Test lab. (scanners)(includes related articles) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall, Peter Scisco, David Sears, David English, Robert Bixby, Tony Roberts, Tom Benford
Scanners have won their rightful place on the desktop. Publishers no longer have to make do with clip art from third parties, artists are able to transfer their work instantly to electronic formats, and writers can import text from printed sources almost as easily as cutting and pasting it from another application.
The strong demand for low-cost scanning alternatives has resulted in a crowded field of manufacturers and marketers, each trying to outdo the rest by offering convenience and high-powered applications as premiums with the purchase of a hand scanner.
This month's Test Lab covers hand scanners with a focus on graphics. Today's scanner manufacturers offer a wide variety of prices, capabilities, and bundles. Some might include low-cost DOS software; others take advantage of the Windows environment. Some scanners even work with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software. If you see a package here that looks attractive, check with the manufacturer for additional options.
Few peripheral devices place such heavy processing demands on a personal computer as scanners do, and you may discover that installation is not as simple as slipping in a card. Editors found themselves reading installation manuals carefully (for some it was the first time they'd ever had to read one), trying Windows in different modes, editing PIF files, and in one case, trying different computers to make their scanners operate properly. Although scanners are, in the main, user-friendly after installation, more work needs to be done to make them easier to install. Fortunately, most scanners come with free technical support and friendly, helpful support personnel.
Whether you're a teacher, an artist, a writer, or a desktop publisher, if you're in the market for a hand scanner, you've never had more choices or lower costs.
THE COMPLETE HALF-PAGE
Steady-handed I'm definitely not, as the family photo album will clearly show. However, I found that the Complete Half-Page Scanner/GS offers smooth, dependable scanning--and up to 256 shades of gray.
I approached this product evaluation with a combination of eager anticipation and trepidation. On the one hand, I was eager to see how this unimposing device could scan line art for a newsletter or photos for a family history. On the other, I had struggled enough with interrupt and address conflicts to know that I could be letting myself in for some tedious tinkering with DIP switches, jumpers, and software settings. The installation proved to be reasonably easy--default settings worked on one computer but not on another.
This scanner comes with its own special version of Image-In, a Windows program used for both image scanning and image enhancement. Unfortunately, my first attempts at scanning with this product left members of my family looking like the Coneheads, owing to an intermittent blurring effect. Line art I scanned also came out with odd intermittent blurs or "garbage." Some experimenting with Windows settings revealed that this odd effect occurred on my computer only with Windows operating in Standard and Enhanced modes. Running the program in Real mode solved the problem, and my family looked as normal as possible--at least without any appearance of cranial abnormalities.
In combination with the Image-In software, this scanner gives you a number of attractive features. You can scan images with resolutions up to 400 dots per inch or with up to 256 shades of gray, adjust brightness, and manipulate the scanned image in a number of ways. Edit the gray-map; enhance edges; and sharpen, blur, rotate, or flip the image. You can save your scanned images in a number of popular formats, including PCX, TIFF, BMP, and PostScript EPS.
The scanner itself performed well. I found the design comfortable and the controls workable. In addition to the button that initiates the scan, the scanner includes a brightness control, a gray-levels switch, and a resolution switch. For optimal scanning, the resolution and gray levels must be set in concert: To scan at 256 gray scales required that the scanner be set for 100 dpi; to scan at 16 gray scales, 200 dpi; and to scan in monochrome, 300 or 400 dpi.
I found the documentation very good for the most part, offering helpful illustrations, tips, coverage of the available features, and even a short course. Particularly useful to me were the examples of images modified with the program's various features. A section devoted to troubleshooting would be a welcome addition to the next version of the program.
As I managed to use the scanner only in Real mode with my PC, I found it a disadvantage to move from Image-In to a program like WinRix, which requires Enhanced mode. However, I can live with this limitation, and the folks at The Complete PC assure me that this package is designed to to work in Enhanced mode.
