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More than 15 new models were introduced this year, many setting new benchmarks in performance and value. Here's our take on strengths, weaknesses and the scanners that stand out.

Product Guides:

Low- to Mid-Volume Production Scanners (PDF, 31K)

Workgroup and Departmental Scanners (PDF, 34K) http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/monthly_articles/ralph_gammon_doug_henschen20041201_2.pdf

If you build it, they will come. Forgive the overworked baseball analogy, but it's an apt description of what happens every year when document scanner manufacturers introduce new models. You see, within this small group of fewer than a dozen manufacturers, competitors have no trouble keeping tabs on what the other guys are up to. As a result, we see three or four new models all introduced in one or two segments each year rather than eight new scanners scattered throughout the broad market, which ranges from 10 pages per minute (ppm) up to 200 ppm plus. When sales statistics emerge a year later, low-and-behold, the "hot" segments just happen to be the ones with all the new models.

Who wouldn't prefer one of the latest models? This year there were four new workgroup (10 ppm to 25 ppm) scanners that added high-end features and faster color scanning speeds. And there were five new low-volume production models (from 40 ppm to 60 ppm) that dramatically lowered the price barriers to the scanning big leagues.

In short, the best values are invariably found in the ranks of the newest scanners. That's why we're bringing you our third annual roundup of the strengths, weaknesses and standouts among the latest models.

Big Things From Small Scanners

Color duplex scanning at rated speeds, double-feed detection, automatic image thresholding - these are features you used to find only on high-end document scanners. However, with sales exploding in the workgroup range - increasing 100 percent to nearly 80,000 units in 2003, according to InfoTrends/CapVentures - hot and heavy competition has led manufacturers to introduce new models and cram more and more features into these pint-sized products, which are typically designed for portrait scanning of letter- and legal-sized documents.

As a result, organizations now have more choices than ever among a rich array of scanners priced less than $2,000 (some considerably less). Most of these scanners aren't built to handle more than 1,000 documents per day on a day-to-day basis, but they offer plenty of horsepower for the remote offices, workgroups and departmental applications that are exploiting these models.

This year's workgroup introductions from Kodak, Fujitsu, Visioneer (under the Xerox brand name) and Bell & Howell all include state-of-the-art image processing technology that all but eliminates the need to rescan while maximizing OCR recognition accuracy. You should also look for bundled PDF and OCR software, making it easy to search and share text-readable images. Standouts in the workgroup class include the Xerox DocuMate 252, which combines a low price with a generous bundle, and Fujitsu's revamped fi-4120 C2 and fi-4220 C2, which combine excellent speeds, competitive prices, best-in-class doublefeed detection and all the software essentials.

There were slim pickings in the 26 ppm to 39 ppm departmental range, with only one new scanner, the Xerox DocuMate 262, and one revise, Canon's DR-3080CII. The clear standout is the Xerox DocuMate 262, which comes in at half the cost of many competitors while including Kofax VRS and ScanSoft PDF and OCR software.

New Values in Low-Volume Scanning

While sales surged in all the categories with new models last year, sales of low-volume production scanners (40 ppm to 60 ppm) declined, according to InfoTrends figures, in part because the segment was stacked with aging models. Not so in 2004, as manufacturers bowed five new models, with one each from Kodak, Canon and Panasonic and sheetfed and flatbed fraternal twins from Fujitsu.

Low-volume production scanner duty cycles typically range between 5,000 and 10,000 pages per day, and the latest models can capture bitonal, grayscale or color images all at the same rated speed. In fact, the real standouts in this class are the Fujitsus. The sheetfed fi-5650C ($5,995) and flatbed fi-5750C ($8,449) scan at full rated speed in bitonal, grayscale or color at either 200 dpi or 300 dpi. Applications that involve OCR and forms processing often demand 300-dpi resolution for best-possible results, so this speed advantage makes a huge difference in throughput, both at scan time and in postscan processing.

