem to be adhering to best practices.)
  • Talk to equipment vendors.
  • Test equipment and see if it produces the quality that you need. Also check to see if it is easy to use.

And remember that the equipment must fit its purpose. If you are digitizing slides, then you'll need a scanner that was build for that purpose.


Anonymous said...

I'm looking into buying a slide/negative scanner. Any recommendations?

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

You asked about a slide or negative scanner. I don't have an answer for you, but peeked around at for an answer. That happens to be a godo site for checking out products for consumers. (And I'll assume that you'll looking for something for home and not for a large digitization project.) I couldn't find a good article, but did find lists of scanners and reviews at Take a look at this and see if it helps. If not, let me know.

Anonymous said...

I work in a law firm, my boss is looking for a scanner to scan heavy binded books,he wants to digitalize his library, but couldnt find much material for use on the internet any sugg ?

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

[Note, this person also send me e-mail. Below is my e-mail response, which I'm also posting here.]


There are books scanners available for this type of work, as well as service bureaus that will do the work for you. Here are some posts about the Kirtas scanner which is an automated machine:

Since it is an expensive piece of equipment, you might contact them and see if they have sold one to a service bureau in your region. (I suspect that you do not want to send your books across the ocean to have them scanned.)

I also have a posting about the Minolta manual book scanner at

You ask about hiring a consultant. There are consultants as well as vendors (service bureaus) who may be able to advice you. What you need to know is what advice do you want? What equipment to purchase? Workflow? Or help in outsourcing the project?