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How do I use a scanner?

Someone operating the keypad of a scanner

Scanning a document or photo can be as simple as pressing the button to start the scan and saving it onto your computer. You can also crop and retouch scans using a picture editing program. Read on to find out more about the different options open to you.

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

Would you like to keep a computerised copy of some old letters, newspaper articles, photos or drawings? If so, a scanner will do the job and - in some cases - you will be able to throw the originals away. You can also be creative and have fun scanning objects, which means using the scanner as a camera.

Scanners usually come with all the software you need. Scanning can be as simple as putting a document face down on the glass, pressing a button to begin the scan, and then saving the file onto your PC’s hard drive.

But sometimes you will want to select the area of the original you want to scan, or want to lighten or darken the image. As when making photocopies, it can take three or four attempts to get the best result.

Scanning software

If you are using the software that the manufacturer has provided to control the scanner, you will need to run that and select either ‘Scan’ or ‘Preview’. If you are scanning a small photo, for example, you can use your mouse to crop the preview so that you just capture the image, not the surrounding area.

Alternatively, you can scan things into software such as Adobe Photoshop, which is sometimes bundled with scanners. Look on your program's File menu for the command used to acquire or import an image. Check the settings, click ‘Preview’ or ‘Scan’, and a scanned image will appear in your graphics or paint program.

There are several settings to adjust, and these may include Dust Removal and Colour Restoration for scanning old photos. If you can’t see them, look for a way to switch from automatic scanning to a manual system.

Step-by-step guide

  • Scan mode, or Type of original. The best settings for a typed letter are not the same as for a colour photo. The scanner should have options for black-and-white or colour scans, and a choice of photos or documents, etc.
  • Scan density, or Image quality. For the best results with negatives, slides and photos, scan at the maximum optical resolution of your scanner, which should be the default setting. There is no point in setting a higher resolution than that. If you need to make a bigger print, you can do that in your graphics program. If the image is for viewing on a computer screen or uploading to Facebook, then you can resize it (in your graphics software) to the number of pixels required.
  • File format, or Save as type. You can set the scanner to send images in a particular format. The options commonly include PDF, JPG, TIFF and PNG. TIFF is often preferred by scanning professionals because it is ‘lossless’. JPG is a compressed format that produces smaller files, but some information is lost.

If you scan a photo from a magazine, you may get an interference pattern or ’moiré effect’. Look for a de-screen filter or try a ’remove noise’ or ’noise reduction’ effect in your graphics software.

If you scan a typed or printed document, the scanner will still produce an image file. However, you can create a text file by using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software such as Omnipage, Abbyy FineReader or FreeOCR. Microsoft Office includes an OCR tool - Microsoft Office Document Imaging - which will convert a TIFF image file to text. An Office program, OneNote, also lets you right-click an image and select ‘Copy Text from Picture’.

Get creative!

Scanners can also be creative and fun, because you can create pictures by placing objects on the glass. Try flowers, fruits, fabrics, fingers and other flattish things.

The process is called ‘scanner photography’ or scanography, and it has been used by artists and photographers (such as Patri Feher) to produce stunning work..

Finally, the golden rule of scanning is to always keep your scanner clean. Smears and scratches have a habit of showing up on scans. A lint-free cloth and certain glass cleaners should do the trick. Never use anything rough, such as a paper towel. Treat the glass more like a camera lens than a window.


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WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.