Scanning Solutions

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted October 01, 2000
by Matthew Klare

Document scanning has become increasingly common as businesses realize that it's considerably more efficient to capture, store, and transport a document's image than to store or move the paper itself. Scanning documents at the point of origin, or collection, and working with electronic files rather than paper-based files, permits more flexible indexing and searching options. These features translate to more efficient operation and bottom-line savings.

Scanners come in several styles. The most familiar type is the flatbed scanner. These scanners are designed for capturing images of flat artwork or single sheets of paper. The solution for businesses that need to scan a hefty amount of documents lies in sheet-fed scanners such as those which we will discuss in this Buyer's Guide.

These models have solidly constructed document feeders that support high-volume scanning. Unlike the consumer flatbeds, these scanners operate only in grayscale or monochrome (1-bit) mode. When scanning documents, there is not usually a great demand for capturing color. If, however, your business does need high-volume color scanners, several models are available from various manufacturers.

THE PLAYING FIELD

For low-volume scanning, we looked into models from five manufacturers: Bell and Howell, Canon, Eastman Kodak, Panasonic, and Ricoh. The throughputs of these units range between 19 and 50 pages per minute (ppm). Their prices range from just under $5,000 to $8,795. All of them have an automatic document feeder (ADF), allowing them to handle a stack of documents. Simplex scanners scan only the front of a document at one time, whereas duplex models can capture both sides of the document at the same time.

Some scanners also provide a flat bed for scanning objects too large or delicate to pass through the ADF. While not an efficient way to capture a large number of images, it is handy for the occasional oversized or tender original.

Keep in mind that when scanning documents as opposed to photographs, resolution is a minor issue. Most document-management and OCR programs are happy with 200dpi or 300dpi. Likewise, if the scanner will be used solely for capturing text, bit depth isn't a pressing issue either. If, however, continuous-tone originals (e.g., photographs) must be captured accurately, you'll need a scanner capable of 8-bit grayscale.


Bell and Howell 1000FB

The Bell and Howell 1000FB (manufactured and sold by Ricoh as the IS420) is a sturdy sheet-fed/flatbed scanner. This simplex-only unit delivers 36ppm at 200dpi on letter-size documents. It operates in 4- or 8-bit grayscale (256 shades of gray) or monochrome modes. The 1000FB connects to the host PC via a SCSI-2 interface.

To enhance the processing of documents containing photographs or other grayscale images, Bell and Howell offers an image-processing unit for $1,275. To increase throughput, B&H also sells a data-compression unit for $1,200. Finally, there's an optional red-lamp drop-out unit to facilitate scanning forms for $375. A standard one-year, on-site, 72-hour-response-time warranty is included.

The 1000FB's optical resolution is 400dpi, though it can deliver resolutions between 60dpi and 400dpi. Its 100-sheet-capacity automatic document feeder (ADF) can handle documents ranging in size from 2.71 x 4.7 inches to 12 x 17 inches. The 1000FB measures 11.1 x 17.7 x 26.4 inches and weighs in at 55 pounds.

The supplied ISIS and TWAIN drivers provide the ability to adjust bit depth, scan resolution (from 60 dpi to a maximum of 400 dpi optical), and brightness and contrast. There are also controls for noise reduction, gamma, gray filtering, dynamic thresholding, and white balance in the drivers.

Given it's smallish 100-sheet document feeder and 30,000-page-per-month duty cycle, don't try to do high volume scanning with the 1000FB. Its ability to operate as a flatbed scanner, however, increases the 1000FB versatility. With a low base price, its a great choice for businesses needing a relatively low-volume document scanner that can pull double duty to scan the occasional piece of flat work.

