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Scanners

Buying Guide
Scanners are one of my favorite pieces of hardware, they're just so extre...
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Buying Guide

Scanners are one of my favorite pieces of hardware, they're just so extremely versatile and useful to pretty much anyone. They are a great tool to have in the home and office, they allow us to import documents to our computers via Optical Character Recognition, they allow us to copy thing just like a stand alone copier and of course we can scan and even fix or edit our old photos.

Of course they've got many other uses as well, and they come in all shapes and sizes, with some that are made for specialized tasks like just scanning photo negatives or maybe even scanning business cards into your computer. When you think or talk about computers They are one of those products that is often overlooked in the office and it really doesn't get the attention it should because it truly is a great tool that is often underutilized.

If you're in the market for a scanner then most likely your looking for a flatbed scanner as those are the most popular out there today, but there are many other types of scanners as well that you could be looking to purchase.

All scanners perform the same function, and most do it in a very similar way, using optics and light to capture an image to transfer to a digital format that's easy to handle, edit and even share.

Types of Scanners:

Flatbed Scanners typically have a cover on them that opens to reveal a piece of clear glass, you place the document to be scanned on the glass, then a bar with light and an optical lens or sensor passes under the document and basically takes a picture of it. The time it takes to do this depends on if you're scanning in color or black and white, and what resolution you're scanning at. The time will also vary with manufacturers as well.

Hand Scanners are just that, scanner made to be portable and used with your hand. These though can be of several types, a bar code scanner that you see at the grocery store is a type of scanner, but just very specialized. (I personally have a hand scanner that I really like, it's from a company called Planon, it's small, a bit wider than a piece of paper, and you use it by rolling it across the paper. It works essentially the same as a flatbed, just really portable.) There are other even further specialized hand scanners for scanning 3d objects, these are typically used in engineering, industrial businesses, and even medical applications.

Film Scanners are exactly what they sound like as well, they are specifically made to scan film negatives. These usually have special holders to hold slides or film negatives, and they normally have a much better resolution than other scanners. Flatbed scanners though can be used as film scanners, some companies offer accessories to allow film to be scanned with their products.

Business Card Scanners are another one with an obvious name, they used to scan business cards into your computer and typically interface with an office program like one from Microsoft. The information on the business card is read by the scanner and added to your contacts for you, very handy if you need such a product.

There are other even more specialized types of scanners that I won't go into, but those I mentioned are the most popular with consumers.

Popular today are the all-in-one printers or multi-function devices, these usually include a scanner of their own that allows people to copy, fax and scan documents easily. Depending on the printer you get it could be of either sheet-fed or flatbed. Sheet fed scanners are of the type that a mechanism pulls the documents across the light and sensor bar, in other words the document moves instead of the sensors.

All of these types of scanners can vary greatly in cost and overall output quality, as with most devices of this kind the better quality and resolution will most likely cost more, so a scanner can be an expensive investment, but in the long run will be worth the cost if you utilize it to it's fullest extent.

Features of Scanners:

OCR: Most all scanners have the ability to do OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, this is a great feature to have as it will actually 'read' your document for you and convert it to a digital format to be edited in a standard word processor.

Double Hinged Lid: This features pertains to flatbed scanners where the lid can have two hinges, or an expandable hinge which allows you to scan thick documents like magazines. Not all scanners have the ability to scan thicker documents, so if you need a feature like this be sure to check the specs to see how much clearance the lid will give you.

One Button Scanning Etc: This is sort of obvious as to what it is, but some scanners are only controlled through software on the computer, while others will have buttons to enable certain operations like scanning, copying or emailing the image for you. These buttons are great, you don't have to load the software, just put the document in and press the button, once the scan is complete the scanner sends it to your preferred or default software application, opens the fax dialog, or even open your email program with the document already attached ready for you to email.

Document Feeder: Some scanners can have a document feeder so you can scan multiple documents without having to stand there and insert each one into the scanner. If you plan on scanning many documents this can save you a lot of time and free you up for other work to be done.

Number of Passes: This is a feature that is most often ignored by everyone, but look for scanners that say 'single pass', what this means that it only take one pass of the scanner to scan your document, instead of two or three. Scanning with one pass obviously makes things go much quicker, and you can be on your way that much faster to do something else.

High Resolution Scanning: This is another obvious one, but is often overlooked as well, this feature is often deceiving as often times companies will list the highest resolution of the scanner in bold print, but only to find that that resolution is not 'real' it's derived through the use of software. For most people this is fine, but if you require high quality, high resolution documents then make sure the highest resolution listed is hardware derived and not software.

High Speed Scanning: Not all scanners are fast, some take quite a while to scan a document, especially at higher resolutions, if you plan on scanning numerous documents make sure you compare the scanning speeds of the different scanners you are looking at.

As always, once you decide what you need in a scanner and what you're going to use it for, do some research and look around for reviews of the scanners you've picked. You'll quickly learn if the manufacturers specs are true or not, and you can learn how well they work at doing their jobs.

If you've got questions, ask them, find forums dedicated to computer hardware, you'll always find someone willing to help out or give a recommendation.

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