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Scanner Stuff

In This Case, the Medium Matters!

I have to confess that in making the transition from working with the printed page to the virtual one, the scanner initially caused me a little confusion. Actually, it still does.

Let us take a few moments to explore a few myths and legends regarding our trusty scanners.

What kind of scanner should I buy?
As with anything else in life, having the right tool for the job helps a great deal. For the most part, you will find the following types of scanners on the market:
  • Roller Feed: These little numbers are great for doing faxes and OCR, but lack the precision in handling needed for working with photos. They also can bend your pictures.

  • Photo Sized: Usually comes as a fixed format 3"x5" or 4"x6" box that sucks the photo in, scans it, and spits it out. Not good at working with the wrong size photo, especially larger ones. ;-)

  • Hand Held: These were popular for a while. About the only use I could find for one is scanning an image that is glued to a wall.

  • Flatbed: This is just what you want to buy! Perfect for working with all sized photos. Of course, not convenient for faxing, but this is not about faxing.
Do yourself a favor and purchase a flatbed scanner. These models have come down a great deal in price. In fact, I have seen my year old scanner fall in price from about $500 to $149. We won't talk about the digital camera that I just had to have.

If 300 DPI is good, then 1200 DPI must be better!
Resolution on scanners and printers is measured in DPI or Dots Per Inch. When working with the monitor, we tend to deal with pixels. A pixel is the smallest area of the screen that we can set the color for.

Here is our problem. A printer, even an inexpensive one is more than capable of printing 300 DPI. In fact, the resolution is adjustable. Not so with our monitor. It is basically stuck in a fixed resolution. Here is why: No matter what size monitor you own, there are typically a few different resolutions, or pixel settings you might select from. I have a 17" monitor that measures about 12.5" across and about 9" down. So in terms of thinking of things in terms of paper resolution, I have a problem.

Resolution Horizontal DPI Vertical DPI
640X480 51 51
800x600 64 64
1024x768 82 82
1280x1024 102 102

As you can see from the chart above, the best resolution of about 102DPI occurs at the 1280x1024 setting. I don't know about you, but my eyes can't cope with anything beyond 800x600. That means that I view my images at a resolution of only 64 DPI! Unless I am doing major enlargement of a tiny photograph, anything beyond 150 DPI or so for web work is a waste of money!

Can't I get a better image with a higher resolution?
Okay. I have to admit I am tight for cash at the moment, so let's take an object that is fairly familiar, and thankfully inexpensive.

The penny below was scanned at three resolutions. As you can see, The higher the resolution, the bigger the penny! We did not get a finer image, but only a larger one.

72 DPI 100 DPI 125 DPI
3950 Bytes 6,163 Bytes 9,679 Bytes
Note: I used GIF to avoid distortion.

Can I fool it by lying about the HEIGHT & WIDTH?
What if we set the HEIGHT and WIDTH of all of our images to the size of the low resolution image? Maybe that will give us a better looking image.

Obviously the laws of physics are still holding. You can only fit so many pixels on the head of monitor! I can't see much difference other than the highest resolution image requires almost three times as many bytes as the smallest.

72 DPI 100 DPI 125 DPI
3950 Bytes 6,163 Bytes 9,679 Bytes

What about color resolution?
For our purposes, 16.7 million color (24 bit) does the job. Many inexpensive scanners are 30 bit, so if you want, go for it! One piece of advice is to scan the image at 16.7 million color, and use your image editing software to do color reduction if needed. You will be happier with the results that way.

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