Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Scan! Pt. 1 Picking a Scanner

Well, well, well. I take my eye off the ball, look up, and see it’s been three months since my last post, my apologies. Last time I promised an exploration of the term “pulp”, and I will get to that sometimes murky question soon, but today I’ve set aside an hour or few for something I probably should have done long ago, a post on how to scan a magazine. I’ve received numerous inquiries into my methods, and I am more than happy to share some thoughts on the scanning process. I will try and keep it simple and stick to the basics, but please excuse if I geek out here and there. Also please remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and opinions vary widely on the best way to produce a great scan. Let me preface all this, also, with the caveat that scanning is a very strange pursuit and will not be for everyone. Most people who do it really have a passion for the material they scan or for the idea of sharing their books because they have enjoyed reading scans from others. And then are those strange characters who, like me, enjoy the process and find it a relaxing pastime.

The Machine

Most people that decide they want to try and make a scan will just use whatever machine they have on hand, and that’s a-ok. But if you are going to be scanning often, it is worth a little time in choosing the right scanner to suit your purposes. If you scan for long enough, you will likely figure out that scanners, like many electronic devices, are basically disposable. The cost of servicing a scanner (replacing the bulb and tuning-up) with shipping costs is usually about as much as just buying a new one. Some signs of a dying scanner are red or yellow lines (which can be just a sign that a fiber has gotten stuck to your bulb and that the bulb and mirror need to be cleaned by using compressed air or a swab with a bit of alcohol on it), fading or uneven blacks, or prominent moiré patterns that were not there before. If your scanner is dying, getting a new one is preferable to the editing gymnastics necessary to fix the image, and some raw scans just cannot be helped. Put that lame horse out to pasture, eh?

There are basically four options I’d consider when picking a scanner. A standard flatbed, an “edge” model, an A3 (oversized) flatbed scanner, and a photo scanner.

A4 flatbeds are by far what most of the scanners out there are using. As a general rule, I’d stay away from all-in-one units (scanner plus printer), as I had a rough time with my first HP all-in-one, and the raws I’ve seen from all-in-one units generally are lower quality than a standalone scanner. The main two brands that scanners use are Epsons and Canons. For a majority of my scans, I use the Epson v300, and, when it dies, I will probably check out the v500 (which is faster). The v300 is the scanner that I am recommending as the best all-purpose scanner. The pros: long-life (McCoy is still on his first v300 and I’d guess closing in on 1000 magazine scans), sharp raws, software that is very compatible across operating systems, the option to scan film, and an affordable cost. The cons: pre-scan settings require a lot of tweaking and the scanner glass is sunk in to the unit a bit making a ridge than can crease pages when the lid is closed if you are scanning loose leafs.

“Edge” scanner - Here I’m talking about the Plustek Opticbook 3600 which I assume has the patent on the edge design, otherwise other manufacturers would surely be using it. The edge scanner is built so that a book can hang off the edge, so that you can scan books without spine shadow with little damage to the binding. A pic so you can see what I’m talking about.

You do lose about 1/8th to a ¼ of an inch of the page at the spine, but this is really a great feature for scanning books and especially for minimizing damage while scanning pulps. I’m on my second plustek and use it when I need the edge feature (I use it mainly for the high grade or expensive pulps). The pros: besides the edge design, this scanner sports a blazing fast speed of seven seconds for a full sized page at 300 dpi. You will be hard-pressed to keep up with the thing. Also, this machine gives perfect color on your raws every time. No pre-scan tweaking is necessary, and I think the software is generally marvelous (though, I have heard that finding the right driver for newer operating systems can be a pain). The cons: cost and durability – Almost every single scanner I know who has bought one ends up seeing lines in their raws at a year or before, so the bulb life is a big problem. The scanner costs about $250 bucks, so this is pretty much unacceptable. Add to this that their customer service is poor and the turnaround on getting a machine serviced is often months (and they don’t even always get it right the first time), and I tend to warn people away from this machine. That said, I know a few guys that have bought another after their first died out of warranty (1 year). An incredible but flawed machine.

A3 Scanners are a good choice if you are going to be working with over-sized magazines or will be using your scanner to scan in canvasses and the like. Pretty much the only affordable A3 is the Mustek USB 1200 (@$150, the next step up is about a grand). Pros: it’s an A3, you can scan big mags or tabloids or two pages at a time on smaller publications. Cons: Clunky software and driver, lack of a scan button (you have to use a graphic interface on your computer), middling image quality, slow speeds. Despite these cons, I like having a Mustek. I do not recommend it as a primary scanner, though, unless you will be scanning large items.

Camera scanners – I’m not very familiar with these, but here’s what they look like. This is a picture of a professional-make (there are at least a couple of companies that make these, this is just the first one I could find, I make no recommendation having never used it)

And here is a DIY model:

You can find out more about these DIY makes from this site which has all sorts of designs and is where people come together to talk about new designs. Though I probably would never move away from my flatbed scanners, I think what these folks are doing is very cool.

Pros: Blazing fast speeds, no damage to the book. Cons: Image quality, problems with curvature and glare, the professional makes are expensive. The scans I’ve seen made with photo scanners are almost uniformly of a lesser quality, though I have seen a scanner or two achieve excellent results with their own makes.

My blogging time’s up for today, and I’ve hardly covered any ground, surprise, surprise. Back tomorrow with more “how to”…

1 comment:

Uncle Dave said...

Awesome primer on the wonderful world of scanners. I too just suffered the apparently inevitable loss of my Plustek, and replaced it with the Epson V300 based on the recommendation of you and a couple other scanners. Love this blog!