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Scanners

The typical desktop scanner looks and acts very much like a photocopier. In fact you can get multipurpose boxes that scan, make photocopies, and also print from your computer. Some can also serve as fax machines. A typical scanner has a flat glass bed, and a lens inside that moves back and forth to read whatever you have placed on the glass plate. The machine gathers the image, one line at a time, and records the data the same way the digital camera does, but directly to the computer. Figure 3.4 is a picture of my current scanner, a Microtek ScanMaker 5700. I chose this one mainly because it is fast and reasonably accurate color-wise.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 The Microtek ScanMaker 5700.

These days you'll find scanners that connect to your computer by FireWire, as well as USB, parallel port, and SCSI. Some can even connect via radio frequency to an AirPort wireless network (an Apple product). The HP PSC 1350 is typical of the combination scanner, printer, and copiers. For its size, it's remarkably good at both scanning and printing, and is ideal for scrapbookers, because you can plug a camera or compact flashcard directly into it. This helpful device is shown in Figure 3.5. You can print directly from a flashcard, with no computer involved.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 The HP PSC 1350 and the Epson CX 6400—both small, but effective.

The process of printing directly from a Compact flashcard is really quite simple. First, you plug the card into a slot in the printer. Then, you print a "proof" page that shows all the images on the card. Finally, you simply select the ones you want to print, and run them off in any size from 4x6 to 8 1/2x13. Refer to the owner's manual for your printer to learn how to choose and load different paper sizes, and how to print the proof.

Epson also makes several good combination printer, scanner, and copiers. The CX 6400 does all the same tricks the HP does, and costs about the same. Comparing the same photo printed from both printers, I preferred the Epson version. The color seemed smoother, and the image appeared to have less grain, as if the Epson used smaller ink drops. However, either one suffices.

You Gotta Have Connections

Computers need to be able to "talk" to their printers, scanners, cameras, external drives, and to the Internet. They can make these connections in any of several ways. It used to be that SCSI (Serial Computer System Interface, pronounced "scuzzy") and parallel ports (LPT 1 and LPT 2) were pretty much the only way to do so. SCSI had a lot of problems, sometimes needing a bit of magic to make it work. If the cable was too long, the signal faded out before it got where it was going. If the signal was too strong or not properly terminated, it caused misleading echoes that the computer would try to interpret. That didn't work either. Then came a newer, faster kind of connection called USB (Universal Serial Bus). USB seems to be free of most of these problems and is faster and uses less expensive cable and connectors. Then, Apple gave us FireWire, for PCs as well as for Macs. It's faster than USB, and even more reliable. Finally, there are wireless hubs, such as Apple's AirPort and AirPort Extreme, that connect your keyboard, mouse, and other devices using radio frequency technology. PC users can find similar wireless technology at the computer store or using an online merchant.

Because most of the photos that you'll be adding to a scrapbook are from old paper prints, owning a scanner saves you both money and time. They're not expensive, and using one is about as complicated as making a photocopy. You place the item you want to scan on the scanner's glass plate close the cover and click the Scan button. By installing the proprietary software that came with your scanner, you can begin a new scan, preview the image, and choose how to save data to your computer's hard drive. Image editing programs like Paint Shop Pro, Picture It!, and Adobe Photoshop Elements scan directly into a new document in the program. In fact, the majority of scanners on the market today come with one of these popular picture-editing programs as well as with their own proprietary scanning software.

You can use your scanner to photograph small objects, too. Old jewelry, coins, medals, and other small mementos scan just as well as photos and can then be printed as photos and mounted on foamcore board to give your pages some depth. Figure 3.6 shows a few examples. Notice how clear they are. When you are scanning objects, make sure they don't scratch against the scanner's glass plate.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 These were all scanned with the Microtek scanner.

In addition to image-gathering software, most scanners also come with software that lets you scan text into an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program and edit it in your word processor. If you have old documents that you want to share via email, such as old family newspaper clippings, this is a good way to transfer the content to your computer. OCR scanning doesn't preserve the "look" of the document, though. It's just for getting the words into the computer without having to retype them. Accuracy depends on how clearly printed the original text is. Typically, OCR software attempts to "guess" at letters that it cannot read clearly, sometimes with unusual or funny results. Newspaper and book print usually come out pretty well. Hand lettering, unless it's in nice clean handwriting, doesn't work for OCR. Sorry, but the program's not quite that sophisticated.

TIP

Several scanners, including some Microtek and Epson models, come with special software, which actually repairs damaged photos as they are scanned.

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