Buyer’s Guide To Flatbed Scanners

Getting digital images is easy with a right scanner. Nowadays, printing productions and websites demand huge numbers of digital images for easy modification, interactive presentation, and professional look of their final products. A reliable and affordable scanner helps out the need both for home and corporation requirement. Among different types of scanner, there is a high preference for flatbed scanner for its working performance, size, and affordable price even for the lower consumer level.

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Flatbed scanner incorporates speed and quality into one package. The most common purpose of buying a scanner is to scan pictures and small objects into digital files, and get a close resemblance of the digital image with its original picture. It means, a scanner should be able to identify and produce colors as vivid as the object or image. Clear image is important, as people need to modify, resize, adjust the color, or combine with other images for creative needs, without sacrificing the quality. Most flatbed scanners meet this purpose.

Before buying one, a customer needs to know what he or she wants to do with the scanner, how he/she will mostly use it, and the price he/she needs to pay for high-end result. The best choice of the currently available flatbed scanners is also related to the price. For simple use of scanning images, photographs, and small three-dimensional objects, flatbed scanners have some advantages: with the reasonable size of scanning surface, flatbed scanners can scan most printed images or texts, and three-dimensional objects into size up to eight to ten inches or even larger; costs cheaper that quality film scanners, and fast to produce pictures to share in emails or the web.

Factors to Consider

Freed (2002) and Keverline (2002) determined the key factors to consider before buying a scanner:

1. Optical Resolution

Resolution is the number of pixels in an image, which usually is measured in pixel per inch (ppi) or dot per inch (dpi). Keverline said, “The more pixels, the more picture information, and the better the quality of the image.” A scanner makes an estimation of pixel numbers from the colors of the scanned object or figure. The resolution number shown on the scanner manual usually gives the information about the maximum optical resolution, or the maximum resolution the scanner can manage.

The user needs to determine the different purpose he/she wants from the scanner. Most web images require 100 dpi resolutions, while for text recognizing, they demand 300 dpi. If the user needs to scan larger documents as a whole, he or she probably needs scanners that provide bigger optical resolution, ranging from 1200 to 2400 dpi.

For most graphic design purpose, digital photography, or other purpose that will require image modification later, determining resolution is important for the final result. An image copy will be stored in high resolution for further modification. When the image is enlarged, the pixels will spread out into fewer numbers per inch, reducing the accuracy of colors for entire viewing. If the user starts storing the image with fewer pixels, the modified one will be blur in the viewing. So that the more pixels stored, the decrease of the accuracy will be controlled, and the picture modification remains clear and brilliant as the original file looks.

However, it is important to know that the more pixels stored, the more space the file will consume in the hard disk. Keverline stated, a standard whole document size of 1200 dpi might even take 17 MB of file size. The scanning process takes more time up here, and it is certainly not recommended to store the image that way for web presentation or image files on the website since it will be slow to load.

2. Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is the capability of a scanner to see tones thoroughly. The tones usually range from white to black. Keverline (2002) said, “The greater the scanner’s dynamic range, the more subtle will be the detail that the scanner is able to render in shadowy or bright areas of a picture.” It usually determined in 0- to 4-scale number.

A scanner with at least 1200 dpi and 48-bit color depth gives demanding users the most image-editing flexibility.

3. Color Depth

The more colors a scanner can identify, the higher performance and accuracy a scanner has, because it will be able to produce identical copy of the scanned image; therefore this is another important factor to look for. The number indicates the number of bits per pixel. The range also varies; fortunately many scanners have 36 or more color depth, even though many pictures only support 24-bit images. For moderate corporation use with high color accuracy requirement, usually 48-color depth works well.

4. Interface

Flatbed scanners have different port type to connect with the computer. The type of the port also determines the speed of the connection and scanning process. The newest series are issue with Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), which provides fast connection. However, if the computer hardware does not support these types for the absence of such port available on the motherboard (such as because the computer is from older series in the late 1990s), parallel ports would be the better choice, unless, the owner needs to install additional USB port. Freed (2002) reports that the current models mostly come in USB 2.0 interface.

5. Transparency adapter

Although film scanners mostly are more practical and produce higher qualities to scan color negatives and slide, they usually come in high price, which is ineffective to buy unless it is for professional photographers’ or print production’ uses. General flatbed scanners can convert into film scanners when the unit is provided with transparency adapter. It adds the scanning options with film scan capability using the same device.