The smooth operation, numerous software features, and reliability of The Complete Half-Page Scanner/GS make up for the limitations I experienced. And as I'm not involved in heavy-duty desktop publishing, the price and features suit me well and make this an attractive package.
Are you an aspiring desktop publisher looking for color scanning capabilities, but you don't want to shell out a pile of money for a color flatbed scanner? Take heart. The CHS-4000 Color Handy Scanner from DFI offers full-color desktop scanning capabilities as well as superb black-and-white scanning. It's easy to use and flexible in its operation.
Installation of this scanner is reasonably uncomplicated. The Handy Scanner's bus board plugs into an empty 16-bit slot in your PC. Attach the scanner to the board, and then use the scanner's Exerciser software to scan images and save them in PCX format. The Exerciser program is bare-bones--a simple menu with options for setting the scan mode, vertical and horizontal resolutions, brightness, hue, contrast, dither pattern, gamma correction, and display mode (monochrome, EGA, or VGA). You can also save and load PCX files from the menu, as well as start your scan.
Although very simple compared with full-blown imaging software, the Exerciser software will let you get started with your Handy Scanner right away. And because you can save your files as PCX files, you can import them later into most desktop publishing and illustration programs or convert them to different file formats like TIFF or EPS.
In addition, the Handy Scanner package includes a copy of PC Paintbrush IV Plus, which you can use instead of the scanner's Exercise program; however, you should be aware that PC Paintbrush IV Plus requires an expanded memory driver to work properly. If you're running extended memory in a 386-class PC, you can create expanded memory support by using the EMM386.SYS driver from your DOS directory.
Other system requirements include one megabyte of memory and four megabytes of available hard disk space. You should also have a VGA display capable of 256 colors at 640 x 400 resolution to view the results.
With practice and patience, you'll soon be producing high-quality color scans with the Handy Scanner. The unit itself provides plenty of constructive feedback during operation through its use of LED indicators. And though the software is without frills, it's suitable for grabbing images that can later be enhanced.
Take a quick image-grabbing safari with the GS-B105G, stalking new Windows wallpaper or newspaper articles for the family newsletter. You'll see the merits of a multipurpose scanner.
The GS-B105G scanner will scan in resolutions from 100 to 400 dpi, and in the self-explanatory modes of black-and-white, low dither, high dither, and VGA-true 256 gray scale. You adjust these settings via switches on either side of the scanner. A thumb wheel controls contrast, and an astutely placed start button rounds out the physical controls.
Manipulating images couldn't be simpler, using the included iPhoto software. This Windows application concentrates on processing your raw data through a number of filters. Although color or black-and-white photographs already scan with remarkable clarity and speed thanks to the hardware when set for 256 gray scale, you reserve the right to enhance, average, sharpen, or blur your scanned image. These effects turn your PC into a photo-processing lab.
Most people don't run Windows under true 256-color mode for the sake of speed. To see fair reproductions of your stunning full-gray images, convert them to 16-color BMP files with iPhoto. A nifty iPhoto option makes the step down in quality less noticeable with choices of gray, pseudo color, and firelight (red and yellow scale) remapped palettes. Toy with the Hue and Saturation sliders to tweak the colors into acceptability.
You'll find a second scanning program--a gray-scale version of Color Maestro--bundled with the GS-B105G. This software offers more features common to paint programs and doesn't require Windows to run. I found Color Maestro less satisfactory, though, because of its extreme slowness and constant disk accessing.
How many times have you found yourself with only hardcopies of a document after a terrible hard drive crash? Install the included optical character reader (OCR) software, CAT OCR, and replace your files with a few passes of the GS-B105G. Output your OCR work in WordStar, WordPerfect, and ASCII formats. If CAT OCR's reasonably effective reference font doesn't meet your standards for speed or accuracy, you can build your own specialized font-recognition library. This process takes only minutes.
Windows veterans will need the concise manuals only for advanced work; neophytes will be scanning everything in sight just moments after a cursory reading. A marvel of simplicity and winning design, the speedy GS-B105G software and hardware bundle makes scanning as effortless as using a mouse.