At press time, Panasonic was set to release the KV-S3065CL (aimed at letter- and legal-sized documents) and KV-S3065W (which handles up to ledger-sized documents). Priced aggressively and fitted with ultrasonic doublefeed detection and 300-sheet ADFs, these sheetfed models scan at 65 ppm/120 ipm in bitonal or color at 200 dpi. They're also rated at 10,000 pages per day and are backed by a one-year warranty. These stats are impressive, but Fujitsu and Canon (the latter with its DR-6080, introduced late last year) have reset expectations in this segment to rated-speed scanning at 300 dpi.

Centralized Scanning Rolls On

The adoption of document scanning in distributed environments has focused a lot of attention at the lower end of the market, but that doesn't mean centralized, mid- to high-volume applications are going away. In fact, growth in outsourcing - both at home and abroad - is just one trend driving sales of higher-volume scanners. In data-entry intensive applications, for example, documents are being scanned centrally and piped to outsourced service providers (or scanned centrally by the service provider) for low-cost processing and, in many cases, overnight turnaround.

Compliance concerns have also created demand for high-end scanners. Asked to list their existing or planned scanning applications, 61 percent of 641 respondents to a 2004 InfoTrends study cited records management needs, while 49 percent listed archival applications. This marked a significant increase in compliance-related scanning compared with a similar study conducted by InfoTrends in 2002. The top three responses - scan to storage (78 percent), scan to PDF (76 percent) and document filing/management (76 percent) - were more consistent with the earlier study.

The mid- and high-volume production segments, which are all about centralized scanning, gained more than five new models as well as upgrades in 2004. Kodak's i600 line brought three scanners rated at 80, 100 and 120 ppm in landscape mode (with scan-time rotation at rated speed for portrait viewing). All three models feature Kodak's dual-stream (simultaneous bitonal and color) output, ultrasonic doublefeed detection, and PerfectPage and iThresholding image processing - Kodak's answer to Kofax VRS.

In our August comparison of the Kodak i660 and Bowe Bell & Howell's 2004 upgrade of the Copiscan Spectrum 8125D, we gave the Kodak a slight edge on all-around paper handling and color and multistream output. If multistream output isn't important to you and your documents are of consistent sizes and weights and in good shape for feeding, the 8125D list price is nearly $5,000 less than the $52,000 i660. An even better bargain is the slower (100 ppm/200 ipm) Copiscan Spectrum 8100D, which lists at $30,495, versus $37,000 for Kodak's i640. (See our "Scanner Shootout" review, August 2004. http://www.transformmag.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=23905116)

Low Prices Meet the High End

At the highest end of the document scanning spectrum, IBML introduced two new scanners. The ImageTrac III is rated at 120 ppm in both bitonal and color, with a starting list price of $110,000. This model provides 60 percent of the speed of IBML's flagship ImageTrac II at less than half the cost. The ImageTrac IV is initially targeted at high-volume item and check processing applications where it can capture 1,000 color images per minute. It starts at $159,210 and is aimed at meeting demand created by this year's enactment of Check 21 - legislation that cleared the way to trade images of checks rather than the physical documents.

This year BancTec introduced the DocuScan 9000, a 240-ppm color-capable scanner with an open transport similar to the design pioneered by IBML. BancTec uses LED illumination on the 9000, which enables the cameras to sit four inches above the transport and is designed to make it easier to clear paper jams. The simplex version starts at $135,000.

The price conscious were offered new low-priced models in 2004. Scan-Optics' SO series, for example, scans at 240 ppm in bitonal and color and starts at $64,000; that's double the speed of the Kodak i820 at about the same list price. SO models can be fitted with up to 36 optional sorting pockets. Another low-priced entry was introduced by German manufacturer InoTec, which gained North American distribution through The Windward Group in Folsom, LA. This spring, InoTec launched the 510, a 230-ppm bi-tonal/grayscale scanner that lists for $66,000. InoTec's new 4X series includes three models ranging from 80 ppm up to 160 ppm and priced from $20,000 to $50,000. Each model is field upgradable to color and/or duplex scanning.

How to Buy a Scanner (also see Document Imaging http://www.larryblakeley.com/products/image_creation/document_imaging.htm)

Low prices and fast speeds don't always add up to a bargain, so understand your scanning needs and the duty cycle, warranty coverage, maintenance and repair options, and response times of the manufacturer you're dealing with. The most expensive scanner is the one that sits idle waiting for repair while reams of paperwork stack up.

