Category Archives: Tech Advice

Better Ways to Spend Your Money Than a Crazy-Expensive Scanner

Scanners are expensive. The price of a new scanner, though, is downright ridiculous. For example, a new Bell & Howell Ngenuity line scanner can run you upwards of $33,000! Insane. We’ve got some ideas for other, we think better, ways to spend that money.

As I said, a new Ngenuity scanner can cost you $33,000. On the other hand, Imaging Systems offers professionally refurbished (that means working like new!) Spectrum XF line scanners for $6,000–this price also includes a Windows 7-compatible workstation AND assisted set-up!

So, that leaves you with $27,000 left over. We have a few ideas of great ways to spend that extra cash…

1. $27,000 buys you 27 Sibesiberian husky puppiesrian Husky puppies! TWENTY SEVEN. Just look at those faces. NOW MULTIPLY THAT BY 5 (and add two more)! Definitely better than just one Ngenuity scanner. Although. Puppies are a lot of work, and no human has enough energy to tire out 27 Husky puppies. Trust me.

2. $27,000 buys you about 3 of Crazy Expensive Cocktailthese “The Maestro” drinks. That’s right. Each drink is almost $9,000. It’s made with cognac, Kummel Liquer, Dubb Orange Curacao, and Angostura Bitters, and, I’d assume, a dash of Unicorn tears and stardust.

3. $27,000 buys you this red high heel Giant Red High Heel Sculpturesculpture. It’s a steal at 24,000! Why is this even a thing? On the bright side, with that extra 3 grand, you can buy a couple of those Siberian Husky puppies! Or 3,000 boxes of Mac ‘n Cheese. Your choice.

4. $27,000 buys you FOUR more of an Imaging Systems refurbished Spectrum XF line scanner (again, including a Windows 7-compatible work stat8120DBion and assisted set-up). And that leaves you some cash left over, if you really want an office puppy. Think about it. You could have a quick scanner in every room (or, every floor) AND a few cute little friends to hang around the office. Case closed. No contest.

Case in point, there are so many better things to spend your business’ money on than a crazy expensive scanner, especially when there are other similar-quality options out there for literally a fraction of the price. Call us up at Imaging Systems at (608) 276-5559 or check out our online store if you want to know more!

5 Steps to Preserving Old Photos

old photos

A few years ago, my parents’ basement flooded. Like, a foot of water in the basement, save all the electronics before the water rises, oh my gosh our carpet is ruined, kind of flood. My parents, of course, were upset about the state of their basement, but all of that could be fixed with time (and, of course, money). Unfortunately, the basement is also where all of my mom’s old pictures were stored. Priceless family memories that nothing could bring back, all irreparable. Watching my mom stand over the box of sodden photos, crying, trying to pick out old Polaroids that weren’t completely destroyed, was so, so sad.

An experience like that certainly left me wishing that we had made some sort of effort towards preserving the photos beyond just keeping them in a box in the basement. Maybe we felt like nothing would ever happen, maybe we were all just a tad too lazy to take that first step, who knows. The end result is the same: pictures are gone, mom is crying, this sucks. You don’t want this to be you. Segue into today’s blog post!

Digitally preserving your family’s memories is so simple, inexpensive, and worth every minute and penny. You can use basically any scanner, though we encourage a flatbed since it’ll be the easiest to use, as long as it can connect with your computer. Beyond that, there are some simple steps to making this as quick and painless as possible!

Step 1: Clean house. If you’re anything like my mom, you have saved everything. Every blurry picture of some child’s left eye because they were messing around with the camera, every “why did you take it, I wasn’t ready!” moment. Everything. They’re great for your basement-box, but maybe not worth saving to your computer. Do yourself a favor, and sort through your photos. Pick the best ones, the ones where everyone is looking at the camera, the ones where you can’t believe Grandpa Joe made “that” face, the ones on which you’ll want to look back at and smile. Those are the ones worth digitally preserving. The others, though they’re great in their own respects, you probably don’t need to spend time scanning.

