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Optical scanner

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Optical scanner

In computing, an image scanner—often abbreviated to just scanner—is a device that optically scans images, printed text, handwriting, or an object, and converts it to a digital image. Common examples found in offices are variations of the desktop (or flatbed) scanner where the document is placed on a glass window for scanning. Hand-held scanners, where the device is moved by hand, have evolved from text scanning "wands" to 3D scanners used for industrial design, reverse engineering, test and measurement, orthotics, gaming and other applications. Mechanically driven scanners that move the document are typically used for large-format documents, where a flatbed design would be impractical.

Modern scanners typically use a charge-coupled device (CCD) or a Contact Image Sensor (CIS) as the image sensor, whereas older drum scanners use a photomultiplier tube as the image sensor. A rotary scanner, used for high-speed document scanning, is another type of drum scanner, using a CCD array instead of a photomultiplier. Other types of scanners are planetary scanners, which take photographs of books and documents, and 3D scanners, for producing three-dimensional models of objects.

Another category of scanner is digital camera scanners, which are based on the concept of reprographic cameras. Due to increasing resolution and new features such as anti-shake, digital cameras have become an attractive alternative to regular scanners. While still having disadvantages compared to traditional scanners (such as distortion, reflections, shadows, low contrast), digital cameras offer advantages such as speed, portability and gentle digitizing of thick documents without damaging the book spine. New scanning technologies are combining 3D scanners with digital cameras to create full-color, photo-realistic 3D models of objects.

In the biomedical research area, detection devices for DNA microarrays are called scanners as well. These scanners are high-resolution systems (up to 1 µm/ pixel), similar to microscopes. The detection is done via CCD or a photomultiplier tube (PMT).


Modern scanners are considered the successors of early telephotography and fax input devices.

The pantelegraph (Italian: pantelegrafo; French: pantélégraphe) was an early form of facsimile machine transmitting over normal telegraph lines developed by Giovanni Caselli, used commercially in the 1860s, that was the first such device to enter practical service. It used electromagnets to drive and synchronize movement of pendulums at the source and the distant location, to scan and reproduce images. It could transmit handwriting, signatures, or drawings within an area of up to 150 x 100mm.

Édouard Belin's Belinograph of 1913, scanned using a photocell and transmitted over ordinary phone lines, formed the basis for the AT&T Wirephoto service. In Europe, services similar to a wirephoto were called a Belino. It was used by news agencies from the 1920s to the mid-1990s, and consisted of a rotating drum with a single photodetector at a standard speed of 60 or 120 rpm (later models up to 240 rpm). They send a linear analog AM signal through standard telephone voice lines to receptors, which synchronously print the proportional intensity on special paper. Color photos were sent as three separated RGB filtered images consecutively, but only for special events due to transmission costs.



Drum scanners capture image information with photomultiplier tubes (PMT), rather than the charge-coupled device (CCD) arrays found in flatbed scanners and inexpensive film scanners. Reflective and transmissive originals are mounted on an acrylic cylinder, the scanner drum, which rotates at high speed while it passes the object being scanned in front of precision optics that deliver image information to the PMTs. Most modern color drum scanners use three matched PMTs, which read red, blue, and green light, respectively. Light from the original artwork is split into separate red, blue, and green beams in the optical bench of the scanner.

The drum scanner gets its name from the clear acrylic cylinder, the drum, on which the original artwork is mounted for scanning. Depending on size, it is possible to mount originals up to 20"x28", but maximum size varies by manufacturer. One of the unique features of drum scanners is the ability to control sample area and aperture size independently. The sample size is the area that the scanner encoder reads to create an individual pixel. The aperture is the actual opening that allows light into the optical bench of the scanner. The ability to control aperture and sample size separately is particularly useful for smoothing film grain when scanning black-and white and color negative originals.

While drum scanners are capable of scanning both reflective and transmissive artwork, a good-quality flatbed scanner can produce good scans from reflective artwork. As a result, drum scanners are rarely used to scan prints now that high-quality, inexpensive flatbed scanners are readily available. Film, however, is where drum scanners continue to be the tool of choice for high-end applications. Because film can be wet-mounted to the scanner drum and because of the exceptional sensitivity of the PMTs, drum scanners are capable of capturing very subtle details in film originals.

Only a few companies continue to manufacture drum scanners. While prices of both new and used units have come down over the last decade, they still require a considerable monetary investment when compared to CCD flatbed and film scanners. However, drum scanners remain in demand due to their capacity to produce scans that are superior in resolution, color gradation, and value structure. Also, because drum scanners are capable of resolutions up to 24,000 PPI, their use is generally recommended when a scanned image is going to be enlarged.