As your work volumes increase, seemingly minor differences in image quality, paper handling and features such as double-feed detection will have a big impact on real-world scanning throughput and downstream processing efficiency. A best practice is to try out a scanner you're considering with plenty of samples of the documents you plan to capture. This is a perfectly reasonable request to make of a reseller or integrator if you're buying in volume or purchasing a higher-priced scanner.

If you're using OCR or other recognition technologies and you're dealing with highly variable or hard-to-read documents, look for state-of-the-art image processing, such as Kofax VRS or Kodak's similar Perfect Page and iThresholding combo. This will ensure best-possible image quality and higher recognition accuracy. All the better if the scanner can deliver 300 dpi images at rated or near-rated speeds.

When it comes to double-feed detection, length-based is okay, infrared is better and ultrasonic is the best you can get (although different techniques are required for the fastest, high-end scanners with open transports). Ultrasonic detection is now the norm for most production models, but the technology is finding its way down into the departmental range.

Think ahead in anticipating paper volumes. Studies show that once organizations embrace imaging, they tend to add more and more documents and applications to the mix. It's cheaper to operate and maintain one, higher-speed scanner than multiple devices. For some users, simplex (one-sided) scanning is the predictable norm and you can find bargain-priced simplex scanners. For the majority of users, however, duplex capabilities are a must. A few models achieve duplexing by flipping pages over through the ADF (rather than incorporating front- and back-side cameras), but this takes twice as long and is twice as likely to lead to jams.

If you have distributed capture in mind you'll obviously need scanners for every location, but this generally means you'll be using more affordable departmental or workgroup devices, and you won't need dedicated personnel. Books, magazines and other bound documents call for flatbed scanners, obviously, and if you're working with graphics, you'll want 400 or even 600 dpi native resolution.

The high end of the scanning market is different in many ways because scanners can do more than just take pictures of documents. Features such as barcode and patch code reading are common in the production range, but high-end scanners can also incorporate built-in OCR, ICR, MICR reading. During the scan process you can use recognition to identify particular document types, imprint in customized ways based on content and then automatically separate exceptions or multiple document types using sorting pockets. These are capabilities that simply aren't available on conventional flatbed and sheetfed scanners, and you can't compare the value of high-end machines by looking at price and speed alone. You have to consider the end-to-end document process.

Fujitsu fi-4120C2/fi-4220C2 (See Fujitsu's Document Imaging Web page http://www.fujitsu.ca/products/imaging/

Strengths: Bundled with Acrobat and VRS - Infrared doublefeed detection

Weaknesses: $200 to $400 more than the competition

Rated speeds: 25 ppm/50 ipm (bitonal/grayscale at 200 dpi, color at 150 dpi).

List price: fi-4120C2 (sheedfed) - $1,395; fi-4220C2 (flatbed) - $1,995

Synopsis: Upgraded versions of Fujitsu's best-selling models are twice as fast in duplex at 50 ipm. The bundle offers Kofax VRS image processing as well as Adobe Acrobat (and the sheetfed fi-4120C2 also includes Capio, Kofax's desktop scanning utility). Other new features include infrared double-feed detection, long-document feeding up to 36-inches, and an optional post-scan imprinter.

Xerox DocuMate 252/262

Strengths: Price leader - Bundle includes Kofax VRS - Programmable One Touch feature

Weaknesses: Simple length-based doublefeed detection

Rated speeds: 252 - 25 ppm/50 ipm bitonal, grayscale at 200 dpi; 24 ppm/40 ipm color at 150 dpi; 262 speed are approximately 30 percent faster

List price: 252- $999; 262 - $1,299

Synopsis: Sold under the Xerox brand name, the 252 and 262 are distributed by Visioneer and are the company's first forays into duplex scanning. Both offer extensive software bundles including VRS.

