PAWDOC: Scanning

Despite today’s widespread use of computers and email to create and distribute electronic documents, there has been little, if any, reduction in the use of paper in business. So, office workers  are likely to receive, annotate or even handwrite paper documents for the foreseeable future; and scanning remains an integral part of any filing regime. However, it is a much more straightforward activity than it used to be: scanners are now fast, effective and cheap and capable of digitising most documents. Contrast and brightness settings can deal with faint or over-emboldened documents; and colour scanning is no longer problematic – nearly all scanners can scan colour and the larger file sizes produced are no longer an issue as storage has become cheap and plentiful. Even large document sizes are no longer the issue they used to be because, if they are too large to be scanned on the equipment you have, they can simply be photographed with today’s high resolution cameras in mobile phones to produce easily readable images which can be enlarged at will.

The time it takes to scan a document is highly dependent on the model of scanner that is used and the size of document being scanned, so I can only provide timings for the particular scanner that I use – a 5 year old Canon DR-2020U A4 scanner. It takes roughly 1.5 – 2 minutes for a 1 page colour document; and roughly 2.5 – 3 minutes for a 5 page double-sided colour document. These are overall times which include preparing the paper, specifying the name of the file containing the scanned documents, and saving the file to a particular Windows folder.

Experience has shown that working with scanned documents is perfectly doable – the image quality on today’s screens is good and, in any case, the image can be enlarged if necessary. Of course, it is much easier to do so at a fixed workstation – perhaps with a large screen; having to work with scans on a laptop in meetings or while travelling is inevitably a little less comfortable, especially as it isn’t really possible to fit the whole of an A4 page in portrait mode on a typical laptop screen and be able to read it easily. More often than not users will enlarge the image so that only half a page is showing on the screen and then scroll up and down. Having said that, I have found that the iPad – and presumably other tablets – overcomes this problem. Whole A4 scanned pages can be presented in full on an iPad in portrait mode, and are very clear and fully readable. The iPad is light to hold and it is easy to navigate through multi-page documents; and it can be purchased with sufficient storage as to hold all the digital documents in a collection such as PAWDOC. This would seem to be the best way to put a digitised filing system to use – though great care would have to be taken to look after it as the very characteristics that make it so useable also make it extremely vulnerable to loss or theft.

Specific questions relating to this aspect are answered below. Note that the status of each answer will fall into one of the following 5 categories: Not Started, Ideas Formed, Experience Gained, Partially Answered, Fully Answered.

Q15. How long does it take to scan documents?

2001 Answer: Fully answered:

  • About 30 seconds for a black & white page. (Chan 1993: 28)
  • 40 ± 50 seconds for a black & white page (Wilson 1997: 3)
  • 30 ± 50 seconds a page for dual journal pages on a flatbed scanner (Wilson 1996b)

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Using a Canon DR-2020U scanner purchased in 2013 and a Chillblast i5 computer with 8Gb of RAM and 1Tb SSD drive purchased in 2018, scanning time for a 5 page double-sided colour document is about 70 seconds; and for a single colour page about 25 sec. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story because the scanning process also involves preparing the pages and storing the output. Approximate timings for all of the different process elements are as follows: a) Prepare the paper ie. remove any staples or postITs, get pages  aligned etc.. (5 seconds if there are no problems – but could take much longer) b) Start the scan – place the pages in the scanner, select the appropriate scanning job – Colour or B&W etc. – and press START (10 seconds), c) Perform the scan (70 seconds for 5 double sided colour pages, or 25 seconds for a single colour page), d) Create the file title – paste the Ref No (which had been copied in the indexing process) into the file title box and type in the rest of the file title  (15 -30 seconds), e) Save the file – select the folder into which the document is to be placed and press SAVE (20 – 30 seconds), f) Check the folder – check that the file has been stored in the correct place with the correct title (15 seconds); g) Check the file – open the file to check it has been scanned correctly (only for multi-page documents or for documents where there may be an issue) (15 seconds).

In summary, overall scanning time for a 1 page A4 colour document is roughly 1.5 – 2 minutes; and for a 5 page double-sided A4 colour document about 2.5 – 3 minutes.

Q16. What are the practical problems associated with scanning?

2001 Answer: Partially answered:

  • Scanning double-sided pages is time-consuming and error prone (Wilson 1995b: 121, 1995c: 1).
  • Paper jams and misfeeds sometime occur when using the scanner sheet feeder (Wilson 1995c: 1).
  • Some documents need preparation work prior to scanning, for example, removing staples or guillotining bound documents (Chan 1993: 34 ± 37).

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Practical scanning problems are of two types – those that are inherent to the scanning activity; and those that are due to shortcomings in the scanner being used. The main inherent scanning problem is the need to ensure that the papers being scanned are free from staples, PostIT notes and any other additional items which will jam as the paper passes through the scanner. Problems due to scanner shortcomings may be due to a lack of capability in the scanner concerned such as no sheet feeder; the inability to scan large pages such as A3 (A3 scanners are available but they’re big and more expensive); and inability to scan double sided pages (a particular problem I had when I started scanning but I’m glad to say that my current scanner scans both sides of a page at the same time as it makes a single pass through the scanner). Scanner shortcomings may also include capabilities in which technology developments are continually making inroads, for example, sheet feeder technology (hugely better in my current scanner – but multiple pages are still pulled through occassionally); and dealing with very faint text (I would hope that future software will automatically adjust brightness and contrast settings to deal with this). Finally there may be shortcomings in a particular model of scanner. I believe this is the case in the software driving my Canon DR-2020U which seems incapable of scanning a full page which has continuous black or very dark areas on the edge of the page – the scan truncates the page to remove those areas. To deal with this I have to cover the relevant edges with white paper. This  may have been resolved in a later release of the software – though I havn’t checked for some time.

