What You Need to Know About Wide-format Scanners

These days, given state-of-the-art scanner technology, there are numerous ways PSPs can parlay scanning capabilities into greater profitability.

But before they do, they have to sort out the different technology and alternatives available in today’s scanners, and consider whether or not they are a fit with their own particular needs. In short, understanding the options, the technology, and the market opportunities is essential to making the right choice for your next scanner purchase.

In the next few pages, we’ll help prospective scanner purchasers sort out the sometimes complicated considerations that must be weighed before they buy.

Opportunities to Profit

Today’s scanners offer substantial opportunities for profit. Matching the right opportunity with the right scanner is one way to narrow down the selection of available scanners for any print service professional.

First, let’s look at a couple of fundamentals regarding size and use of color.

In many settings requiring scanners, the limited space available for office equipment demands compactness. That’s one reason that the integrated all-in-one printer and scanner accounts for a greater and greater share of sales these days.

“We see 95 percent of our sales in this” area, says Bob Honn, director of product marketing, large-format solutions, with Canon Solutions America.

Color is another consideration. Whether scanners sought are integrated scanners or stand-alone scanners, most of the scanning done today is color scanning, Honn says. “Do you need the digitized output to be in color?” he asks. “If you work with original plan sets in color, and want to capture those in color, it requires you to have a color scanner.”

As for profit opportunities, Malcolm Lane, president of Colortrac, cites several. “The obvious one is for shops to offer scanning services, where the customer brings their documents in” to be scanned, he says. “Another is to provide facilities management, in which scanners can be located on the customers’ sites, and jobs completed there.”

Shops can also offer rental services, Lane reports. “Maybe the customer has a job they want to do themselves,” he says. “We provide software designed for either touchscreen or regular PC mouse operability. Shops can rent the scanner to customers to do their own scanning jobs.”

Eric DuPaul, Designjet business development manager for Hewlett-Packard Co., offers several more profit avenues. First, because approximately 50 percent of all construction is remodeling, scanning is essential in digitizing old drawings. “There are tons of old drawings done the old-fashioned way,” DuPaul says.

Customers are looking for a service that can move the data from the scan into the software workflow with which they’re working, DuPaul explains.

Another opportunity is one many shops overlook, DuPaul says. That is in storing or archiving documents. “We can teach a repro shop how to offer data storage services for their customers. A lot of companies are missing that piece of it,” he reports.

The Technology

The technology behind scanning has not changed much in the last few years. CIS (Contact Image Sensor) and CCD (Charged Coupled Device) are the technologies favored in scanning. CCD scanners produce the best color quality, making them more appropriate for reproducing posters, artwork, photography, paintings, and fine art, says Randy Geesman, co-founder and president of Paradigm Imaging.

All other types of documents fall into the category of technical documents, such as architectural and structural drawings and maps, which can be scanned using CIS. Capturing exact colors and gradations isn’t needed in scanning this type of document.

“CIS technology seems to be getting a little better, from the standpoint of the software that runs the scanner, not necessarily the scanner itself,” DuPaul says.

Differentiating Between Options

Which scanner you choose will depend on which of a variety of options and alternatives are the highest priorities at your shop. Here are some examples.

Width and volume. “When I’m talking with a customer interested in scanning, I ask, ‘How large is your widest document?’” Geesman says. “Scanners go all the way up to 56 inches, so I like to know the widths of the documents being scanned.”

His next question is whether the buyer needs to scan many documents. If they need to scan 30x42 inches, the architectural E size, and they have to scan, say, 20,000 drawings, they should get the 42 inch. “It’s easier to do that volume if you’re scanning in landscape mode,” he says. “Some might say they do have some 48-inch maps, something larger than 42 [inches], and in that case I’d advise them to go up to 56 inches.

“Again, it comes down to how many they want to scan. If it’s three documents a year, don’t step up to the higher-priced machine.”

For service bureaus. For those shops that fall into the category of service bureaus, Geesman recommends buying a 56-inch scanner. “They don’t want to lock themselves into a corner by having a smaller scanner,” he says. “As a service bureau, you need to cater to a broad range of customers. You don’t want to limit your capabilities.”

Scanning mounted documents. One question any PSP should ask before selecting a scanner is whether documents to be scanned include those that are mounted as opposed to un-mounted, Geesman says. While most documents are printed on some flexible and fairly thin material, others are mounted on boards. That requires a scanner capable of accommodating different thicknesses.

Scanning fragile documents. The fragility of historical documents, notably documents that have been rolled and may be tattered, makes it inadvisable for them to be fed through roll-feed scanners. That’s when a wide-format flatbed scanner comes into play.

Image resolution. Another issue to consider is image resolution, and here two options exist, according to Honn. One option is optical, similar to a digital camera.

The other is interpolated, in which an image captured at 300x300 dpi can be transformed into 600x600 dpi by means of software. “The software is able to make it higher resolution, but any time you can get the higher resolutions with optical as opposed to interpolated, you should go with optical,” Honn explains. “The actual image captured through CIS or CCD technology will always be better through the scanner technology, before being manipulated by software.”

Recommended products. When it comes to recommending a scanner, HP’s DuPaul suggests the HP Designjet T2300 eMFP, an all-in-one package that fits the needs of small to medium-sized ships that want to offer large-format color scanning, color printing, and copying. The HP Designjet T2300 eMFP is a 44-inch color printer with an integrated 36-inch Contex CIS scanner. “Why the 36-inch scanner?” DuPaul asks. “Because, quite frankly, 90 percent of the drawings are going to be 36 inches or less.”

Canon Solutions America’s Honn says that, based on scanner capabilities and compact footprint, his recommendations would be the Océ Plot Wave 350 and the Océ Color Wave 300. “Both feature attractive price points, compact footprint, and advanced scanning technologies,” he says.

Colortrac’s Lane reports his company just introduced its SmartLF SC Series of color scanners, which he says are ideal for reprographics shops. “They are very economic, and include unique new technology inside,” Lane says. “There is a SingleSensor in the heart of the scanning technology. We’ve taken CIS technology and packaged it into a single unit, which gives more controlled, uniform image quality.”

Colortrac’s new SC Series full-color scanners, available in 25-, 36-, and 42-inch widths, boast another unique feature as well. Colortrac is the first wide-format scanner to include the new USB 3.0 interface, Lane says.

The benefit of that feature is the ability to move the image data into the PC much faster than previously possible, improving the user’s productivity, he explains.

The Future of Scanning

So where does scanning go from here? If the technology being previewed in trade shows is any indication, there will be more opportunity for PSPs to profit via scanning services in the years ahead. “One of the cool technologies I saw at an event in Florida was a 3-D scanner designed for manufacturing,” DuPaul says. “You move the laser around a stationary object, and it gathers point data. That data is imported into a 3D software program that can then be manipulated and incorporated into a design.”

The potential opportunity awaiting PSPs is to be able to scan, for example, a jewelry design that is then sent to a manufacturer to be created.

“A small mom-and-pop jewelry store can act like the big guys and create their own designs en masse,” DuPaul says. “The technology is available today, but is still in its infancy. And it will be some time before the small shops can purchase.”