In most graphic-arts operations, very-high-quality flatbed scanners have replaced drum scanners, being both less expensive and faster. However, drum scanners continue to be used in high-end applications, such as museum-quality archiving of photographs and print production of high-quality books and magazine advertisements. In addition, due to the greater availability of pre-owned units, many fine-art photographers are acquiring drum scanners, which has created a new niche market for the machines.


CCD scanner

A flatbed scanner is usually composed of a glass pane (or platen), under which there is a bright light (often xenon, LED or cold cathode fluorescent) which illuminates the pane, and a moving optical array in CCD scanning. CCD-type scanners typically contain three rows (arrays) of sensors with red, green, and blue filters.

CIS scanner

CIS scanning consists of a moving set of red, green and blue LEDs strobed for illumination and a connected monochromatic photodiode array under a rod lens array for light collection. Images to be scanned are placed face down on the glass, an opaque cover is lowered over it to exclude ambient light, and the sensor array and light source move across the pane, reading the entire area. An image is therefore visible to the detector only because of the light it reflects. Transparent images do not work in this way, and require special accessories that illuminate them from the upper side. Many scanners offer this as an option.


Main article: Film scanner

"Slide" (positive) or negative film can be scanned in equipment specially manufactured for this purpose. Usually, uncut film strips of up to six frames, or four mounted slides, are inserted in a carrier, which is moved by a stepper motor across a lens and CCD sensor inside the scanner. Some models are mainly used for same-size scans. Film scanners vary a great deal in price and quality. Consumer scanners are relatively inexpensive while the most expensive professional CCD based film scanning system was around 120,000 USD. More expensive solutions are said to produce better results.


Hand scanners come in two forms: document and 3D scanners. Hand held document scanners are manual devices that are dragged across the surface of the image to be scanned. Scanning documents in this manner requires a steady hand, as an uneven scanning rate would produce distorted images - a little light on the scanner would indicate if the motion was too fast. They typically have a "start" button, which is held by the user for the duration of the scan; some switches to set the optical resolution; and a roller, which generates a clock pulse for synchronization with the computer. Most hand scanners were monochrome, and produced light from an array of green LEDs to illuminate the image. A typical hand scanner also had a small window through which the document being scanned could be viewed. They were popular during the early 1990s and usually had a proprietary interface module specific to a particular type of computer, usually an Atari ST or Commodore Amiga.

While popularity for document scanning has waned, use of hand held 3D scanners remains popular for many applications, including industrial design, reverse engineering, inspection & analysis, digital manufacturing and medical applications. To compensate for the uneven motion of the human hand, most 3D scanning systems rely on the placement of reference markers – typically adhesive reflective tabs that the scanner uses to align elements and mark positions in space.

Smartphone scanner apps

Cameras in smartphones have reached a resolution and quality that reasonable quality scans can be achieved by taking a photo with the phone and using a scanning app for post-processing (such as whitening the background of a page, correcting perspective distortion so that a document is output as a correct rectangle, conversion to black-and-white, etc.)

Most smartphone platforms now have a range of scanner apps available. These apps can typically scan multiple page documents through the use of multiple camera exposures, and output them to a PDF document or as separate JPEG images. Some smartphone scanning apps can also save documents directly to online storage locations, such as Dropbox and Evernote, send via email or fax documents via email-to-fax gateways.

Smartphone scanner apps can be broadly divided into three categories: 1) Document scanning apps (These are primarily designed to handle documents and output PDF files - although some can also output JPEG) 2) Photo scanning apps (These output JPEG files, and have editing functions useful for photo rather than document editing.)[2] 3) QR scanning apps (These can use scanned QR images to automatically search the internet for related information.)[3]


Scanners typically read red-green-blue color (RGB) data from the array. This data is then processed with some proprietary algorithm to correct for different exposure conditions, and sent to the computer via the device's input/output interface (usually USB, previous to which was SCSI or bidirectional parallel port in older units).

Color depth varies depending on the scanning array characteristics, but is usually at least 24 bits. High quality models have 36-48 bits of color depth.

