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Ten tips

Image-conscious? Buy a scanner that's right for you

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002

By adding a scanner to your computer work station at home, you'll be able to scan photos, documents and drawings, and e-mail them to friends and family. It's not too difficult to score a scanner for free these days when you buy a personal computer, but if you don't already have one and you're not in the mood to buy a new PC, you can find a good scanner for a relatively small outlay of cash.

1. ASSESS YOUR NEEDS. The price of a scanner will depend on its resolution, or the level of detail it's able to capture. For about $100, a scanner will provide a resolution of 600 dots per inch, or dpi. For about $200, you can get 1,200-dpi resolution. Scanning photos generally requires only 300 dpi, so you likely won't have to spend too much unless you're a graphics professional or a photographer, or want to enlarge an image dramatically.

2. FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT FLATBED SCANNERS. Flatbeds, which look like the top of a photocopier, are the most popular for scanning a variety of images. You place the item you want to scan on a flat pane of glass and cover it with a plastic top. Be aware that scanning multiple documents in this manner can be a slow and laborious process.

3. HAVE YOU FED YOUR SCANNER TODAY? Sheetfed scanners have a document feeder that pulls individual pages across the scanning device. This makes it easier to scan a stack of documents, but most models can't scan anything thicker than a single sheet of paper, and the image quality isn't as high as with a flatbed scanner.

4. FILM-ONLY SCANNERS ARE GOOD FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS. If you primarily need to scan negatives and slides, opt for a dedicated film scanner, which scans at a high resolution and generally costs $400 or more.

5. RECOGNIZE THE LIMITATIONS OF FILM ADAPTERS. A number of general-use scanners come with film-scanning accessories that allow you to place slides or negatives over the scanner's glass window, but they typically result in low-quality images. You'd get better results by scanning a print.

6. CONSIDER A COMBO DEAL. You also can shop around for multifunction models, which combine a scanner, printer and fax modem.

7. MAKE GOOD CONNECTIONS. Most scanners can be connected to your computer via the universal serial bus, or USB, port. If your computer doesn't have one, buy a scanner that can be connected to a parallel port.

8. THINK ABOUT SOFTWARE. Any scanner you purchase will come with software so you can operate it. Many Macintosh-compatible models include software for both Macs and PCs, but they don't always offer the same programs for both platforms.

9. BE WARY OF COLOR DEPTH CLAIMS. Don't spend more for 42-bit color depth, a measure of the number of colors the scanner can recognize. Most models scan at least 36-bit color depth, and then the scanner's software usually reduces the color depth to 24-bit, which is definitely ample.

10. RESOLVE YOURSELF NOT TO FALL FOR HYPE. It's also not worth your money to spend more for "interpolated" resolution. The only type of resolution that matters is optical resolution.

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Consumer Reports (; MSN eShop (

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