Does anyone really need a color hand scanner? A year or two ago, I would've said that you should consider one only if you're looking to dabble in high-end color desktop publishing. But now with Windows and multimedia playing a larger part in our software lives and high-resolution monitors multiplying like rabbits, we have more ways than ever to use scanned color images.
KYE International offers two inexpensive color-hand scanner packages that let you enter the age of color without having to take out a second mortgage on your house. The $649 GS-C105 package includes a 256-color hand scanner, the DOS-based Color Maestro program, and an interface card. The GS-C105 Plus package costs just $50 more and adds two programs: CAT OCR for OCR text scanning and the Windows-based iPhoto for sophisticated gray-scale and color image manipulation (including support for 24-bit display adapters). While only a masochist would want to do a lot of OCR work with a graphics-based hand scanner, iPhoto adds extra file formats, editing tools, and image-processing capabilities that you might want to take advantage of.
But be warned--you must have expanded memory (also known as EMS or LIM memory) in order to perform 256-color scans. If you don't have expanded memory but you do have DOS 5.0, you can use DOS's built-in expanded memory manager, EMM386, to convert your extended memory to expanded memory. (Put a RAM switch after DEVICE=C:\DOS\EMM386.EXE in your CONFIG.SYS file; check your DOS 5.0 manual for details.) If you don't have DOS 5.0, you can use QEMM-386, 386Max, BlueMax, Turbo EMS, or another expanded memory manager to convert your extended memory to expanded. Without expanded memory, you'll only be able to caputre 2- and 16-color images. In addition, Color Maestro supports many of the higher-resolution modes of the popular Super VGA cards, and iPhoto supports any resolution that's supported by Windows.
Despite unevern documentation and the occasional software glitch, the GeniScan GS-C105 Plus will reward the patient user with excellent-quality color images. For frequent use, consider a $1,200-$2,000 flatbed color scanner. But for occasional use and a relatively inexpensive introduction to color scanning, take a good look at either of KYE's color-scanner bundles.
Plug a scanner into your computer, and you plug into a whole new level of versatility. I've had no regrets since hooking up a Logitech ScanMan Model 256 gray-scale scanner as part of a desktop publishing setup.
Scanning materials for publication is not easy, but Logitech's scanner sports excellent controls and includes Ansel, an outstanding image editor.
ScanMan installs easily, with the only stumbling block being possible conflicts with I/O base addresses and IRQs. The ScanMan adapter board fits in either an 8-bit or a 16-bit slot, but using the latter is preferred because it permits the ScanMan to use IRQ 11 or 12. This ensures you'll avoid conflicts with mouse and COM ports, but if trouble arises, you'll find plenty of help in the manual.
Once you have installed the system, fire up Windows, run Ansel, calibrate your scanner, and start scanning.
Scanner controls include a resolution switch, to select resolutions ranging from 100 to 400 dpi; an image mode switch, to choose either black-and-white mode or 16-, 64-, or 256-gray-scale modes; and a contrast dial, to minimize problems in your original. ScanMan also includes a scan speed indicator to help you avoid losing data by scanning too fast.
Working with black-and-white line art is less difficult than working with gray-scale images, but the image-editing software provides excellent tools for both.
Once an image is scanned, Ansel permits you to enlarge the image and modify it pixel by pixel. A black-and-white logo scanned for use in a newsletter or brochure cleans up nicely with Ansel.
Ansel also allows you to rotate, flip, and crop images; and the software includes a "deskew" option that helps you straighten an imperfectly scanned image. Gray-scale images can be lightened, darkened, sharpened, smoothed, or equalized. By working with a combination of these tools, you can produce images that look beautiful--on your computer monitor. Transferring these images to the printed page with satisfactory contrast and clarity takes experimentation.
Printing controls are extensive. If your printer allows it, you can print the gray scales, or you have the option of using dithering or error diffusion to simulate gray shades. You have full control over output size, and you can select from a series of borders if you'd like your artwork framed.
