Best way to scan books & documents at home?
August 27, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I need to scan some documents and sections of bound books at home, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to do so. If I were only scanning documents, and if cost were no issue, I'd go with the Fujita ScanSnap iX1500. But since I need to scan books as well, it seems that I'll need either a flatbed scanner or a pen scanner. Or possibly a camera with good lighting? But I need the scans to be output as PDFs with OCR, and that's proven difficult with document photography in the past. My priorities are quickness, ease of use (including software), and suitability for documents (vs photos - I don't care about photos). Plus Mac compatibility. Any suggestions?
posted by petery to Technology (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A camera on a stick -- otherwise called a copy stand -- is the most effective. Back in the microfilm days, it was called a planetary camera, but rather than putting it to film you're making a digital copy.

Metafilter's own fake has gained fame for his cheap, easy-to-use book scanner.

Be aware of how many pixels; 300dpi is a pretty average resolution for printing, reading, and OCR, but if you think using an old 2MP camera you have lying around will work, it takes 1600x1200 pictures -- so, when photographing an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper the long way works out to only 140dpi, and even less if you're doing a whole book laid flat, two pages at a time. The higher the resolution, the better chance of getting good OCR, so a high-megapixel camera is preferable.

PDF with OCR is a function of software, not scanning, so regardless of your source you can get a PDF with OCR from pretty much any image you stick into it, as long as it is clear and readable and you've got the right software.

Also, auto-focus can work against you, so a camera with manual settings will be an advantage.

I have a VuPoint scanning wand, but it's not heavy-duty; scanning a whole book would be pretty tedious. They also do registration based on rollers on the bottom, so it does take some getting used to, much like the old hand-held scanners of the 90s.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:04 AM on August 27, 2013

I'd check out the Plustek OpticBook series of flatbed book scanners:

They're designed to have the spine of a book rest on the outer edge of the scanner and still give a good image of the page without the big shadow you'd get if you tried laying the book down flat. You can probably get better quality with a DSLR / copy stand based setup but this flatbed is quicker for small jobs and takes up less space.

We've had one (the 3600?) for several years and it's been a workhorse getting through a PhD and day-to-day household stuff. I think the basic model is about $300 USD.

OCR'd PDFs are largely a function of the software you use with it. If it's an option, last time I checked, Evernote and uploading to Google Docs did OCR / indexing for free on PDFs.
posted by tkbarbarian at 10:06 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went ahead and got the Plustek OpticBook to use with my Mac. I've installed the driver and set everything up, but I still can't get it to scan. Everything shows up blank. And none of the other scanning software I've tried will recognize the scanner. If I can't figure it out this weekend, I'll have to return it and try something else.
posted by petery at 10:58 PM on September 14, 2013

Sorry to hear that. I've only used our scanner with a Windows machine and was just aware of the Mac drivers. Have you tried reaching out to Plustek support? Which model did you get in the end? I expect the newer ones would have better support but you'd hope they'd all work as advertised.
posted by tkbarbarian at 9:59 AM on September 23, 2013

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