Bell and Howell Imaging; 800-SCAN-494; www.bellhowell.com; $4,995


Canon CD-4050

Unique among this group of scanners, Canon's CD-4050 is a 35 pound, simplex/duplex unit that contains a CD-R drive and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for safe emergency shutdowns. The CD4050 expedites the archival of paper documents onto CD without the need to be connected to a PC. A 6.5-inch, color TFT touch screen lets the operator control the scanning and storage process, as well as view, rotate, and scroll scanned images. The 4050 also has ports for an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, and a standard Ethernet connection.

The 39ppm unit operates as a sheet-fed scanner only, flatbed scanning isn't possible. It has a 100-sheet capacity document feeder and can scan at either 200dpi or 300dpi. Like Canon's other document scanners, the 4050 uses special control sheets to program the scanning process. Placing a particular control sheet at the head of a batch of documents changes the unit's scan mode from simplex to duplex or from halftone to text mode.

Operating in 200dpi mode, the 4050 can store roughly 20,000 monochromatic pages on one CD. The 4050 is a 1-bit scanner, so it doesn't deal particularly well with grayscale images. Rather than capturing true grayscale images, it converts them to halftones. The unit's primary purpose is to convert paper-based text documents into electronic files and to store them efficiently on CD. To this end, the 4050 supports duplex scanning.

One limitation of the 4050 is that it can be controlled only via Canon's integrated driver and scanning software. But the images can easily be imported into other document-management systems.

Canon's $1,008 optional endorser prints indexing information or proof of scanning on documents. There's also a $609 transport case. While the 4050's 40,000-page-per-month duty cycle is on the light side, its unique features make it an attractive, one-box solution for capturing and organizing mountains of paper on CD media.

Canon USA, Inc.; 800-OK-CANON; www.usa.canon.com; $8,395


Kodak Digital Science Scanner 2500

Kodak's Digital Science Scanner 2500 delivers performance that reaches the higher end of general small-business scanning needs. Rated at 50ppm in portrait mode, it's the fastest of our group. The 2500 has an optical resolution of 400dpi and can scan at between 100dpi and 600dpi via interpolation. Its rated duty cycle is a whopping 132,000 pages per month, with a 300-sheet-capacity ADF to match, the largest of our group.

Several features distinguish the Kodak from the pack. First, the black background against which documents are scanned minimizes image bleed-through and facilitates accurate cropping and deskewing. Second, Kodak provides many of the control for scanning into the software, where they can be set from a single interface, thus reducing operator error. Third, Kodak's CD-based multimedia operator's guide contributes to efficient operator training. Finally, Kodak bundles the unit with their Low-Volume Capture Software (LVCS) Lite, an excellent package for plug-and-play scanning.

The Kodak 2500 lacks flatbed capabilities. For thick or delicate documents, there's a straight-through paper path (out the rear of the chassis). Like the Canon, this unit supports duplex scanning. Unlike the Canon, the Kodak can be controlled by any ISIS- or TWAIN-based capture software. Additionally, via the driver software, the LEDs that illuminate the page (usually green) can be toggled to red, which supports processing of red-drop-out forms without a lamp change. Finally, the 2500 offers on-board image processing for capturing cleaner images without impacting scan speed.

The 2500's optional imprinter can add the date or time, a fixed string, or a sequential number to the front or rear of documents. Another handy option is a roller-replacement kit for do-it-yourself replacement of the transport rollers.

The Kodak's duty cycle and predicted 3,000,000-page life span make it a solid contender for service bureaus or businesses that do a lot of document capture. Despite its heavyweight specs, the 2500 weighs in at just under 42 pounds, rendering it relatively portable. The 2500 also presents a fairly small footprint, making it easier to tuck into existing office space.

Eastman Kodak Company; 800-243-8811; www.kodak.com; $8,795


Panasonic KV-S6045W

Panasonic's KV-S6045 is literally a heavyweight scanner (66 pounds) that delivers solid sheet-fed and flatbedperformance. It yields 45ppm throughput in portrait mode and 54ppm when scanning in landscape mode. The 6045W's generous document feeder holds 200 sheets. Its control panel and LED display (on the unit's front) let users tailor scanning functions to accommodate the requirements of each scan job. Most of these functions are duplicated in the scanner drivers as well, making the 6045 flexible and easy to operate.

