Years ago, flatbed scanners reached a level of quality that made them "keepers." No matter how enticing marketing makes the new models sound, the older scanners still produce good to excellent quality images and text. The problem is that many of those scanners are now little more than doorstops, because their manufacturers didn't update the scanners' drivers for the newer operating systems, such as Vista, Windows 7 or Mac OSX. Enter Hamrick Software, and their VueScan program. Even if you don't have an updated driver for your old scanner, VueScan Standard can make it work, and work well, on whatever operating system you have.
VueScan Standard offers two interfaces: "Guide Me" and Advanced. Guide Me is a wizard that steps you through the choices you need to make for a basic, unedited scan. The first window defines the purpose of your scan: Scan to File or Copy to Printer. Then, you choose between using the scanner as a Flatbed (for prints) or Transparency (for slides). Media may be Color Photo, B&W Photo, Line Art, Text, Magazine or Newspaper. And Scan Quality is defined by output: E-mail, Web, Print, Edit, or Archive. The wizard then instructs you to place the original on the scanner, and it creates a preview, which you may rotate, crop manually or have the software do an auto crop. The last step is the final scan, which you are prompted to save to your computer.
Whereas "Guide Me" does a decent job with default settings, the Advanced interface gives you all the tools for tweaking the scan to your heart's content. It's broken up into six tabs--Input, Crop, Filter, Color, Output and Preferences--each of which has a bevy of controls. For instance, you can set precise scan and preview resolutions and dimensions, edit color and brightness with a variety of different sliders and checkmark options, choose among four filters (Restore Colors, Restore Fading, Grain Reduction and Sharpen), and select file format (JPEG, TIFF, PDF or OCR Text File). If you're scanning several originals at once, the Multi-Crop function can define the number of separate files to create, using manual or auto controls.
Unfortunately, the Advanced interface doesn't always conform to standards set by other scanner software over the years, and understanding the nomenclature can be as much a challenge to experienced users as novices. Still, VueScan offers an impressive depth of features and controls, and the quality of the images or text you can get with them is potentially quite high--once you gain control over all the parameters and options.
For even more control over color accuracy and quality, you might want to check out VueScan's Professional Edition ($80), which supports ICC profiles and color spaces, IT8 color calibration of your scanner, as well as scanning to RAW files and unlimited free upgrades to new versions. VueScan Standard Edition includes free upgrades to new versions of the software for one year.
If you really like your venerable flatbed scanner, and have no desire to discard it, VueScan can be your answer. But even if you have a scanner driver for the most recent operating system, you might want to check out VueScan; it could possibly improve the quality of your scans.
--Sally Wiener Grotta & Daniel Grotta