Another qualifying parameter for a scanner is its resolution, measured in pixels per inch (ppi), sometimes more accurately referred to as Samples per inch (spi). Instead of using the scanner's true optical resolution, the only meaningful parameter, manufacturers like to refer to the interpolated resolution, which is much higher thanks to software interpolation. As of 2009, a high-end flatbed scanner can scan up to 5400 ppi and drum scanners have an optical resolution of between 3,000 and 24,000 ppi.[4]

Manufacturers often claim interpolated resolutions as high as 19,200 ppi; but such numbers carry little meaningful value, because the number of possible interpolated pixels is unlimited and doing so does not increase the level of captured detail.

The size of the file created increases with the square of the resolution; doubling the resolution quadruples the file size. A resolution must be chosen that is within the capabilities of the equipment, preserves sufficient detail, and does not produce a file of excessive size. The file size can be reduced for a given resolution by using "lossy" compression methods such as JPEG, at some cost in quality. If the best possible quality is required lossless compression should be used; reduced-quality files of smaller size can be produced from such an image when required (e.g., image designed to be printed on a full page, and a much smaller file to be displayed as part of a fast-loading web page).

Purity can be diminished by scanner noise, optical flare, poor analog to digital conversion, scratches, dust, Newton's rings, out of focus sensors, improper scanner operation, and poor software. Drum scanners are said to produce the purest digital representations of the film, followed by high end film scanners that use the larger Kodak Tri-Linear sensors.

The third important parameter for a scanner is its density range or Drange (see Densitometry). A high density range means that the scanner is able to record shadow details and brightness details in one scan. Density of film is measured on a base 10 log scale and varies between 0.0 (transparent) and 4.0, about 13 stops. The maximum density of negative film is up to 3.0d (density), while slide film can reach 4.0d. Slower film can reach higher density than faster film. Consumer level flatbed scanners have a Drange in the 2.5-3.0 range, adequate for negative film. High end flatbed scanners can reach a Drange of 3.7. Drum scanners have a Drange of 3.6-4.5.[4]

By combining full-color imagery with 3D models, modern hand-held scanners are able to completely reproduce objects electronically. The addition of 3D color printers enables accurate miniaturization of these objects, with applications across many industries and professions.

Computer connection

Scanning the document is only one part of the process. For the scanned image to be useful, it must be transferred from the scanner to an application running on the computer. There are two basic issues: (1) how the scanner is physically connected to the computer and (2) how the application retrieves the information from the scanner.

Direct physical connection to a computer

The amount of data generated by a scanner can be very large: a 600 DPI 23 x 28 cm (9"x11") (slightly larger than A4 paper) uncompressed 24-bit image is about 100 megabytes of data which must be transferred and stored. Recent scanners can generate this volume of data in a matter of seconds, making a fast connection desirable.

Scanners communicate to their host computer using one of the following physical interfaces, listing from slow to fast:

  • Parallel port - Connecting through a parallel port is the slowest common transfer method. Early scanners had parallel port connections that could not transfer data faster than 70 kilobytes/second. The primary advantage of the parallel port connection was economic and user skill level: it avoided adding an interface card to the computer.
  • GPIB - General Purpose Interface Bus. Certain drumscanners like the Howtek D4000 featured both a SCSI and GPIB interface. The latter conforms to the IEEE-488 standard, introduced in the mid ’70's. The GPIB-interface has only been used by a few scanner manufactures, mostly serving the DOS/Windows environment. For Apple Macintosh systems, National Instruments provided a NuBus GPIB interface card.
  • Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), which is supported by most computers only via an additional SCSI interface card. Some SCSI scanners are supplied together with a dedicated SCSI card for a PC, although any SCSI controller can be used. During the evolution of the SCSI standard speeds increased, with backwards compatibility; a SCSI connection can transfer data at the highest speed which both the controller and the device support. SCSI has been largely replaced by USB and Firewire, one or both of which are directly supported by most computers, and which are easier to set up than SCSI.
  • Universal Serial Bus (USB) scanners can transfer data quickly, and they are easier to use and cheaper than SCSI devices. The early USB 1.1 standard could transfer data at only 1.5 megabytes per second (slower than SCSI), but the later USB 2.0 standard can theoretically transfer up to 60 megabytes per second (although everyday rates are much lower), resulting in faster operation.
  • FireWire is an interface that is much faster than USB 1.1 and comparable to USB 2.0. FireWire speeds are 25, 50, and 100, 400 and 800 megabits per second (but a device may not support all speeds). Also known as: IEEE-1394.
  • Proprietary interfaces were used on some early scanners that used a proprietary interface card rather than a standard interface.

