Flatbed Vs. Sheetfed Scanners

Graphic artists, photographers, image historians and business offices share the need to bring the information on sheets of paper into the digital realm. If your company deals with printed material that you must use and edit in computer-based applications, you need a scanner to transform paper into pixels. Whether you need a flatbed or a sheetfed scanner depends on what you’re scanning and what you want to do with the digital information you acquire.

Where to Start
When you add technological devices to your company’s set of tools, you choose the products you buy or lease based on feature set and cost. Scanners require the same price/benefit analysis as any other devices. The most basic division between scanner types separates those intended for the graphic arts and print production from those that ingest office printouts, invoices and other documents. Regardless of which type you need, you can find devices at a wide range of prices.

Office Use
Office use dictates high-speed, high-volume scanning, automated through a document feeder. Although office-quality scans must contain sufficient resolution and clarity to make documents readable in digital form, they’re not intended for use in page layouts, photo albums or artistic output. Offices that digitize large numbers of claim or order forms, technical documents or purchase orders need scanners that can run unattended. The flatbed scanner’s one-at-a-time interface would slow an office-based document operation to a crawl. Sheetfed scanners include automatic document feeders, some of which can accommodate mixed paper sizes in a single batch. For even greater speed, some sheetfed scanners offer duplex operation, in which both sides of a two-sided original scan simultaneously.

Graphic Arts
The graphic arts demand high-resolution scans that digitize photographic prints or transparencies with equally high color fidelity. Original images range from historic images mounted on photographers’ cards to hand-drawn illustrations and color prints. Sheetfed scanners can’t process cardboard or bound volumes, and won’t render photos and artwork with the necessary precision. Furthermore, flatbed scanners can include transparency adapters that make it possible to digitize medium- and large-format positives, slides and negatives. For the greatest color fidelity and the largest number of image-editing options, some flatbed scanners offer 48-bit color, which increases the range of shades the devices can capture.

Making Your Selection
In an exclusively graphic-arts oriented company, look for a high-quality flatbed scanner that offers transparency features, high bit depths and a software bundle that includes a scanning application with color-correction features. For low-volume operations that mix small amounts of document imaging with the need to scan photographs and mounted items, you can invest in a flatbed scanner that places your graphic-arts needs ahead of limited-use office scanning. If you need a scanner that handles large-volume tasks on a daily basis and can ingest tens or hundreds of pages per hour, your needs can’t be met without a sheetfed device, preferably one with duplexing capabilities. Pay close attention to the file formats your chosen device can create. For document-scanning use, you’ll probably prefer PDF output. Finally, look for a device with TWAIN compatibility so you can use it with software besides the application that ships with it, and verify that the hardware you’re considering offers compatibility with the computer operating system you use.

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