What's the best scanner for me?
April 2, 2024 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about getting a new scanner to up my scanning game, but I'm not sure about what exists out there. Are there any (that aren't ridiculously expensive) that might suit my needs?

I've started scanning old magazines I've collected over the years for fun. The problem is that they're too big for my current scanner. I've been scanning in spite of this for the last year and a half and things turn out ok... but they could be better. I'm tired of cut off edges!

Right now, I've just been using the scanner of my Brother multifunction printer (MFC-L2700DW). The images themselves look fine, that's not the problem, the problem is... I want a scanner that has a larger bed and I'm apparently really poor at researching this, because I can't find anything that isn't suuper expensive. The largest document size my scanner can actually scan on the flatbed (without cutting off edges) seems to be A4 (8.3in x 11.7in).

Many of the magazines and other things I want to scan are larger than that. The current magazine I'm scanning, for example is about 9in x 12in, so there's always going to be that bit cut off! I have lager ones, too, that I'd love to scan one day (after measuring they're about 9.5in-ish x 12.75in-ish. I also don't tear magazines apart (god forbid!!) so I do flatten them on the bed of the scanner, something like a document scanner wouldn't work for me. It would work if I had more nerve, but I like keeping my magazines as intact as possible!

My current set up isn't doing it for me anymore. Also, it is awkward to scan things on a raised flatbed scanner like that.

Is there a better one out there that I should be looking into? Any ideas?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's your budget?
posted by Alterscape at 6:58 PM on April 2

Have you tried using your phone?
posted by caek at 7:09 PM on April 2

Response by poster: caek No, because I want the scans to be high quality (I like to scan at about 400dpi, sometimes more). The results of a phone aren't going to give me what I want and standing there with my phone taking photos sounds more cumbersome than my current set up. Unless there's a way to do it that I'm not understanding.

Alterscape No budget, because I can't even figure out what reasonably exists.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 7:26 PM on April 2

A "large format" flatbed scanner is what you're looking for, if you're looking for a search term. Expect to pay at least $300-400 USD on one, and a lot more than that if you want something from a brand you recognize. You can also find cheaper options if you forgo the flatbed requirement; many large format document scanners are just cameras mounted on a stable arm.
posted by Aleyn at 7:27 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]

I used an A3 Brother MFC 6890CDW for ten years until a plastic bit fell out the back and it no longer feeds paper - but it is/was a great scanner (although scanner won't work with no ink cartridges!), scan bed slightly bigger than A3, and would scan @ >300dpi. When I bought it (and still I think) it was the only A3 multi available in my country.

If I want really high quality I use a camer, but for OCRing and general I just use my phone now (Android).
posted by unearthed at 8:40 PM on April 2

As suggested above, you might want to read more about those kinds of overhead scanners on an arm. I've tried a CZUR and a Fujitsu. For my purposes, the quality's more or less good enough, but it's definitely not archival quality; it's not as good as my sheet-fed scanner, but it does the larger size stuff that I can't get into the sheet feeder.

You can find various folks talking about these scanners and comparing them - here are a few links:

scanning newspapers at r/DataHoarder, Fujitsu vs CZUR

PC Mag CZUR ET24 review (there's also a cheaper model, the ET18)

good discussion on r/DataHoarder about overhead scanners

There are also some helpful threads at diybookscanner.org, although the site's gone down for me a couple of times while I was typing this:

Scanning larger numbers of 1980's Magazines help (at archive.org) (and now that I'm reading that, it's from 2018, so I'm not actually sure it's that relevant, but it might give you some food for thought)

Cataloging exhibition material (at archive.org; this one's from 2016, but still, food for thought)

Also a search on "czur sample images" or "fujitsu Scansnap SV600 sample images" might lead you to some useful references.

I heard some libraries were getting some fancy scanners for patrons to use; you might check your local library and maker spaces to see if any of them have scanners you could at least try out, to see if you like them.

I hope that helps!
posted by kristi at 10:42 PM on April 2

Check if your library has a copier that does scanning. Most copiers do, and can do color scans even if it only does b/w prints.
For good quality you want 600 dpi, 1200dpi would give you some better ability to clean up/denoise pictures, but large files.

Looks like Plustek is one of the last manufacturers making sub $1,000 tabloid size scanners. Best bet might be this $650 Optibook 3800L and they also have a cheaper one

Check Facebook Marketplace, craigslist, auctions and Goodwill as you may find a used deal.
posted by Sophont at 2:05 AM on April 3

Don't dismiss the camera approach too quickly. You would want a copy stand. There is one of the cheaper ones here. The copy stand might be easier on delicate material than a scanner.

A phone camera would be good enough, but the controls might be inconvenient. A real camera with a remote release would be easier.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:30 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]

I'm going to put in a good word for some scanner software: VueScan, which I use on Macs but is also available for Windows and Linux. Whatever scanner you choose, it'll help you do better scans and prolong the life of your choice by allowing you to use your new scanner long after whatever driver the scanner has is no longer updated.

I mention VueScan because it has let me keep my ancient scanner long after it would have been dumped for software obsolescence, which may change your budget considerations when you find a scanner you like.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 8:29 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Scanning old magazines is my Mom's hobby - she uses the $650 Plustek recommended by Sophant above and it does a good job. She had a different Plustek previously and it lasted a good 10 years of pretty much daily use (it was taken out by a software update rather than the hardware and their customer service was good/they tried to help her resolve it without buying a new one).
posted by Eyelash at 10:44 AM on April 3

Response by poster: caek No, because I want the scans to be high quality (I like to scan at about 400dpi, sometimes more). The results of a phone aren't going to give me what I want and standing there with my phone taking photos sounds more cumbersome than my current set up. Unless there's a way to do it that I'm not understanding.
Cameras in phones are very good. The automatic image processing software in phones is very good. The workflow for getting images from phones to other places is very good. If you get a stand to hold the phone, then you can get through a stack of magazines faster than with a flatbed, simply because the exposure time is essentially zero seconds rather than several seconds. And you already have everything you need. There are a lot of upsides if the images are good enough. So it's worth trying!

I do 100% of my scanning with my phone. The result is good enough for me. It might be good enough for you. The cost to find out is zero dollars. If you're archiving for the Library of Congress then don't bother, but it's worth a try otherwise!
posted by caek at 10:55 AM on April 3

There are "book scanners" which are basically a hi res camera that points downward. I seem to recall Logitech tried to put one on Indiegogo that's convertible between webcam and downward livecast.

Or you can just get a book scanner by itself.
posted by kschang at 8:07 AM on April 4

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