Exporting to other applications is easily accomplished. Files can be saved in TIFF, EPS, PCX, and BMP formats. In saving your files, you can control the resulting document's dpi and image size.
Although ScanMan's scanning window is only four inches wide, larger documents can be accommodated using Ansel's stitch feature, which permits you to scan items in segments and match the segments up onscreen. It's not easy, but with a steady hand and some practice, you can put together seamless images.
The ScanMan 256 gray-scale scanner hardware/software combination is a solid value and a worthy desktop publishing tool.
For black-and-white scanning, this Marstek model provides adequate, if not exceptional, capabilities. It boasts several good features, such as easy installation and sound software support. But those features must be balanced against weak documentation and unimpressive use of the Windows environment.
The M-800W will scan at 800-dpi resolution, an impressive capability for desktop publishers and others looking for high-quality images to enhance their documents and publications. The size of the image to be scanned is limited by your computer's memory--I recommend at least four megabytes of system memory. If you run an expanded memory driver, the size of the images can be somewhat larger than if you're running extended memory.
Other system requirements include Windows, but here, too, there are limits. You can run the scanner software only in Real or Standard mode, which defeats the purpose of a multitasking environment (unless you limit yourself to running only Windows applications--perhaps a possibility for desktop publishers who might live exclusively in the Windows environment).
Although the installation process is rather straightforward (insert a bus card into your computer, plug the scanner into the card, and then install the Image-In software), the overall documentation isn't nearly clear or complete enough.
The manual covering the hardware runs a brief seven pages. There is no troubleshooting section, nor is there any clear indication of how interrupts or DMA conflicts are to be resolved. I experienced parity errors on my system until I managed to reconfigure the hardware by trial and error--not exactly the way you want to approach a problem involving high-tech hardware such as a hand scanner. The Image-In software documentation is little better, apparently having been either translated or written outside of the United States.
As for performance, the M-800W produces well-defined black-and-white halftones from color originals and produces very good images of line art. The scanner also can import text, provided you have software like Perceive Personal, available from Marstek for $695 (a coupon included with the M-800W allows you to purchase the OCR software for $129).
If you don't require a top-of-the-line scanner for your black-and-white images or line art or if your budget excludes the top-end scanners from your system, the Marstek M-800W may suit your needs. You'll have to live within some limitations, but if you can accept the boundaries, this scanner will expand your graphic horizons.
Are you looking for great color capabilities in a hand-held scanner? Migraph's color scanner goes so far above and beyond what most hand scanner users would want or need, delivering a 4096-color scan at 200 dpi (fixed), that it's a little disappointing to discover that the second-best scan is 8 colors at 400 dpi (you can set the scanner to any multiple of 10 dpi between 100 and 400 for all scan levels but the 4096-color scan).
This 8-color scan is called color line art. The scanner is capable of scanning monochrome line art, also. There are settings for color and monochrome dithered graphics as well, but these didn't work properly on my machine, and technical support was at a loss to speculate as to why. The 4096-color images can be saved as 256-color images to save some space.
The software that accepts and displays the scanned image is a very simple Windows program that does little more than give you access to the necessary software settings for the different levels of scanning. You can set resolution and adjust your color settings to make the scanned image more realistic.
The scanner is shipped with Picture Publisher, which used to be published by Astral but is now a Micrografix program. Unfortunately, drivers are not available that would allow the scanner to scan directly into Picture Publisher. In order to transfer the image between the two programs, you must store it on disk or transfer it via the Clipboard (Picture Publisher is also a Windows program). I found this to be a terrific bother and was often presented with insufficient memory and insufficient disk space messages while trying to effect the transfer. The CS-4096 also ships with ImagePrep, a screenn-capture, file-conversion and -compression, and image-processing program.
The CS-4096 blinks its lights if you scan too rapidly. This is one enhancement I'd like to see added to all hand scanners. Most give so little feedback that hand scanning is pure trial and error. The installation is simple and strighforward, and (though this experience may be unique to me) for once I didn't have to change jumpers to make a board work. Somehow Migraph had set the jumpers to work perfectly with the IRQs and DMAs in even my fully packed computer.