Q17. What are the practical problems of scanning documents containing colour?

2001 Answer: Ideas formed:

  • Colour scans take more time (Wilson 1997: 2).
  • Some colours scan black when using a black and white scanner (Wilson 1995b; 76, 77, 98)
  • Colour scans produce files 10 or 20 times the size of a black and white scan (Chan 1993:43, Wilson 1997:2)
  • Colour scans (which are made up of red, green and blue) may not work well on printers (which use cyan, magenta, yellow and black) (Chan 1993: 44)

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Colour scanning no longer presents a particular problem because today’s scanner all have a colour capability, and even though colour scans take up more space, storage is now plentiful and cheap (for comparison purposes, with my current scanner, a single page with 5 colour photos on it scanned at 300dpi B&W to a PDF of 126 Kb; and at 300dpi Colour to a PDF of 801 Kb).

For the most part, colour scans are normally sharp and clear. The only problem I have had with colour scanning seems to be specific to the software used by my current 5 year old Canon DR-2020U scanner. I’m very pleased with the performance of this scanner except for the fact that it truncates those parts of the edges of pages which have black or very dark colour. To deal with this, I have to place white paper just over the edges of the page – which can be difficult for larger pages which go up to the edge of the scanner platen. I have never experienced this problem before and hope that it has been fixed in a software upgrade.

Q18. Can poor originals be successfully scanned?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: Modifying the scanner settings can dramatically improve the quality of scans of poor originals.

2019 Answer: Partially Answered: Originals can be considered poor for a variety of reasons including skewed images, holes punched in the sides for binding purposes, and faint or heavily smudged images. My current scanner has on/off features to deal with skew (works well) and punched holes (I havn’t really tried to use this); and has settings to adjust contrast and brightness (these also work well but I’ve found it difficult to remember which combination of settings work best – perhaps in the future more automated assistance will be provided for this). In summary, usable scans can often be achieved from poor originals.

Q19. Can all types and sizes of documents be scanned successfully?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: Yes, provided you have a flatbed scanner with a sheet feeder. If the flatbed is not big enough, many of the larger documents can be cut or folded to the necessary size. The spines of gummed or stapled newsletters and booklets can be cut off (Wilson 1995b: 99). Post-it notes stuck on a page go through the sheet feeder without a problem (Wilson 1995b: 13, 39, 140). Journals can be scanned successfully on a flatbed scanner (Wilson 1995b:124).

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: As described in the 2001 answer, the vast majority of documents can be scanned successfully provided you have a scanner which can accommodate the physical size of the document. Of course, if you can’t lay a document flat on the scanning platen, as is the case when trying to scan a book or a journal, there will always be some distortion at the centre of the dual pages.  Most people are likely to have an A4 or, in some cases, A3 scanner  (though an A3 scanner does take up more space) so that they will be unable to scan documents above these sizes; However, that is of no consequence these days because digital photography is now so cheap, and powerful, and prevalent on mobile phones, that it can be used to photograph documents that are too big or difficult to scan. The digital images produced are good enough to read and can be enlarged as necessary. A good example of this is the increasingly common practice of taking photos of flipcharts of which there are a few in the PAWDOC collection. However, there are a few potential problems with photographing documents or other flat objects: one is that, unless the camera is held in exactly the same plane as the document page, the image of the document will appear shorter on one side than on the other; and the other is that, if the document will not lie flat, the document image will appear equivalently distorted in the photograph.

Q20. How can you minimize the amount of scanning that needs to be done?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: Possible strategies include:

  • Stick with electronic files as much as possible
  • Minimize the printing of paper (Wilson 1995b: 82, 90).
  • Elect to receive electronic versions of newsletters, magazines and journals (Wilson 1995b: 126).
  • Go out of your way to obtain electronic versions of paper you get from other people (Wilson 1997: 3).

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Despite paper still being very widely used (the paperless office never actually arrived), most documents are now created and distributed in digital form – very little paper arrives in the overland or office mail today. Hence, scanning can be minimised by simply storing the electronic versions of documents you create and that you receive by email; and by seeking out the electronic versions of other hardcopy document that you receive. For example, I get the quarterly newsletter of the professional body that I belong to in hardcopy form; but I go to their website to get a digital version of the magazine. Having said that, journal and magazine publishers continue to protect their papers and articles behind paywalls; and newspapers seem to be following their example. Consequently, filing system owners may have to scan some hardcopy papers and articles for the foreseeable future.

Q21. Can scanned images be used successfully in day-to-day work?

2001 Answer: Ideas formed: Relatively few of the scanned images have been used to date. However, experience so far has not indicated any major problems with either reading them on screen or printing them out. An A4 sized display would certainly make it easier to read scanned images on screen (Wilson 1995b: 104).

2019 Answer: Fully Answered: Although I don’t access many of the PAWDOC scanned images these days, over the years I have used them and worked with them and have had no trouble doing so. Nowadays I view all my scanned documents (in both multi-page TIFF and PDF formats) in my eCopy PDF Pro application and this works fine – though it would undoubtedly be better if the screen could be in portrait mode so that the whole of an A4 page could be displayed in the way one reads the hardcopy. Recently I transferred several scanned documents onto my iPad and I’ve found I can read them all without any difficulty with the iPad in portrait mode and without needing to enlarge them. This has been a bit of a revelation since it is clearly a much easier and more pleasing experience to read these documents on the iPad than it is on my 24in desktop screen or my laptop. The combination of the iPad’s high resolution screen, it’s light weight, the fact that you can hold it as close as you want, make it a winning combination for scanned work documents. This could be the way to store digital filing systems in the future – or perhaps large screen phones could serve the same purpose?

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