Step 2: Get organized. Now that you’ve picked out only the creme de la creme of your family photos, it’s time to organize them in a way that suits you. Maybe it’s by year (or decade), maybe it’s by holiday, maybe it’s just by who is in the picture. Whatever way makes the most sense for your pictures, go with it. I’d go with the pile method; that is, pile the pictures in their respective categories. It’s fancy.

Step 3: Check your scanner settings. Are you just scanning the pictures in order to preserve them? Are you emailing relatives or posting them to various social media sites? Are you making a huge blown-up picture to put in your living room? Whatever it is, make sure your scanner settings are working in your favor instead of against you. If you’re just in it for preservation, 300 dpi should be just fine. If you’re going to be emailing them or even using #tbt on Twitter (throwback Thursday for you old folks), we’re thinking you could even get away with 200 dpi. If you’re going to make a print that’s bigger than the original, go for at least 600 dpi. If what I just said sailed right over your head, visit our scanner lingo breakdown post for help. Don’t forget that you can change the scan color between gray scale or color!

Step 4: Scan! Well, start off by cleaning the scanning glass to ensure optimal scans. But then, scan! Most of the time you’ll have an option of “previewing” the scan before you actually scan it into your computer. Utilize this to make sure you don’t have to double back to re-do scans, and to make sure you’re not duplicating scans into your computer. You’ll probably want to save them as JPEG files, thought it’s up to you. Your computer will give you an option of where to save the files to, so for each grouping you did when you were organizing your photos, make a new folder with a relevant name (like, “Christmas 2014” or “1995 Pictures”) to save time trying to sort them post-scanning.

(optional) Step 5: Edit. Though this step isn’t necessary, I definitely recommend it. Even a simple, cheap photo editor can do wonders for your pictures. Many times, all you need is an exposure adjuster to change the brightness/shadows of your picture. There are so many inexpensive photo editors to choose from, but here’s a site that reviews some of the best that are under $100.

That’s it! You should be done! Now just let that feeling of peace of mind wash over you. No flood, tornado, freak accident, or fiery comet of death causing Armageddon can destroy your family’s memories and legacy. Maybe the comet. But you’ve got bigger fish to fry if that’s happening, so for now just revel in that feeling of accomplishment.

The Best Flatbed Scanners for any Budget

You know when you go to the grocery store, and there’s a million different pasta sauces? Different brands, different ingredients, organic or not, you get the picture. It’s exhausting. I just want some red sauce to put on my spaghetti. We’ve all been there. Shopping for scanners is basically the same, except you don’t get a delicious meal at the end of it.

I’m breaking down some of the best flatbed scanners out there based on price points in hopes that you can forego the endless research and headaches associated with buying electronics. Don’t worry, I’ll scale ’em for you by prices from $$$$$$.

Canon Canosccan LIDE 210$: For a low price, just $60, the Canon CanoScan LiDE 210 still packs a punch.  If you won’t be doing too much heavy-duty document scanning then this could be a great option for you. They have great image quality and a sleek design, are lightweight and easily stored, and can scan any of your basic needs. The negatives? Well, some reviews say its software can be finicky and not always as intuitive as some might like. Additionally, its OCR is said to not be up to par. To be fair, it’s only $65 for a fully functional scanner. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers.

Epson Perfection V370$$: Moving on up, the Epson Perfection V370 could be perfect for your home or office if you’ve got a little more cash to spend. At just $119.99, this flatbed scanner is still incredibly affordable. It’s great because it can scan a full-sized sheet of paper as well as photos and film. It also is incredibly easy to scan to cloud services (Google Docs, Evernote, etc.). Some drawbacks: the scanner has had some issues with software compatibility. Some say that it doesn’t work with Macs, others say it’s Windows 7 that’s the problem. It could just be that reviewers aren’t tech-savvy and couldn’t figure out the set-up process, but be aware that your computer might have some issues with set-up and getting started with this scanner.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i$$$: In the middle of the road, we have the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i. It comes in at $249.99. It features an automatic feeder, OCR capabilities that can convert to editable Word, Excel, and PDF documents,  and the ability to scan 12 double-sided pages per minute. It’s very lightweight at just 3 pounds and is compatible with both Mac and PCs. What more could you want?! I’ll tell you. Some shortcomings: There is no TWAIN, WIA, or ISIS support, which means that the scanner isn’t able to work with any 3rd party application interface. This can be tricky for office use. If you don’t need those things, though, this scanner otherwise comes very highly recommended.

