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Roundup: Scanners

Product Survey: Scanners

Our Tests

First, we time our scanners as they're making a preview scan, and then at 96, 300, 600, 1200 and 2400 dpi. Then, we try to remove halftones from a magazine article, and finally we try out color and black-and-white photos.

To check the accuracy of colors, we analyze a series of photos that we know well (you can find the results in each test) and check how the colors vary using two Kodak test cards. That gives us two parallel views of the scanner's performance: one subjective, based on how the scan looks to us; and the other objective, based on the values measured from our test card.

This roundup includes products released within one year preceding the publication date of this article. The product selection consists solely of review units made available to Tom’s Guide by vendors. While the products listed here do not constitute a comprehensive listing of all products in the category, they do represent a broad range of what is available to consumers in this category. We will quickly update this roundup with new products as they become available to Tom’s Guide, and soon add data relating to product specifications and test dates. In other words, these roundups are a work in progress. Please check back frequently to see what’s new.

Stand-alone scanners aren't nearly as popular as they used to be now that the majority of multifunction printers now include one. That said, some still want a scanner that can handle negative scanning and high-resolution work. If that's the case, then which is the best standalone scanner for you?

Scanners are largely used for making digital copies of documents and photos, but sometimes you need to add text to a document orscan negatives/film.  As always, though, there's a big difference in quality from one model to the next.  The scanners we've tested so far already show variations in size, speed and accuracy.

Today, multifunction printers always include a scanner.  So why look for one elsewhere?  A standalone scanner costs around $100--or the same price as a multifunction printer.  Well, as we mentioned above, it's all about how fast and how well it can digitize documents and photos, and about the extra options like negative scanning.

Expensive = Better?  Not necessarily ...

In terms of the different ranges available, if you want to spend at or below $100, you're looking at scanners for home use - so you can't expect excellent quality (although we have found some excellent surprises).

Beyond that, we move into the professional domain, and at $300 and above, you find products aimed at photographers and graphic designers.  The needs of personal and professional users are not necessarily the same.

In general, what the average consumer needs is a scanner that's not too big (can fit a standard or legal sheet of paper), fast at performing a quick prescan and then capable of producing decent quality scans at 76/96 dpi (for web graphics), 300 dpi (to reproduce photos full-size) and 600 dpi (to enlarge photos 4x).  For all of these tasks, the scanner in a multifunction printer will often suffice.

Professionals, on the other hand, place less emphasis on speed, and are more demanding about the quality of their scans.  They need the most accurate colors possible and the minimum of automatic retouching to produce faithful representations of their original images or artwork.

That, at least, is the theory.  In practice, we found things to be a lot more complicated, and even discovered one entry-level scanner that produced better results than professional models.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves: our collection of scanner product tests will soon grow. For the time being, though, we have a handful of entry-level options, and we'll be looking at some 'professional' models soon ...