From the September 1999 issue of Startups

Welcome to the Scan-A-Rama edition of "Wise Buys." There's a world full of flatbed, sheet-fed, portable and professional production scanners out there, priced from less than $100 to tens of thousands of dollars. We'll be exploring low-priced to midpriced color scanners for the SOHO (small office/home office) market, with one stand-alone scanning appliance thrown in to spice up the soup.

Heads up: Two specs to look out for include resolution and color depth. The resolutions we've listed are all hardware resolutions, meaning the scanner's actual resolution without software enhancement. If you need very high-quality, smooth images, you'll want a scanner with higher resolution capability, like the Epson Expression 800 Executive. (Just remember that those high-res image files are going to eat up disk space faster than you can say "Windows 2000.") As for color depth, the more bits the scanner can see, the higher the image quality. All these scanners have at least a 30-bit color depth, which translates to billions of colors.

If you're planning on scanning text documents, you'll want capable Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. OCR programs convert the scanned image of words into actual editable text documents. The accuracy of these programs can vary greatly depending on the type of font being scanned in or the color of a document's background. Nonetheless, it's better than typing it all in by hand!

Also expect a variety of image software to come with your scanner. Usually, the bundle includes a photo-editing program, such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe, plus enhancement software to artificially increase the image resolution.

Manufacturer: Visioneer

Model: StrobePro

Resolution: 300 x 600 dpi

Color Depth: 30-bit

Street Price: $200

Phone: (888) 229-4172

Web Site:http://www.visioneer.com

This little machine is a good example of a color sheet-fed scanner. Instead of lifting a lid to place paper on a glass surface, you feed documents into the scanner (as you would with a fax). Its flexibility is comparable to that of a flatbed, handling cards, photographs and paper up to 30 inches long. The StrobePro does have a significant space advantage: At 11 inches wide and about 2 inches deep, it's so small you can pack it into your laptop case. Available in either a USB or serial interface, it requires Windows 95 (98 for USB) and 16MB RAM. Bundle includes PictureWorks PhotoEnhancer, Visioneer OCR and WebPublisher.

Manufacturer: Microtek

Model: ImageDeck

Resolution: 600 x 600 dpi

Color Depth: 36-bit

Street Price: $499

Phone: (800) 654-4160

Web Site:http://www.microtekusa.com

Though the resolution on this device is low, this is not your mother's scanner. With a built-in floppy drive and a built-in 100MB Iomega Zip drive, no computer is needed to scan with the ImageDeck. (For easy cross-platform image transfer, be sure your computer also has a Zip drive.) Portability is a buzzword for the flatbed ImageDeck. You can scan anywhere you can plug it in without hauling a laptop around. Hook up a printer to the parallel port, and the ImageDeck can also be used as a copier. No computer means no system requirements.

Manufacturer: Hewlett-Packard

Model: ScanJet 4200C

Resolution: 600 x 1,200 dpi

Color Depth: 36-bit

Street Price: $199

Phone: (800) SCANJET

Web Site:http://www.scanjet.hp.com

At just over 6 pounds, the ScanJet 4200C is a feather in the flatbed category. Convenient front-panel copy, scan and e-mail buttons let you operate the scanner from the machine itself or your desktop. The one-touch e-mail feature automatically optimizes the image for sending and viewing via e-mail. The 4200C can handle a maximum document size of 8.5 inches by 11.7 inches. Software includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe and HP PrecisionScan LT with OCR function. Requires Windows 98 and a minimum 32MB RAM.

Manufacturer: UMAX

Model: Astra 2400S

Resolution: 600 x 2,400 dpi

Color Depth: 36-bit

Street Price: $290

Phone: (877) 885-7087

Web Site:http://www.umax.com

The flatbed Astra 2400S has a high hardware resolution at a reasonable price. A nice plus for this scanner is the fast SCSI interface so you won't doze off waiting for a scan to complete. Compatible with both PCs and Macs, the 2400S scans up to legal-sized documents with a 9,600 x 9,600 maximum resolution. Its software bundle includes Adobe Photoshop LE, Adobe PhotoDeluxe, PageMill, Presto! PageManager and OmniPage LE OCR software. Requires Windows 95/98 and 16MB RAM or Windows NT 4.0 and 32MB RAM. A transparency adaptor ($219) and 50-page automatic document feeder ($349) are available options.

Manufacturer: Epson

Model: Expression 800 Executive

Resolution: 800 x 3,200 dpi

Color Depth: 36-bit

Street Price: $699

Phone: (800) GO-EPSON

Web Site:http://www.epson.com

With high resolutions and fast scan times (25 seconds for an 8.5- by-11.7-inch color photo at 300 dpi), the Expression 800 Executive is truly a professional-level flatbed machine. If your business is graphics-intensive, you'll want to consider spending the extra money. This cross-platform flatbed comes with Epson's Text Enhancement Technology for accurate OCR. Factor in the bundled Adobe PhotoShop 5.0 LE, Presto! PageManager and Xerox TextBridge Classic OCR software, and you'll be ready to build your next brochure in no time. An Adaptec SCSI card is included for PCs. Requires Windows 95/98/NT 4.0 or Mac System 7.5 or newer and 32MB RAM.

Manufacturer: Acer Peripherals

Model: Prisa 620ST

Resolution: 600 x 1,200 dpi

Color Depth: 36-bit

Street Price: $179

Phone: (888) 723-2238

Web Site:http://www.acerscan.com

With the lowest street price in the bunch, Acer Peripherals' Prisa 620ST comes with a nice feature: a built-in transparency unit. That extra allows it to scan transparencies, films and slides. A SCSI card for your PC is included to take advantage of the scanner's SCSI II interface. The Prisa 620ST is also available with a parallel port interface for slightly less. It comes with Ulead iPhoto Plus 4.0 and Xerox TextBridge OCR software. System requirements are minimal: Windows 3.1/95/98/NT and 8MB RAM.