Picture Yourself With a New Scanner? Some Things to Consider

Scanners are essentially photocopiers. But instead of producing a paper copy, they create computer files that can be edited, printed out or posted online. You can use a scanner to capture photos, drawings and other images. With optical-character-recognition, or OCR, software, you can convert text from printed documents into computer data that can be edited by any word-processing program.

There are several types of scanners on the market. For less than $100 you can buy a hand scanner that you drag across a piece of paper to capture a portion of the image. These are OK for capturing small bits and pieces of information but are very difficult to use if you want an entire picture or document. And they depend on a steady hand as you move them across the page.

One step up are the under-$200 desktop scanners designed to capture photographs. The EasyPhoto Reader from Storm Software ([415] 691-6600) is a small color scanner that plugs into your PC’s parallel port or Mac serial port. A pass-through port allows the PC user to keep his or her printer plugged in. You feed photos (up to 5 by 7 inches) into the reader, which scans the photo in one pass and ejects it to the rear.

The resolution of the final product is OK, but it’s not as good as what you’ll get with expensive flatbed scanners.


Storm, which is currently offering its scanner for $170 (after rebate), claims that the product can provide resolution of equivalent to 1,200 dots per inch, but the actual optics in the scanner record 200 dots per inch. The difference is based on the scanner’s ability to enhance the data to improve resolution.

EasyPhoto software controls the scanner and lets you edit the images by cropping out unwanted portions, changing the size or adjusting for brightness and color. Polaroid and Epson offer nearly identical photo scanners.

If you want the utmost in quality and versatility, I recommend a good flatbed scanner such as the Hewlett-Packard ScanJet 5p or the Epson Expression 636. Flatbed scanners, aside from generally offering higher resolution, allow you to scan pages from books and magazines as well as sheets of paper. Because the paper doesn’t have to go through the scanner mechanism, there’s no chance of its getting damaged.

Some scanners can be equipped to scan slides, transparencies and even color negatives. With optical-character-recognition software, any flatbed scanner can be used to convert printed text into computer documents.


The Epson Expression 636 ($799 to $1,799), introduced last fall, is a 600-dot-per-inch 36-bit flatbed scanner that handles images up to 8.5 to 11.7 inches. Setup is extremely easy, especially if your PC already has a SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy”) port. The basic model ($799) comes only with basic scanning driver software, while higher-priced versions come with programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Xerox Textbridge Pro OCR software and Kai’s PowerTools, a fun program that lets you create amusing distortions from scanned photos.

Hewlett-Packard’s ScanJet 5p, at $399, is the one I recommend for most home and small-business users. The 24-bit color scanner is easy to set up and use, and takes up less table space than the Epson and most other full-size scanners. It scans at 300 dots per inch, though Hewlett-Packard claims 1,200-dot-per-inch resolution via built-in enhancement software.

I didn’t count the dots, but I can say that the photos I scanned on the HP model looked just as good to my eye as the ones scanned on the more expensive Epson. I am also impressed with HP’s design. It has a recessed area for your cables so you can put it against a wall. And there is a button on the front of the scanner that automatically launches the software, making it almost as easy to use as a copier.

Bundled software includes Corel Photo-Paint for Windows (or Adobe Photoshop for Mac) and PaperPort from Visioneer, which offers OCR and a system to organize your scanned images and documents. It also comes with HP’s ScanJet Copy Utility that lets you quickly copy a color or black-and-white document from the scanner to a printer.


Lawrence J. Magid can be reached by e-mail at His World Wide Web page is at