Indirect (network) connection to a computer

During the early nineties, professional flatbed scanners were targeted to professional users. Some vendors (like Umax) allowed a single scanner connected to a host computer to function as a scanner accessible by all users within a local computer network. This proved to be very handy to e.g. publishers, print shops, etc. This functionality gradually disappeared after the mid-’90's as flatbed scanners became more affordable each year.

However, as of 2000 and later, all-in-one multi-purpose devices targeted to serve both (small) offices and consumers usually combine a printer, scanner, copier and fax into a single apparatus available to a whole workgroup, providing each individual fax, scan, copy and print functionality.

There are also scanner-sharing software available on the internet.

Applications Programming Interface

A paint application such as GIMP or Adobe Photoshop must communicate with the scanner. There are many different scanners, and many of those scanners use different protocols. In order to simplify applications programming, some Applications Programming Interfaces ("API") were developed. The API presents a uniform interface to the scanner. This means that the application does not need to know the specific details of the scanner in order to access it directly. For example, Adobe Photoshop supports the TWAIN standard; therefore in theory Photoshop can acquire an image from any scanner that has a TWAIN driver.

In practice, there are often problems with an application communicating with a scanner. Either the application or the scanner manufacturer (or both) may have faults in their implementation of the API.

Typically, the API is implemented as a dynamically linked library. Each scanner manufacturer provides software that translates the API procedure calls into primitive commands that are issued to a hardware controller (such as the SCSI, USB, or FireWire controller). The manufacturer's part of the API is commonly called a device driver, but that designation is not strictly accurate: the API does not run in kernel mode and does not directly access the device. Rather the scanner API library translates application requests into hardware requests.

Common scanner software API interfaces:

SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) is a free/open source API for accessing scanners. Originally developed for Unix and Linux operating systems, it has been ported to OS/2, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows. Unlike TWAIN, SANE does not handle the user interface. This allows batch scans and transparent network access without any special support from the device driver.

TWAIN is used by most scanners. Originally used for low-end and home-use equipment, it is now widely used for large-volume scanning.

ISIS (Image and Scanner Interface Specification) created by Pixel Translations, which still uses SCSI-II for performance reasons, is used by large, departmental-scale, machines.

WIA (Windows Image Acquisition) is an API provided by Microsoft for use on Microsoft Windows.

Bundled applications

Although no software beyond a scanning utility is a feature of any scanner, many scanners come bundled with software. Typically, in addition to the scanning utility, some type of image-editing application (such as Photoshop), and optical character recognition (OCR) software are supplied. OCR software converts graphical images of text into standard text that can be edited using common word-processing and text-editing software; accuracy is rarely perfect.

Output data

The scanned result is a non-compressed RGB image, which can be transferred to a computer's memory. Some scanners compress and clean up the image using embedded firmware. Once on the computer, the image can be processed with a raster graphics program (such as Photoshop or the GIMP) and saved on a storage device (such as a hard disk).

Images are usually stored on a hard disk. Pictures are normally stored in image formats such as uncompressed Bitmap, "non-lossy" (lossless) compressed TIFF and PNG, and "lossy" compressed JPEG. Documents are best stored in TIFF or PDF format; JPEG is particularly unsuitable for text. Optical character recognition (OCR) software allows a scanned image of text to be converted into editable text with reasonable accuracy, so long as the text is cleanly printed and in a typeface and size that can be read by the software. OCR capability may be integrated into the scanning software, or the scanned image file can be processed with a separate OCR program.

Document processing

The scanning or digitization of paper documents for storage makes different requirements of the scanning equipment used than scanning of pictures for reproduction. While documents can be scanned on general-purpose scanners, it is more efficiently performed on dedicated document scanners.

When scanning large quantities of documents, speed and paper-handling is very important, but the resolution of the scan will normally be much lower than for good reproduction of pictures.

Document scanners have document feeders, usually larger than those sometimes found on copiers or all-purpose scanners. Scans are made at high speed, perhaps 20 to 150 pages per minute, often in grayscale, although many scanners support color. Many scanners can scan both sides of double-sided originals (duplex operation). Sophisticated document scanners have firmware or software that cleans up scans of text as they are produced, eliminating accidental marks and sharpening type; this would be unacceptable for photographic work, where marks cannot reliably be distinguished from desired fine detail. Files created are compressed as they are made.

The resolution used is usually from 150 to 300 dpi, although the hardware may be capable of somewhat higher resolution; this produces images of text good enough to read and for optical character recognition (OCR), without the higher demands on storage space required by higher-resolution images.