Visioneer OneTouch$$$$: Beginning the higher-end scanners we’re going with the Visioneer OneTouch 9520. It goes for about $349, give or take. The OneTouch has amazing image quality, and can scan more than 281 trillion colors. Yes, that’s with a “tr-“. Its scan density is insane, making it possible to scan film and film negatives without any degradation in quality. It also supports optical character recognition (OCR) so, like the ScanSnap, it can create editable documents from your scans. It also is a great option for anyone doing 3D scans. Any downfalls? Although it is compatible with Mac and Windows, there have been reports of it not being very “user-friendly.” It also is said to have a short lamp life, but you can always buy another lamp and replace it.

HP Scanjet n6350$$$$$:  The granddaddy of them all. Okay, we may have made a little bit of jump. At $1,099.99 we have the luxe HP Scanjet N6350. This is the scanner you think of when you envision an office scanner. It’s big, has an automatic document feeder (that holds a whopping 50 sheets), and is mostly used for plain old paper. What makes this (possibly) worth your wild is that it’s consistent. HP is a trusted name in scanners and printers, and their customer service is top-notch. If something goes wrong, you will most likely be helped. It gives great image quality, is compatible with Macs and PCs, scans quickly and efficiently, and is dependable. What’s not to love? Well, it is somewhat bulky, which means you’ll need to have enough space to actually store it. Its product description says it’s primarily for your paper scanning needs, but you can absolutely use it for more than that.

Have another scanner that you love and are dying to tell us about? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you! Happy scanner hunting!

Microfilm vs Microfiche

Microfilm and microfiche…maybe it’s the digital age we find ourselves living in, maybe it’s the fact that the English language is crazy and has no rhyme or reason (they both start with micro so they must be the same), or maybe it’s just that microform is a subject in which not many are well-versed, but these two are always getting mixed up.

I’m here to set the record straight.

Though microfilm and microfiche are often thought of as interchangeable terms, the two are actually very different. From formatting to storage to reading the images, microfilm and microfiche are not the same.

Format                                                                                                                                         Microfilm: Comes on a long strip of film that is wound into a reel. This makes it a bit harder to update images on microfilm because it requires you to cut into your microfilm and then tape the new section you want. Not impossible, but definitely time-consuming.                                                                                                       Microfiche: Comes on flat sheets of photographic film paper. Each sheet can store multiple images. Microfiche is much easier to work with when it comes to updating images, as you can just place whatever sheet with images you want to the collection and move on.

Storage                                                                                                                                                     Microfilm: Normally stored on spools (either plastic or metal) that are then placed in boxes that protect the material from dust or other external factors.         Microfiche: Come on sheets of thin film material. Usually microfiche is  put in protective sleeves and then cataloged within a file box to again protect from dust and such.

Reading                                                                                                                                             Microfilm: Microfilm readers usually have a spooler mechanism that allows you to thread the spool into it. This allows for potentially quicker and more efficient reading.                                                                                                                                 Microfiche: Microfiche readers are similar to microfilm readers, in that it will magnify the image onto a larger screen for viewing. It just differs in the fact that there won’t be an automatic feeder or spooler mechanism for the microfiche.

Consider the record set straight!

Why Microfilm Still Matters

The digital world is amazing. I mean truly, absolutely amazing. The things we are able to do today with just the swipe of a finger or the click of a mouse is stuff that dreams were made of 50 years ago. So why, in this incredible, high-tech world, do we still need microfilm? It’s a valid question, and one with which we at Imaging Systems are familiar.