Usually transparency adapter can be set on the lid of the scanner, or comes as a component that used independently outside the unit. Using a “separate module” is a better choice since it would let the scanner thin and leave out some space for an automatic document feeder.

6. Automatic Document Feeder

It is a type of accessories that would be very useful for high frequency scanning usage, such as documents scanning in corporation, or when the user wants to scan a lot of images at once. The Automatic Document Feeder is sold separately or comes together as a package in the unit.

Recommended Products

Below is the review of some flatbed scanners that currently reach the top positions in peripherals market, along with their specifications. The review was made based on the observation of two major computing sites PC World and ZD Net, which often make tests on hardware working performance. Most scanners come with software bundle, which puts the user at ease that it is not necessary to browse for another image editing program. The programs also enable image saving to different file types.

1. Epson Perfection 2450 Photo

Epson Perfection 2450 Photo ranked first both in the recent ZD Net and August 2002 PC World flatbed scanner review. The price ranges from $298.00-$429.00 in both sites’ offer, which is reasonable for small corporations.

The scanner comes with 2400 to 4800 dpi maximum optical resolution, is able to scan up to standard paper size (8.5 to 11.7-inch scan area), a built-in transparency unit, and completed with Adobe Photoshop Elements software bundle, and USB 2.0, FireWire ports. The model performs average scanning speed. However, it does not have an automatic document feeder.

2. Microtek ScanMaker 4900

It is also a best buy for a small-office scanner with four stars based on PC World review August/September 2002. The scanner has 2400 to 4800 dpi maximum optical resolution, scans standard letter paper size, with USB 1.1 port and Adobe Photodeluxe 4.0 and Abbyy FineReader Sprint OCR software bundles. The model is also equipped with transparency adapter. Current price ranges from $122 to $163.

3. Epson Perfection 1660 Photo

This is another best buy tested; with four and half stars based on December 2002 test at PC World review and the third position of ZD Net review. The maximum optical resolution is 1600 to 3200, with maximum scan area 8.5 by 11.7. The model brings ArcSoft PhotoImpression and NewSoft Presto OCR software and a transparency adapter unit. It is connected using USB 2.0/USB 1.1 port model. There is no automatic document feeder unit. This model is reported to have fast working performance with sharp result, especially for medium resolution (600 dpi). Price ranges from 143.00 to $183.00.

4. Canon CanoScan Lide 30

Canon often launches slim and elegant scanner models, which will be suitable for limited office space. For the specification, the product has 1200 to 2400 dpi maximum optical resolution and scans standard scan area like the other reviewed models, comes with USB 1.1 port and ArcSoft PhotoStudio and ScanSoft OmniPage SE software bundle. The price range is lowest from all reviewed scanners here, from $79 to $116. Although it is cheap, it has high color accuracy and produces brilliant result. The model however scans quite slower than the others do, and does not come with transparency adapter.

Among those products reviewed above, again, users need to specify what they want to do and how they will work mostly with the scanners they buy. For students, home, and small corporation uses, which do not demand a very large amount of work at a time, the Epson Perfection 1660 Photo seems to be sufficient. With quite inexpensive price, the model has transparency adapter unit, fast, and gives sharp result. However, if the users need to scan loads of papers, they might need to consider finding a product with an automatic document feeder unit, which probably costs more.


50 Most Popular Scanners. ZDNet Shopper. Web site:

Freed, R. Buyers’ Guide to Scanners. 2002. PC World Magazine September 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002 from PC World Online Edition. Web site:,aid,102514,pg,2,00.asp

Freed, R. Top Ten Scanners. December 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002 from PC World Review. Web site:,aid,106196,00.asp

Keverline, A. Understanding Scanners. 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002. MSN Photos Quick Shots. Web site:

Lowrie, C. K and Jon Canfield. Get the Most from Your Scanner. 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002 from MSN Photos’ Photographer’s Notebook. Web site:

Keverline, A. Understanding Scanners. 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002. MSN Photos Quick Shots. Web site:

Freed, R. Top Ten Scanners. December 2002. Retrieved December 8, 2002 from PC World Review. Web site:,aid,106196,00.asp