This review presents a quick primer on selecting a scanner, lists the things to look for, and then examines the six current scanners best suited for document management in an accounting firm.
To simplify matters, think of scanners in terms of 1-2-3-4: one core technology, two major applications, three types of scanner, and four things to look for.
1. Scanners basically work in the same way as copiers: The document or photo is face down on glass with a white (or sometimes black) background for reference. Light shining on the document highlights different shades of color or gray, which are converted to electrical signals indicating how light or dark each small segment of the document is. This electronic information is then used in any number of ways – sent to an image file, for example, or to special applications called Optical Character Recognition software, which recognize letters and numbers and so covert a scanned document to useable text.
2. There are two major uses for scanners, documents and images. The documents may be in color or black and white, and their output may be to a graphics file, a PDF file, or a text file in formats as diverse as Word, RTF and plain text. Image scanning can be a little more complex, simply because the dots (called pixels) that make up an image may be more difficult for the scanner to differentiate. As a rule, the best scanner is not the one that does both, because it may end up doing neither well. Picking the right tool for each job is a better idea.
3. There are three types of scanners. The familiar old flat-bed scanner has a hinged lid, can handle documents in sizes up to legal size, and offers easy use. The trade-off is that these scanners require manual feeds, so that fast scanning of a large document becomes more burdensome. The second kind, called a document scanner, also handles up to legal size but offers an automatic feeder and other benefits more suited to document management and file management tasks. It is notable that in this type, the document moves while the scanner head stays in one place.
The third kind is the portable or handheld scanner. Which requires the user to manually move the scanner head over the document, usually in 4-in. to 6-in. strips on each pass. Okay, there are a few other specialized scanners other than these three, but you are unlikely to encounter any of them in an accounting office. Also, unless you a James Bond trying to scan the secret plans to SPECTRE's latest plot, you can rule out handheld scanners – the quality is generally too poor for office use.
4. In terms of things to look for, the rules are pretty simple. If you plan to scan documents, you want to look for a scanner that will handle the photo resolution of a printed document – 600 dpi, or dots-per-inch. For photos, you'll want to kick that up to at least 4800 dpi to get better results.
Color depth is also important. That's the number of colors that can be displayed, and believe it or not the 24-bit color depth (16.7 million colors) will produce poor results for photos. Look for something at least 48-bit if you plan to handle photos. For documents, OCR scanning is critical. If the OCR package is not up to snuff, scanned documents will be difficult to index and search properly. And finally, look at the photo management software included for the same reason. Since you're generally stuck with what comes with the scanner, using a quality vendor is important.
So for the purposes of this review, we'll consider what's hot and new in the world of flatbed and document scanners for both document and photo scanning.
CanoScan 8800F Flatbed Color Scanner
Cannon is notable because its technology tends to be strong, and the total cost of ownership for its printers and other peripherals tends to be lower than those of competitors. The CanoScan 8800F is a photo/negative/color film scanner that can also handle the demands of paper documents, and can batch-scan slides or color negatives.
Priced in the moderate range at $199.99, this is primarily an image scanner, but is superior in its ability to manage photos, clean up imperfections and produce a decent output file. Part of this is due to a streamlined design and the use of white LED lamps that eliminate warm-up times before the scan begins.
The CanoScan 8800F sports a compact 10.7-by-18.9-by-4-inch design and weighs 9.2 pounds. It is compatible with Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Mac OSX 10.2.8 through 10.4.x. It includes a CD-ROM with printer driver, setup software, and user's guide, Adobe Photoshop Elements, ArcSoft PhotoStudio, MP Navigator EX, NewSoft Presto! PageManager (Windows only), and ScanSoft OmniPage SE. In addition, the manufacturer offers a one-year limited warranty.
Perfection V700 Photo
This is a high-end photo scanner, sporting a $500+ price tag but offsetting that with an eye-popping 6400 dpi resolution (the highest possible for studio-quality results) and 48-bit color.
The Epson Perfection V700 Photo offers a lot of addition bells and whistles, including a Dual Lens System that automatically selects from two lenses for the desired scan resolution. It also offers a Digital ICE Technology that effectively removes dust and scratches from film, and many types of surface defects from prints, minimizing retouching.
The Epson Perfection V700 Photo is compatible with both Macintosh and Windows operating systems, and includes FireWire and hi–speed USB 2.0 interfaces. Its comprehensive software package includes LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast SE 6, Adobe Photoshop Elements, ABBYY FineReader Sprint Plus OCR, Epson Copy Utility and Epson Scan with Epson Easy Photo Fix Technology. Epson also provides a one–year warranty covering parts and service.
The ScanSnap S1500, a sheet-fed scanner for the PC, features one-touch creation of PDF files and a 60-page document feeder. The ScanSnap S1500 has been engineered to deliver fast performance with up to 20 pages per minute in color, grayscale or black and white. It also remains at this speed when scanning at a higher resolution of 200 or 300 dpi color or grayscale.
Key features include the ability to duplex scan, remove blank pages from the scan, scan business cards, auto-rotate and straighten documents, and convert to text files using a strong OCR software package. It also comes with a full version of Adobe Acrobat, a plus for small accounting offices looking for a decent document management scanner.
This document scanner won't win any awards for resolution, but it doesn't need to – its preferred platform is not high-end photography but rather document scanning and PDF creation, which it does with the touch of a button. The $400+ price tag puts it at the high end of the moderate scale, but its performance makes it worth the price.
Scanjet G4050 Flatbed Scanner
The HP Scanjet is an industry icon, one of the first models of affordable, high-quality scanners. The G4050 is no exception, easily spanning the gap between color photo scanner and document scanner. The result is an elegant, $199 scanner with superior color accuracy, 4800-dpi scans and excellent software for image cleanup.
Because it is a flat-bed scanner, document feeding is manual. But the scans are relatively fast, and the quality is good (particularly for 3-D documents such as books or magazines.
It comes with OCR software, HP Photosmart and HP Photosmart share. Compatible with Windows 2000 and later and Mac OS X 10.3.8 and later operating systems, the scanner weighs in at just over 11.5 pounds and measures 20 x 11.93 x 4.25 inches.
DocuMate 632 Flatbed Scanner
Scanning is basically the same technology as copying, only with a different form of output. So it is not surprising that Xerox would have a strong competitor in the marketplace. In fact, the company has a complete line of them.
The Xerox DocuMate 632 scans at 40 pages per minute in simplex mode and 80 images per minute in duplex mode at 200 dpi, producing high quality scans. It is a departmental duplex scanner with a legal size flatbed and it is the only departmental scanner that can be programmed to automatically scan up to 99 different customizable applications and devices.
This makes the DocuMate 632 a highly specialized tool, with a price tag (over $1,500) to match. But mid-sized to enterprise accounting departments will appreciate its advanced features and ease of use as a primary document management solution.
SmartOffice PL 1530
The PL1530 was designed to work in a shared office environment, suitable for departments and small firms. A small, flat-bed scanner, it combines a compact footprint on the desktop with a set of simple controls to offer fast scanning and output.
It features a 50 page feeder, 15-page per minute scanning of documents, and an optical resolution of up to 1500 dpi, more than suitable for document scans. Sold globally, it weighs in with a sub-$200 price tag and a software suite that, while not up to the standards of HP or Xerox, still manages to do a credible job of PDF file and image creation.
With a batch OCR capability, this scanner is not in the big leagues but should not be overlooked for the needs of a smaller accounting office in search of viable, economical solutions.