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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS
/ KIM KOMANDO

Tips for Turning Yourself Into a Real Scan Artist

May 26, 1997|KIM KOMANDO

Making a good scan using your PC is a combination of art and science. The science part comes from having quality hardware and a capable scanning program. The art part comes from the skill and amount of care spent by the person doing the scanning.

Scanners aren't yet as common as CD-ROM drives, but they probably will be eventually. Hewlett-Packard, for example, now markets a PC with a built-in photo scanner, and some Compaq PCs include a keyboard that is also a sheet-fed scanner. In addition, about a dozen companies are manufacturing scanners as PC add-ons for home or business use.

Unlike some PC gadgets, scanners are a practical addition to a PC setup. In the simplest terms, they take a picture of something--a photo, a page of text, a logo, artwork--and store it in your computer. Scanners can also be used for copying documents, annotating faxes and converting a piece of paper that is outside your PC into something you can edit using your word-processing program.

The most important factor in scanning is to make sure you're using the right type of scanner for the job. Scanners come in four basic models: flatbed (for odd-sized or larger images and pages that are not loose, such as those in a book), sheet-fed (for loose pages), hand-held (for small images) and photo (for--you guessed it--photos).

You'll see scanners touting different dpi (dots per inch) ratings. Scanned images are composed of dots in the same way a Cezanne painting is made up of small brush strokes. The higher the scanner's dpi, the clearer and sharper your images appear. Text looks good at 300 dpi, and graphics or photos should be scanned at 600 dpi or higher. Make sure the scanner you select offers the quality you need.

If you are doing photographic or full-page text scanning, you'll want a desktop unit as opposed to a hand scanner. You will find the quality output and ease of operation are well worth the price difference. If you do have to use a hand-held scanner, use a thick ruler or other straight edge as a guide. Place the ruler along the side of the image and run the scanner along the edge.

No matter what scanner you purchase, you need the right hardware to use it effectively. For proper WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) operation, you should have a 24-bit video card, especially if you are scanning color photos. If you have an older video card, you'll feel like you are doing needlepoint rather than scanning. The image will appear on screen in a cross-stitch pattern as the card and software attempt to convert it to a lower resolution.

After scanning, an image must be manipulated into a finished product. Therefore, the second-most important factor is the software. A good scanning program should offer different options in the manipulation of the image--sharpening controls; color, contrast and hue adjustments; dithering methods; and so on.

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Most times, the software you need to scan and do light editing is included with a scanner. Depending on the scanner software bundle, you normally get one or more of the following: the scanner's drivers (needed to run the scanner with your computer), the scanner software (the software that lets the scan happen); an image editor (used to modify or clean up an image after the scan is complete), an image-file organizer (helps you to find images quickly on your computer's hard disk) and an optical character recognition (OCR) program (used to translate a page of text into an editable file).

Consider the software bonuses. You should buy a scanner because of its performance and then consider what comes "free" with it. Often a scanner may include a "lite" version of the full commercial product. The programs work but don't have all the features you might want after using the gadget for a while.

In days of yore, your parents' photographs rotted away in some old album, slowly developing a yellow tint. When you looked at those yellowed pictures, you said, "You're old." But with a scanner, you can preserve all your photos using your PC. And years from now, when your kids look at you on-screen, they'll say, "You're old." Ain't technology great?

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Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO). She can be reached via e-mail at komando@komando.com

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