Last updated: August 5, 2021

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A flatbed scanner is the most common and best-known type of scanner. It allows you to effectively digitise images and documents for further processing. Flatbed scanners come in a wide variety of models and the quality and price differ from model to model.

With our flatbed scanner guide, we want to help you find exactly the right flatbed scanner for you. We have compiled the most important criteria for buying a flatbed scanner and explain the advantages and disadvantages of the different types.




Summary

  • A flatbed scanner can be used to scan and digitise photos, pictures, documents and sometimes even slides or negatives.
  • Flatbed scanners are available with CIS technology and with CCD technology. The first type usually works faster and is cheaper, the second type delivers much better quality, but also costs more.
  • The more often and the more professionally you want to use the flatbed scanner, the more you need to look at criteria such as colour depth, resolution and scanning speed.

The Best Flatbed Scanner in the United Kingdom: Our Choices

Flatbed scanners: buying and evaluation criteria

Flatbed scanners differ in a number of qualitative characteristics. Before you decide on a model, you should take a closer look at the following criteria.

In the following, we have summarised the most important aspects of the individual evaluation criteria so that you have more clarity when making your purchase decision.

Resolution

The resolution of a scanner is measured in dpi (dots per inch). This means dots per inch. However, the manufacturer's dpi specifications should usually be treated with great caution. As a rule, it is an interpolated result; one could also say colloquially: a calculated result. The "real" dpi figure is usually one third of the manufacturer's specification.

In principle, most flatbed scanners are available with 300 or 600 dpi, although 300 dpi is quite sufficient for normal private use.

For normal private use, a resolution of 300 dpi is sufficient.

300 dpi is also the norm for magazines and journals. If you place a lot of value on high resolution and you want to scan important photos or pictures, a resolution of 600 dpi is suitable for you. Over 600 dpi only makes sense in individual cases. For example, if you want to greatly enlarge a photo or for a slide scan.

However, you should not forget that even a scanner with 3000 dpi cannot "fix" a blurred photo. At best, the scan is a 1:1 reproduction of the original, but the scan will never be "sharper" than the original. Furthermore, a high resolution also means a larger scan file.

Compatibility with operating systems

In order to use your flatbed scanner, it must be compatible with the operating system on your computer. Generally, almost all scanners are compatible with Windows. With Apple products or the Linux operating system, it can sometimes be more difficult.

Before you buy, check the manufacturer's specifications to see which operating systems are compatible with your flatbed scanner.

Scanning speed

Another important criterion for a flatbed scanner is the scanning speed. Particularly when it comes to coping with large numbers of scans, slow devices are a real time waster.

A long scan speed is a real time waster when scanning frequently.

However, the speed always depends on how high the resolution is and whether you want to scan in colour or black and white. According to an approximate rule of thumb, a scan with a resolution of 300 dpi should take between 4 - 10 seconds

If the value is approaching 20 seconds, it is a rather inferior device. If you need a faster scan time than 4 seconds, then you should better use a large document scanner.

Tonal range / colour depth

The tonal range is basically the answer to the question "How much colour information does an image or image file contain? The higher the tonal range, the more detailed and accurate the individual colour gradations. The tonal range is measured in bits or in bits per colour channel.

For black and white images, a colour depth of 8 bits is perfectly adequate, while for colour images 8 bits per colour channel (i.e. a total of 24 bits) is a good value. Normally, a screen cannot display more than 32 bits of colour depth.

Normally, a monitor cannot display more than 32 bit colour depth.

If you use the scanner professionally to process photos or to preserve them for posterity, a colour depth of 96 bits is recommended. This improves the gradation of dark tones in particular.

Transmitted light attachment

If you plan to use your scanner to scan slides or negatives of photos, your device will need a transparency unit. The scanning process for transparent materials is not the same as for conventional paper or normal photos. For this purpose, the transparent original must be transilluminated from the back.

If you want to scan photos or slides, you need a transparency unit.

If the flatbed scanner has such a function, it is also possible to scan negatives and slides. However, this also increases the price of the device and the otherwise very flat housing cover is somewhat larger.

Connection types

No matter which flatbed scanner model you choose, a connection to the computer must always be established. This is usually done with a USB connection and in rare cases with an HDMI connection.

Always make sure that the appropriate network cables are included in the delivery.

If you choose a model with a cable connection, pay close attention to the scope of delivery.

Often users are surprised to find that they cannot connect their flatbed scanner to their computer straight away because the network cables are not included with the product. It is therefore most practical if the connection cables are included in the scope of delivery.

If you want to avoid cables as much as possible, a flatbed scanner with a W-LAN connection is a good choice. This way you can save valuable space on your desk.

Flatbed scanners: frequently asked questions and answers

A number of questions about flatbed scanners are circulating on the internet. We have collected the most important ones for you and answered them briefly.

What is a flatbed scanner?

The flatbed scanner is the best known and most widely used version of the scanner. In its nature, it works much like a printer or photocopier. First you open the cover and place the original on the glass plate. The page to be scanned faces downwards. Then you close the cover again and start the scanning process by pressing a button.

