written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 7/5/2011
Scanners seem like such simple objects. You think you should be able to clean the glass, pop in a picture, and scan the image without any problem. As you know though, the art of scanning isn’t always that straightforward.
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Scanners use a lot of system resources and tend to hang, scanned files can be quite large and unmanageable, and the quality can be less than stellar. Lines in images are common in older scanners, as is the inability to make out what’s been scanned, especially if it’s a newspaper clipping or something similar.
You can get better performance and better scans. You can change the resolution, get updated drivers, and allow the scanner to have enough system resources to function properly.
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It’s Not Always About the Resolution
Most people new to scanning think if they scan at the highest resolution their scanner will allow, they’ll be getting the best output possible. That’s not necessarily true; you should consider why you’re scanning first and then configure the resolution based on those needs. If you’re scanning for printing, you’ll be concerned with image size; if you’re scanning for output to a computer monitor, you’ll be concerned with your screen size and its resolution. Either way, choosing the highest resolution only guarantees you’ll produce a huge file; it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the best image.
Consider this, you scan an image at the highest resolution your scanner will allow, and when you open it to view it on your monitor, it’s way too big for the screen. You have to use the scrollbars to view the entire images. That’s not the best output possible. Additionally, if your goal is to scan an image and e-mail it, you’re not going to make the recipient very happy if it takes ten minutes to download to their PC. So resolution is a compromise between size, quality, and how you’ll output the image once it’s scanned.
Tip: The quality of an image improves with a higher resolution, but only to a point. Increasing the resolution after that only makes the image unwieldy and too large to work with effectively. If your goal is to scan in an image so that you can e-mail it, make sure that you scan the image in a lower resolution, and before you e-mail the image file, make sure you double-check the file size. The last thing you want to do is gunk up a friend’s computer by trying to e-mail them a 10 MB file. Believe it or not, this happens quite frequently.
The math and science involved in choosing the right resolution for an image is intense. If you’d like to learn about the math involved in choosing the correct resolution for the correct scanned image and desired output, there are plenty of Internet sites devoted to it, as well as a myriad of books. You may also want to brush up on some of the math involved if you plan to get serious! For now though, keep the following guidelines in your head when scanning:
*If you’re scanning an image to print and email, scan at 300 or 600 dpi.
*If you’re scanning a document you want to fax, scan at about 200 dpi and choose Line Art.
*If scanning an image for a Web site or for e-mailing, scan at 72 dpi.
*If you need to enlarge a small picture, scan at between 600 or 800 dpi.
*If scanning to view on your computer monitor, try first scanning at 300 dpi, then 600 dpi.
These tips should help you produce scans that are better suited for your specific applications. If you still aren’t getting the output you want though, visit www.scantips.com; it’s fantastic. At this website, you’ll find a number of tips and insights for scanning images.
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Make Sure the Scanner Has What It Needs
There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for the scanner to finish and later finding out the whole system has hung up and isn’t doing anything. While this can be due to scanning at an abnormally high resolution, it can just as well be a corrupt or outdated driver. You can see if it’s the latter by going to the manufacturer’s Web site and checking for a newer one. Scanners aren’t like a lot of PCs; with a scanner you can actually look right on the scanner case or lid and see the model number, the company name, and often even the Web site address. A quick check at the manufacturer’s Web site will let you know if your scanner problems are driver related.
Finally, for better scans, let the scanner have all of the resources it needs. This means refraining from rendering a movie in Movie Maker or performing resource-intense image editing in Photoshop while you’re trying to scan an image. Your scanner will thank you.