Published in New England Printing and Publishing 2002  © Ron Ellis



What’s new in scanning for small and mid-size printers

By Ron Ellis


One question small and mid-sized printers often ask is “what do I about scanning?”

Deciding how your shop will manage and offer scanning services can be confusing. There are so many choices and types of scanners that researching scanners can be overwhelming. The scanner and the services associated with it can be an important part of the printing services offered, so it is paramount that printers be armed with information to help them in their choice of a scanner. Is it worth investing money in an expensive scanner, or will an inexpensive scanner perform just as well?

With all the advances in desktop technology, nobody seems to talk very much about scanning. One reason is that a printer’s customers now do much more of their own scanning and rely on printers to do it less.

Cost of any equipment is always a primary concern to printers. For purposes of this discussion and the type of work to be performed, it is best to break scanner costs into three categories, low-end, medium quality, and high-end.


Low-end scanners

            The first category is low-end desktop flatbed scanners, which means using low-cost consumer flatbed scanners. These are flatbed scanners and can be as inexpensive as $50, but are typically no higher than $1,800, with the average price being somewhere between $300 and $1200.

These scanners can be bought at a Staples of through a company like PC Connection.

Typical names of manufacturers are Epson, Umax, Microtech, and others.

These scanners are good for lower quality jobs. And while it is possible that someone who is really good at color and has some time to spend, may get a good reflective scan out of it, the quality will be too low for most printers. These scanners work best on reflective art, but should not be used to attempt high-quality transparency scans.

They tend to fail in several areas: they don’t capture detail in shadow areas, the general quality of the first scan is poor, and there are occasional optical defects. If this is the only scanner in your price range there are some things it can do well. Many of these can do decent monochrome halftone scans. They also can be used for low-quality color scanning, but I would be wary of attempting quality color scanning with these scanners.


Mid-level scanners

           The second category is medium quality, which means using professional quality flatbed scanners. These are flatbed scanners and range in price from $2,500 to $40,000. These scanners include better mechanical components and electronics than the less expensive consumer flatbeds. They also contain better CCD diodes and light sources than the less expensive devices, as well as software that helps check things such as light intensity and calibration. These scanners are typically sold by graphic arts dealers and manufacturers such as your local dealer or directly through a manufacturer.

Names of manufacturers in this category include Creo, Fuji, Tekgraf TDS, Screen and others. These scanners are better equipped to handle details in shadow areas, scanning of transparency, and production of a more usable first scan. These are the most common scanners used in prepress production these days, and they are used day in and day out by many printers to produce commercially sellable scans. They are easy to load and do not require oil mounting (although you can oil mount) like drum scanners, and tend to lend themselves to automation and batch production. Some models of these scanners allow for optional CopyDot scanning of original imagesetter film. The low end of the price range is not generally used for high-volume high-quality production, but some of the lower-end products in this category can be used with good results.

For professional results, prepare to spend in the $10,000 to $40,000 price range. In general, these scanners still can have some issues with detail in shadow areas, although they are used for high-quality commercial production on a regular basis.


High-quality scanners

The third category is the high-quality drum scanning. There is a good reason that everyone else keeps comparing their scanners to drum scanners, and that’s because the quality is the best that can be achieved. With that being said, you see fewer and fewer drum scanners today. These can be purchased from dealers and manufacturers. Drum scanners are made by manufacturers such as Fuji and Screen. Drum scanners provide superior quality due to their light source and photomultiplier technology. They are the standard used for the highest-end color jobs.

With that being said, drum scanners are used less and less, probably because of cost and difficulty of operation. As with the previous category, a lot of the manufacturers have left the market — such as Heidelberg — or have vanished — such as Optronics.


Changes in the Scanner World

The thinning out of the marketplace has become a serious issue. Nowhere is the more noticeable than in the selling of drum scanners. Companies such as Optronics, Howtech, and Heidelberg no longer sell scanners. Like much of the graphic arts market, specialized manufacturers are vanishing, leaving printers with a variety of consumer products. Although some of these are fairly high-quality, (for example Umax has made scanners for Heidelberg and Microtek made scanners for Agfa.) this can make choosing a scanner confusing.

In the past printers knew where to go, who to talk to, and how much it would cost. Evaluating scanners today is made more complicated by the numerous choices, and lack of training and product support provided by manufacturers.

Once a printer owns the equipment, installation, training, and maintenance often falls to him rather than an external support organization.


Staff is important too

            The scanner isn’t the only part of the scanning equation. It is important to remember that the operator in many cases can be as important a factor as the choice of the actual scanner itself.

For example, good scanner operators can provide decent scans from mediocre scanners, and poor scanner operators may be unable to provide decent scans from professional scanners. It is important to think of who will run the scanner, and the types of skills and experience that they have.

You cannot expect the average prepress operator to automatically produce professional quality scans unless they have had experience or training. Keep in mind that the scanner is one part of the equation, but staff plays an important part in your capabilities.

How do you know which is appropriate? Think of the quality of the work you are producing, and also think about what your customers are giving you. There is a lot of work that does not require high-quality scanning. If your customer will accept that work you may be off the hook regarding expensive scanners. Many small and mid-size printers only do low-cost, or medium-quality, and send out any really color critical scans to be done by professionals. If you attempt to do high-quality color scanning, not only do you need the equipment, you also need the staff. And professional scanner operators can be hard to find and are often well paid.

The scanner and the services associated with it can be an important part of the printing services offered, so the choice of a scanner is important. In general, unless all your work is low quality, it is worth investing in a decent scanner. 

Tom Bakke of Tekgraf, Inc., whose company provides all three levels of scanners to the graphic arts dealers around the country and has worked with every major manufacturer over the years.

“When choosing a scanner look at the software first to make sure it has the latest features such as integrated International Color Consortium (ICC) workflow and good color correction ability,” Bakke said. “ I’d recommend if you are looking towards a professional grade scanner look to the companies that provide on-site training with the purchase of the scanner and good telephone support after the sale.

“Most scanner manufacturers will offer training at an additional cost which is fine, but there are some companies that offer on-site training with the purchase of the scanner,” Bakke said. “Also, on-site warranty service is a must.”  If you would like to ask questions of Tom Bakke you can reach him at


About the author: Ron Ellis is a New England-based prepress consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He has consulted on numerous CTP installations. He also consults on color management, integration, training, workflow development and trouble shooting solutions to the graphic arts industry. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at