The principal use of this scanner (particularly its 4096-color scan) would be preparing images and backgrounds for presentations on the computer screen. The lesser levels are useful and provided clear images, but the software used to capture these images can be cumbersome, and you must use more than one software package to create things like 256 gray scales. By the time you read this, the product will probably be shipping with the new, award-winning version of Picture Publisher. I hope that a driver will also be available that will capture images into that program so that they will be immediately useful.
The PageBrush/Color hand scanner puts full-color desktop scanning within reach of PC publishers and desktop graphic artists. Supporting both 24-bit color scanning and 8-bit black-and-white scanning, this unit proves itself both versatile and easy to operate.
Installation consists of plugging a bus board into an empty 16-bit slot in your PC. Attach the scanner to the board; then install the ImageQuest scanner software. Using the PageBrush/Color requires Windows 3.0, which simplifies the installation process. Other system requirements include one megabyte of memory, a VGA display capable of 256 colors at 640 X 400 resolution (for best results, your video board should have a Windows driver, and Windows should be set to 256-color mode), and a hard disk with a minimum of four megabytes of free space.
An LED indicating the scanner's resolution flashes when the scanner is activated. It stops flashing when the scanner is warmed up.
Welcome feedback is supplied as you operate this device. If you happen to move the scanner too quickly, the top Mode light blinks. The light will go off if you have lost any part of the image data because of unsure or too-quick movements. If this happens, you'll have to begin the scanning process again.
If you create a black-and-white scan, you can select from five levels of resolution--from pure black-and-white and four modes of dithered gray scales. Experimenting with the setting will let you translate color images into clear black-and-white images for simple desktop publishing chores. Color images are scanned in 12-bit color, which can be saved as 24-or 12-bit color TIFF files or as MAC files.
Effective image capture and processing requires not just a good scanner and software but also flexibility in processing the scanned images. To that end, Mouse Systems includes a copy of ImagePrep from Computer Presentations with the PageBrush/Color scanner. This software package allows you to process your images professionally. Using ImagePrep in conjunction with the scanning software allows you to enhance and fine-tune scanned images and save those images in a variety of formats--including EPS, PCX, CPI, TIFF, and others.
The PageBrush/Color scanner produces adequate scanned images for use in a variety of applications. Its ease-of-use is enhanced by solid image-processing software. With practice, you can soon be creating full-color images for business presentations, desktop publishing, graphic illustration, or multimedia applications.
I had the good fortune to be assigned the NISCAN/GS gray-scale hand scanner for this review. A very workmanlike product, this scanner was comfortable in the hand and generated images of high quality at up to 256 gray scales.
The NISCAN/GS ships with Image-In, a software product with which I have had a love-hate relationship for some time. It's extremely powerful software that (to me, anyway) seems dedicated to preventing me from doing what I want to do. Although I've worked with it for some time, I still find myself saving images and working with them in another program simply because the other program is easier to use.
This difficulty doesn't extend to the scanning tools in Image-In, however. The scanning tools, including a very useful preview window, are designed perfectly to allow you to make settings, capture an image in one of several resolutions, save it, and then work with it in another program. I regret spending so much space talking about the software that accompanies the scanner, but so much of the scanning experience is directly related to the usability of the software that you simply can't ignore it. And this is particularly true of the Nisca product because the scanner has only one control on it: a push button to hold down while actively scanning. Beyond saying that the scanner is comfortable and looks solidly built, there is little to say about the product itself.
Image-In allows you to set the horizontal and vertical resolutions independently, between 100 and 400 dpi, providing for some interesting distortions. It provides for monochrome (purely black-and-white), three different kinds of dithering, and 4- and 80bit gray-scale scanning (16 and 256 shades of gray, respectively). You can adjust brightness and contrast. The preview was my favorite feature, however. Seeing a bad scan as it's happening is a great help in learning to hold your hand steady and pull the scanner across the image smoothly and at the right speed.
