The popularity of digital photography and the need to archive traditional photos have led many hardware companies to revamp their scanner offerings. If you routinely need to convert hard-copy photos or graphics and written documentation to digital files, scanning can probably help you work faster and more efficiently.
The price of a scanner will be determined by two factors: resolution and features. Resolution is how crisp or accurate the scanner will render an image, usually expressed in dots per inch (DPI). The higher the DPI, the better the scanned image will look. Today, even budget scanners routinely break the 3200-DPI mark — a far cry from the 600 DPI standard of just a couple of years ago.
Related to, but separate, from DPI is bit depth. Bit depth is the number of shades of a specific color the scanner can pick up. The higher the bit depth, the better the scanner is at distinguishing among different colors and hues. A 24-bit scanner will pick up nearly 17 million colors and accommodate the needs of most businesses. If you plan to scan slides, negatives, or transparencies, look for a 32- or 48-bit scanner, which will distinguish better between shaded areas and shadows.
Your needs will determine what features you need. If you’ll use your scanner exclusively for scanning photos, then a dedicated photo scanner is probably your best bet. But if you routinely scan invoices or other documents, a flatbed is the obvious choice. Features and options may include auto-feeders for multipage documents, extra memory, bundled software, and other image-management functions.
As with any computer hardware purchase, doing your homework is essential. Read the reviews online and in computer magazines, and make the rounds of Usenet groups and discussion forums to see what real-world users are saying. And, as always, save the packaging and user manual and read your warranty carefully.