Bowe Bell & Howell Sidekick 1400

Strengths: Fast bitonal speeds and competitive price - Includes Kofax VRS/Capio software

Weaknesses: Bundle lacks OCR/PDF software - Slow color speeds - Simple length-based doublefeed detection

Rated speeds: 43 ppm/76 ipm bitonal at 200 dpi, 19 ppm/34 ipm color at 150 dpi

List price: $4,095

Synopsis: Sheetfed scanner bundled with Kofax VRS and Capio desktop scanning utility.

Panasonic KV-S3065CL/CW

Strengths: Competitive pricen Auto color detection and blank-page deletion - Auto crop/deskew in bitonal, grayscale or color

Weaknesses: Kofax VRS optional n Can't scan at rated speed at 300 dpi

Rated speeds: KV-S3065CL - 65 ppm/120 ipm (portrait) in bitonal, grayscale or color at 200 dpi; KV-S3065CW - 75 ppm/140 ipm (landscape) bitonal, grayscale or color at 200 dpi

List price: KV-S3065CL - $5,995; KV-S3065CW - $6,995

Synopsis: Letter/legal- and ledger-feeding models offering fast rated speeds, competitive prices and rich feature sets including ultrasonic doublefeed detection, 300-page ADFs and image processing including auto color detection, dynamic thresholding, blank-page removal, dual-stream output and auto crop/deskew in bitonal, grayscale or color. Optional pre- or post-scan imprinter.

Fujitsu fi-5650C and fi-5750C

Strengths: Segment-leading price/speed (fi-5650C) - 300-dpi bitonal scanning at rated speed n High (600 dpi) native resolution

Weaknesses: Flatbed (fi-5750C) price isn't as competitive - Kofax VRS option is $1,600 - Flatbed lacks imprinter option

Rated speeds: 71 ppm/142 ipm (landscape) bitonal, grayscale or color at 200 dpi or 300 dpi

List price: fi-5650C (sheetfed) - $5,995; fi-5750C (flatbed) - $8,449

Synopsis: Both models improve throughput and OCR results with 300-dpi scanning at full rated speed in bitonal, grayscale or color. Large (12" by 18") flatbed and 600-dpi native resolution support graphical applications. Both models have ultrasonic double-feed detection and scan documents up to 34 inches.

Kodak i600 Series

Strengths: Superior paper handling, image processing and throughput - Scans at rated speeds with rotation, image processing and dual-stream output - Compact size and user-friendly ergonomics

Weaknesses: High price n 90-day warranty period - Relies on separator sheets rather than automatic color detection

Rated speeds: 80 ppm/320 ipm (i620) up to 120 ppm/480 ipm (i660) in bitonal, grayscale, color or dual-stream output mode scanning in landscape at 200 dpi

List price: i620 - $27,000; i640 - $37,000; i660 - $52,000

Synopsis: The i600 combines state-of-the-art paper handling and image processing with a proven four-channel (red, green, blue and black) CCD and Firewire interface that ensure rated speed even when rotating images, applying multiple image processes and capturing dual-stream (simultaneous bitonal and color) output. All three models include ultrasonic double-feed detection and imprinters, and you can optionally choose Kofax VRS ($2,200) in place of Kodak's Perfect Page with iThresholding processing.

IBML ImageTrac III

Strengths: Open transport excels with mixed paper sizes and weights, envelopes and bound documents - Scan-time recognition and sorting enable intelligent processing - Scans at rated speed at 300 dpi

Weaknesses: High price - not required if you don't have mixed/challenging docs or need sorting/recognition advantages - Transport and SoftTrac application demand special training

Rated speeds: 120 ppm/480 ipm in bitonal, grayscale or color (landscape) at 200 dpi or 300 dpi.

List price: $110,000

Synopsis: Entry-level open-transport scanner with dual-stream output and rated-speed scanning at 300 dpi for better recognition and peak process throughput. Scan-time OCR, ICR, barcode, patchcode and MICR reading (optional) combine with imprinting and up to 15 pockets (also optional) for scan-time routing, sorting and down-stream processing intelligence.

- "Document Scanner Guide 2004," Ralph Gammon and Doug Henschen, Transform Magazine http://www.imagingmagazine.com/, December 1, 2004, Volume 13, Number 12 Issue, http://www.imagingmagazine.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=532003