The 6045W supports duplex scanning and a maximum optical resolution of 400dpi, or 600dpi through interpolation. Its ADF can accommodate documents ranging in size from 2.8 x 6.7 inches to 11 x 17 inches. The unit ships with both ISIS and TWAIN drivers. Panasonic's Image Enhancement Technology for the ISIS driver offers the ability to clean up images during the scan process. This includes adjusting brightness, contrast, gamma, dithering, noise reduction, dynamic thresholding, and more.

Options available for the S6045W include an imprinter that can endorse the front of the documents you scan, and user-replaceable feed rollers for the paper transport to reduce service calls. If you plan to scan at 300dpi or higher resolutions in grayscale mode, plan on asking the vendor to upgrade the provided RAM. The S6045W provides extra slots within the unit for this purpose. Without the extra memory, the unit balks at higher capture settings.

The S6045W can easily support a business needing to scan up to 132,000 pages per month. Its an attractive choice for companies that need to keep costs down, yet plan to scan several thousand documents per day.

Panasonic Corporate Systems; 800-742-8086; www.panasonic.com; $7,999


Ricoh IS450

Ricoh's IS450 is a hefty sheet-fed/flatbed scanner for documents ranging between check size and 11 x 17 inches. The IS450 measures roughly 11.2 x 18 x 26.8 inches and weighs 57 pounds, so you'll want to set it up in the right spot the first time around.

A 150-sheet document feeder and fast throughput rating of 57ppm also spell workhorse. To maximize the unit's flexibility, the IS450 sports a SCSI-2 interface and is bundled with both ISIS and TWAIN drivers. While most OCR software is satisfied with 200dpi or 300dpi, the unit's optical resolution of 400dpi (up to 800dpi interpolated) lets it offer excellent performance when used in flatbed mode. It also delivers up to 8-bit grayscale imaging.

The IS450 is available in simplex and duplex models: the IS450SE and IS450DE, respectively. An optional red-lamp unit ($300) lets users scan and process form-based data, while dropping out the lines and boxes of the form. Also, for processing mixed text and graphics, or scanning documents containing photographs, the $900 image-processing unit provides dynamic thresholding as well as automatic identification and differential processing of text and photographs on the same page.

Making the IS450 much friendlier to occasional scanning than most of the competition is a "Start" button on its front. This lets users initiate a scan without going through software. The IS450 is a solid scanner that offers excellent options and performance. With its 100,000-page-per-month duty cycle, the IS450 should stand up to serious use. If a fast, heavy duty scanner is in order, the Ricoh will deliver the goods for a reasonable price.

Ricoh Corporation; 800-955-3453; www.ricoh-usa.com; $6,795 - $7,695

WHAT WE THINK

Buying a document scanner represents a serious investment, so your choice should be informed by your specific business requirements. For example, consider whether the unit will be moved around among departments or from site to site. If so, the lightweight Canon and Kodak units are a good bet. Canon even offers a transport case.

Consider too the volume of scanning the unit will perform, as well as the types of documents it will have to handle. If high-volume scanning is in the cards, don't buy a unit that's too lightweight. Build in some growing room into the purchase.

Remember that good grayscale performance is important in capturing documents containing photos or other graphic images. If delicate originals will be part of the mix, look for units with flatbed scanning capabilities, such as the Bell and Howell, Panasonic, or Ricoh. If however, the scanner will be dedicated to scanning stacks of documents, a solid and capacious ADF is what matters.

Realize that over time, even the sturdiest of these scanners will eventually break, so you'll want a good warranty and service plan. Check with the vendor as to their service capabilities and what extended plans they offer. Most of the scanners here are sold through authorized dealers or VAR channels.


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