The software allows you to save the image in several different formats, including PCX, TIFF, Windows bitmap, MacPaint, EPS, Microsoft Paint, EyeStar, and GEM Paint. You can save images at any resolution and at any scaled size. If the file format supports compression, Image-In will compress the saved image.
Installation was simple, and I had little trouble operating the NISCAN/GS, thanks to Image-In.
Sharp's JX-100 is neither a flatbed scanner nor a hand-held scanner but a marriage of the two, inheriting both strengths and weaknesses in the bargain.
With its 3.93 x 6.29 inch scanning area, the JX-100 almost fills a VGA screen with vibrant 256-
The scanner output samples for both the line-art and the photo images were generated using a setting of 200 dpi (dots per inch). We set light/dark controls on all scanners for the midrange point. For all line-art scans, we used the black-and-white or line-art setting, where available; for all photo scans, we used the photo or gray-scale setting. When storing scanned images, we used PCX files where possible.
Output width was set at five inches for all images to make comparisons equal. The images received no retouching, alteration, or cleanup of any kind--they were outputted exactly as they were scanned. Incomplete or "clipped" images reflect a scanner's maximum capture area at 200 dpi in a single-pass scan.
EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
USED FOR OUTPUT SAMPLES
To produce the output samples you see here, we used a 25-MHz 80386-DX computer with 4MB of RAM, a 1MB Super VGA video adapter (Tseng chip set), an analog color monitor, and a Microsoft mouse. For image capute, we used the scanning software supplied with each scanner. To ensure accurate and even scanning, we used SCAN:ALIGN from SCAN:ALIGN, Inc.
A cartoon, measuring 4 x 4 inches, of a girl at a computer served as the master image for black-and-white line-art scanning. The source for this image was Dover Clip Art from Alde Publishing' SpectrumCD-ROM. A borderless color photograph, measuring 3 1/2 x 5 inches, of the nation's Capitol served as the master photo image for gray-scale/halftone scanning. color after you issue a single command. Like full-size flatbed scanners, the JX-100 requires time to work its magic--sometimes several minutes' and several passes' worth. For this reason, you'll want to take advantage of the prescan option that can display the image to be scanned in speedier gray scale or black-and-white. Or better yet, just peer through the transparent acrylic view port in the top of the scanner.
For documents too small or too awkward to comfortably accommodate the scanner, though, you'll need to turn the JX-100 face up and rely on the prescan mode to position the subject for proper scanning.
Unlike a hand scanner, the JX-100 scans neatly every time. You don't have to drag the scanner over the image, so it's impossible for the scanner to slip and make annoying errors.
This collor scanner doesn't take up any of your computer's valuable expansion slots, but if you don't have a PS/2 mouse or an extra serial port, you'll have to do your scanning with no mouse at all-the JX-100 uses a serial port. Thankfully, ColorLab, the bundled Windows-based scanning software, provides for just such situations with reasonable keyboard support. You might miss using your mouse, but the fun of color scanning offers some compensation.
ColorLab supplies you with the essential image-processing tools of scaling, antialiasing, and dithering. For image filters you can choose from Sharpen, Smooth, Remove Noise, Enhance Edges, and Trace Contour--also fairly standard effects. You may save images in a variety of formats including BMP, CPI, TGA, RIFF, PCX, GIF, and DVA. The dpi setting defaults to 200, but with the Zoom option, it's possible for you to adjust down to 50 or up to 400. The JX-100 has no switches, buttons, or thumb wheels--all scanning adjustments are made using the software.
The JX-100's vinyl slipcover lets you pack the scanner along with your laptop, and its light weight makes it a welcome stand-in for a less portable flatbed scanner. Charge the ni-cads in the laptop and hit the library! All those reference books with gorgeous color pictures that you always wanted to scan but could never check out to take to the nearest flatbed--scan them tomorrow. The small but powerful JX-100 fairly begs to accompany you on your next image-collecting excursion.