Under the glass plate is a scanning unit that moves along a rail under the glass. While it performs this movement, it scans the original line by line and digitises it. The flatbed scanner then forwards the digitised original.

Who is a flatbed scanner suitable for?

A flatbed scanner is suitable for anyone who regularly wants to scan documents or digitise photos from the past. A flatbed scanner is also well suited for office use. When it comes to scanning large amounts of photos or official papers almost daily, the flatbed scanner is not recommended. This type of scanner is not designed for continuous operation.

Flachbettscanner-1

If you want to preserve old mementos such as slides or negatives for posterity, your scanner needs a transparency unit.
(Image source: pixabay / Alexey Marcov)

For private use and occasional use in the office, however, the flatbed scanner is well suited.

What types of flatbed scanners are there?

Essentially, flatbed scanners differ in a whole range of features and characteristics. However, the most decisive criterion for differentiation is the internal functioning of the device. A distinction is made between flatbed scanners with CIS technology and flatbed scanners with CCD technology.

With the so-called CIS technology (Contact Image Sensor), several thousand light-sensitive dots are lined up on the scanning surface and equipped with a plastic lens. Parallel to this is a row of LEDs that illuminate the material to be scanned.

Flachbettscanner-2

In our professional lives, we often have to send signed documents. The best way to do this is with a flatbed scanner
(Image source: pexel / Andrea Piacquadio).

As the name suggests, it is crucial that the paper or photo to be scanned has direct contact with the scanning surface. If, for example, the paper is slightly wavy or you intend to scan a book page, the depth of field of the light-emitting diodes will quickly reach its limits. In such cases, flatbed scanners with CIS technology often produce poor results.

Apart from that, a good model with CIS technology works perfectly. With smooth documents, the scanning result is impeccable. The low power consumption and the fact that the device only needs a very short warm-up phase are particularly positive features of this technology. Last but not least, you can save a lot of money with a flatbed scanner with CIS technology.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
CCD technology high quality, scans curled originals without problems higher costs, higher power consumption, longer warm-up phase
CIS technology inexpensive, power-saving, short warm-up phase problems when scanning uneven originals

A flatbed scanner with CCD (Charge-Coupled-Device) technology works with very bright conventional lamps and delivers a much higher depth of field than its competitor with CIS technology.

This allows you to scan, for example, paper or images that do not lie perfectly on the scanning surface. Scanning magazines, books or slightly curled paper is no problem for the flatbed scanner with CCD technology.

This technology is somewhat higher quality than CIS technology; nevertheless, it has some disadvantages. On the one hand, the better scanning method is reflected in the price, on the other hand, the power consumption is higher and the warm-up phase is longer.

What does a flatbed scanner cost?

Flatbed scanners come in different price ranges. The range from the cheapest to the most expensive is quite wide. Depending on the type, quality and accessories of the scanner, the price also varies.

Type price in euros
Flatbed scanner with CIS technology 80 - 120
Flatbed scanner with CCD technology 300 - 800

Most flatbed scanners with CIS technology therefore cost around 80 - 120 euros. Flatbed scanners with CCD technology clearly go from 300 to 800 euros above this level.

What are the alternatives to a flatbed scanner?

If you want to scan a text or an image but don't have a scanner available, you can also use an alternative in an emergency.

Alternative Description
Digital camera First, make sure you have good lighting and a white surface. Place the original on the white surface and take a photo of your original at a 90 degree angle. You can hold the camera particularly steady with a repro stand.
Smartphone A similar procedure works with a smartphone. Try to photograph the well-lit original at a right angle. If it is text, you can use apps such as Camscanner or geniusscan to transfer the text to another device.

However, if you want to scan often and in high quality, you are better off with a flatbed scanner.

Which accessories are worthwhile with a flatbed scanner?

A flatbed scanner is a complicated technical device. For ideal use, certain extras can sometimes be worthwhile. We have listed a few of them here.

  • Scan-to function: With a scan-to function you can determine where your digitised document is forwarded to. The most common scan-to functions route the scan to your email, your laptop or a cloud-based online service such as one drive, i cloud or dropbox.
  • OCR text recognition software: Especially if you not only want to read texts but also edit them, a text analysis programme is worthwhile. The higher the quality of the scan, the fewer errors will occur during analysis. All in all, text recognition without errors is rather a mystery. Therefore, the rule is: reread texts analysed with software yourself and check for spelling mistakes.

Conclusion

Flatbed scanners offer an efficient way of converting documents, images and photos into digital form quickly and with high quality. Which of the various models is right for you depends on many factors. These include, in particular, the frequency of use and whether the device is to be used for professional purposes.

Overall, flatbed scanners are a good investment for almost everyone in the modern world. Every now and then, one finds oneself in the situation where one needs to send a contract or a document by e-mail. Sometimes you just want to save pictures from the past on your PC so that they are preserved for posterity.

Image source: Unknown / 123rf

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