Document scans are often processed using OCR technology to create editable and searchable files. Most scanners use ISIS or TWAIN device drivers to scan documents into TIFF format so that the scanned pages can be fed into a document management system that will handle the archiving and retrieval of the scanned pages. Lossy JPEG compression, which is very efficient for pictures, is undesirable for text documents, as slanted straight edges take on a jagged appearance, and solid black (or other color) text on a light background compresses well with lossless compression formats.

While paper feeding and scanning can be done automatically and quickly, preparation and indexing are necessary and require much work by humans. Preparation involves manually inspecting the papers to be scanned and making sure that they are in order, unfolded, without staples or anything else that might jam the scanner. Additionally, some industries such as legal and medical may require documents to have Bates Numbering or some other mark giving a document identification number and date/time of the document scan.

Indexing involves associating relevant keywords to files so that they can be retrieved by content. This process can sometimes be automated to some extent, but it often requires manual labour performed by data-entry clerks. One common practice is the use of barcode-recognition technology: during preparation, barcode sheets with folder names or index information are inserted into the document files, folders, and document groups. Using automatic batch scanning, the documents are saved into appropriate folders, and an index is created for integration into document-management systems.

A specialized form of document scanning is book scanning. Technical difficulties arise from the books usually being bound and sometimes fragile and irreplaceable, but some manufacturers have developed specialized machinery to deal with this. Often special robotic mechanisms are used to automate the page turning and scanning process.

Document camera scanners

A new category of document scanner is the document camera. This does not refer to devices which are used as visual presenters, rather instead for the main purpose of document scanning.

The process of capturing images on document cameras differentiates from that of flatbed and Automatic document feeder scanners, in that there are no moving parts required to scan the object. Conventionally either the illumination/reflector rod inside the scanner must be moved over the document (such as for a flatbed scanner), or the document must be passed over the rod (such as for feeder scanners) in order to produce a scan of a whole image. Document cameras capture the whole document or object in one step, usually instantly. Typically, documents are placed on a flat surface, usually the office desk, underneath the capture area of the document camera. The process of whole-surface-at-once capturing has the benefit of increasing reaction time for the work flow of scanning. After being captured, the images are usually processed through software which may enhance the image and perform such tasks like automatically rotating, cropping and straightening them. [5]

It is not required that the documents or objects being scanned make contact with the document camera, therefore increasing flexibility of the types of documents which are able to be scanned. Objects which have previously been difficult to scan on conventional scanners are now able to be done so with one device. This includes in particular documents which are of varying sizes and shapes, stapled, in folders or bent/crumpled which may get jammed in a feed scanner. Other objects include books, magazines, receipts, letters, tickets etc. No moving parts can also remove the need for maintenance, a consideration in the Total cost of ownership, which includes the continuing operational costs of scanners.

Increased reaction time whilst scanning also has benefits in the realm of context-scanning. ADF scanners, whilst very fast and very good at batch scanning, also require pre- and post- processing of the documents. Document cameras are able to be integrated directly into a Workflow or process, for example a teller at a bank. The document is scanned directly in the context of the customer, in which it is to be placed or used. Reaction time is an advantage in these situations. Document cameras usually also require a small amount of space and are often portable. [6]

Whilst scanning with document cameras may have a quick reaction time, large amounts of batch scanning of even, unstapled documents is more efficient with an ADF scanner. There are challenges which face this kind of technology regarding external factors (such as lighting) which may have influence on the scan results. The way in which these issues are resolved strongly depends on the sophistication of the product and how it deals with these issues. [7]

Infrared cleaning

Main article: Infrared cleaning

Infrared cleaning is a technique used to remove the effects of dust and scratches on images scanned from film; many modern scanners incorporate this feature. It works by scanning the film with infrared light. From this, it is possible to detect dust and scratches that cut off the infrared light; and they can then be automatically removed, by considering their position, size, shape, and surroundings.

Scanner manufacturers usually have their own name attached to this technique. For example, Epson, Nikon, Microtek, and others use Digital ICE, while Canon uses its own system FARE (Film Automatic Retouching and Enhancement system).[8] Plustek uses LaserSoft Imaging iSRD. Some independent software developers are designing their own infrared cleaning tools.

See also


External links

  • DMOZ
  • "Is Drum Scanning Really Alive and Well?" from Digital Output by Jim Rich
  • "Can a Fine-Art Large-Format Photographer Find Happiness With a $30,000 Scanner?" by Bill Glickman
  • Scanique, a Windows tool for sharing scanner over network. Accessed on 3 December 2011.
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