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Is Scanning Considered Low-Tech?

Are scanners going the way of the fax machine or, worse, the now all-but-dead trade of film stripping in the graphic arts prepress production workflow? Hard copies of medical records still are scanned, of course, and I use a desktop multifunction printer (MFP) to scan and digitize original receipts from business trips, but what about scanning customer artwork on high-end drum and flatbed devices? Do companies still do that, or is it considered archaic technology by today’s digital prepress standards?

“From a production print perspective, … it [scanning] is not a key application,” admitted Lisa Weese, product marketing manager at Canon Solutions America. “If our customers are doing scanning, most already have scanners in place.” And, as people in the industry know, scanner hardware tends to be durable equipment that does not break down very often.

“We do not offer stand-alone scanners,” Weese continued. That being said, “what little bit of scan work our customers potentially might have, they can accomplish … using one of the scanners on our production engines such as the imagePRESS, varioPRINT DP, or imageRUNNER ADVANCE series.”

In the wide-format space, scanning “is an active marketplace,” countered Steve Blanken, GM of scanner manufacturer Contex Americas. But he also acknowledged that large-format scanners have become “almost a commodity, with prices driven way down.” Contex’s business, traditionally in computer-aided design (CAD); architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC); and geographic information system (GIS) markets, has encroached into the graphics market.

“Print shops are looking to expand and grow,” Blanken explained. “Many of them are getting into printing for artists that involves critical color matches, where they have to use [Adobe] Photoshop post-scan. They may be matching color to existing Pantone or logo colors or even to another printed image. Accuracy and color fidelity are key considerations with these applications, so the pricing is not as sensitive,” Blanken pointed out, yielding better profit margins.

Contex’s 18x24-inch HD iFlex flatbed model features a digital camera for higher quality. “It can copy a 24x36 image with an auto-stitcher built in,” explained Blanken. The firm’s rollfed scanners measure up to 54 inches wide. The HD Ultra rollfed scanner, available in 36- and 42-inch widths, sports a charged coupled device (CCD) digital cam that captures details of maps, drawings, posters, and fine art. Now Microsoft Windows 8 compatible, the HD Ultra was recognized by readers of Wide-Format Imaging magazine as a “Top Product” in 2013 and 2012. It is designed to meet the needs of high-productivity archiving teams, scanning professionals, and reprographics departments. For technical Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) project work, the Contex 44-inch IQ Quattro 4400 can scan A0/E sized documents in just 3.5 seconds.

Other scanning opportunities are coming from the legal (courtroom displays) and quality-control marketplaces. In the latter example, food and pharma labels printed on web-offset presses need dosage or ingredient legibility verified. Contex may place a device at the end of the press to scan every hundredth label. “This is a hot market,” Blanken reported. “It’s all about avoiding litigation. You need to be able to see details,” he added, to ensure that the letter E isn’t mistaken for the numeral 8, for instance.

MFPs Can Scan

Like Canon, HP does not include stand-alone scanners in its Graphic Arts portfolio but it does offer Designjet eMultifunction Printers with scanning features. These are ideally suited for print service providers (PSPs), the OEM said, particularly in the AEC space. Because they are web-connected, these printers streamline the collaboration process, allowing print shops to create a file, scan, then send to a customer for a quick review or receive prints via HP Designjet ePrint & Share. Its Designjet T2500 eMultifuction Printer offers a built-in scanner.

Miller Blueprint, a PSP in Austin, TX, has installed a new HP Designjet T1500 ePrinter that features web connectivity with ePrint & Share (but no scanner). The Central Texas firm also has a KIP America 700 multifunction system featuring 600x600 dot-per-inch (dpi) imaging technology as well as an integrated scanner. Miller also has on its production floor the KIP 2300 High Production Scan System and its 720 large-format scanner: a 24-bit, 36-inch-wide full-color image capture system ideally suited for processing photographs, complex maps, and AEC/CAD drawings. The 720 features KIP’s Contact Image Sensor (CIS) technology, which enables high-resolution, high-speed image capture with energy-saving operation (Energy Star qualified).

The 2300 high productivity scanner features KIP Tru-Speed Technology for high-speed data processing with no delays. Outstanding image quality is delivered through the innovative use of bright white LED light sources for illumination, according to the manufacturer, and 600x600 dpi resolution. It scans color at up to 30 feet per minute (fpm); 60 fpm for monochrome. There also is direct connection support for inkjets.

Colortrac, too, is a pioneer and leading innovator in cost-effective color and monochrome wide-format scanners for the AEC market. At the recent Graphics of the Americas expo in Miami Beach, the firm displayed large-format scanning and MFP solutions, including the SC 42 MFP and SC 25 and Gx+ 42 scanners. This summer, it will exhibit large and small versions of its SmartLF range of large-format scanners at 2014 Esri International User Conference in San Diego (July 14-17). Esri is a supplier of GIS software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications.

No More ‘Garbage’

Back in the late 1980s, prepress operators at RR Donnelley’s old (since shut down) Chicago Manufacturing Division knew a thing or two about quality – or lack of, therein. These were men who had worked for decades on big-time, high-end catalog projects for customers such as Sears, JC Penney, and Montgomery Wards. They were solid judges of artwork, but they were not always the most couth of blue-collar workers. These three-shift, shot-and-a-beer guys had a saying when sub-par art would come through the door on the Southside of Chicago: “You can’t polish a turd,” they’d say to manage the expectations of their co-workers in the pressroom.

Well, a quarter-century later, the old-timers would be pleased to know that there is software out there, such as Canon’s Océ PRISMAprepare, that actually can make poor scans look better. “Where we really add value is through our PRISMAprepare make ready software, which has a superior scan clean-up tool,” explained Weese. “Customers typically have been following a scan workflow, which is basically ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ PRISMAprepare software enables our customers to take garbage in and make it a clean, improved document for output. It’s full document light-table capabilities, automation templates, and WYSIWYG GUI make scan clean-up easy and painless for the customers and, more importantly, it not only speeds up time to production but improves the output of quality the print shop is providing to their clients.”