Microfilm will continue to be relevant for the storage and preservation of documents because of, not in spite of, the fact that it isn’t this high-tech medium. To read microfilm, all you need is a magnifying glass and a light source. Magnifying glasses are pretty easy to come by. As for a light source…well, there is that giant ball up in the sky we call the sun. Basically, microfilm won’t all of a sudden need a software update or a new system or anything to be read. Of course, microfilm readers make the whole process of reading microfilm much easier, but in a pinch you could make-do without one.

Digitization, on the other hand, is subject to becoming obsolete. And quickly. New, “better” smartphones are coming out yearly. Software and hardware alike are constantly changing and improving. These improvements to our technological lives could leave your digital records unable to be read because of obsolete hardware. Take floppy discs. They’re basically extinct, though in their day they were thought to be an amazing technological feat. It can be hard to find computers that will read them, and if a floppy disc is damaged, it’s unreadable. Similarly, what today may seem like a perfect way to digitally store documents can easily become tomorrow’s old news.

This is not to say that digitization of documents does not have its place. Making digital copies is a great way to make your files more searchable and also protect old materials that could be damaged by handling. Digital files are a great back-up medium. But again, we think they serve best as a back-up.

With the ever-changing technological world we live in, it’s best to keep a tried and true method of storing important documents. The fact is, we just don’t have enough information on how digitally stored files last in the long run. Microfilm can last up to 500-1000 years if stored and cared for properly. The best solution, if feasible for your company, is to create a hybrid archive system that incorporates both microfilm (for security and longevity) and digital files (for greater access).

Scanner Lingo Breakdown

By now, you’ve hopefully figured out which type of scanner you’re looking for. If not, not worries, just click here and you’ll be well on your way to answering that question! 

Are you back now? Great. Now we can move on to the trickier steps in figuring out your perfect scanner. The lingo used for different features can be a little daunting, and their meanings not always clear. Here are the basics:

bit depthBit Depth is the number of bits a scanner picks up from the pixels of an image when it’s scanned. The technical way to think of bit depth is it affects how many bits of data are used to encode each pixel of data. The larger the bit number, the better quality, but also the bigger the image. Basically, it’s one of the key components in deciding the scanner’s image quality. 

  • If you are mostly scanning text documents, look for a bit depth of at least 24.
  • If you will be scanning slides or negatives, look for a bit depth of at least 30.
  • If you will be scanning pictures or color images, look for a bit depth between 36 and 48.

scanner resolutionScanner Resolution is measured in Dots Per Inch (DPI). Again, it’s another key component in deciding image quality. The higher the DPI, the more detail in your scanned image. Many manufacturers will give you an interpolated resolution quote, but the most important is optical resolution.

  • If you will be scanning text documents, look for a DPI of 300 or higher.
  • If you will be scanning slides or negatives, look for a DPI of 1200 or higher.
  • If you will be scanning pictures or color images, look for a DPI of 1200 or higher.

Speed is usually measured in Pages Per Minute (PPM). This one’s pretty straightforward. If you’re not scanning all that often, don’t even worry about the PPM. If scanning is an intricate part of your day, choosing a higher PPM so you’re not wasting time waiting around for your scans is probably going to be beneficial for you and your business.

Connectability is something that many people may not even think of until after they’ve bought a scanner. Most scanners will come with a USB connection option so you can just hook it up to your computer and be set. However, if you want to be able to connect multiple computers to one scanner, you may want to look into scanners that have an Ethernet port so you can connect wirelessly.

Once you’ve figured out what bit depth, DPI, PPM, and type of connectability you need, along with the type of scanner you’re looking for, the last thing to do is just research to find the perfect scanner for you! Popular scanner manufacturers include Canon, Fujitsu, Kodak, and Minolta, but there are many, many brands from which to choose. If you’re in the market for a scanner but are experiencing sticker shock, check out our online store that has tons of professionally refurbished scanners.

How to Choose the Right Scanner for Your Home or Business

We get it. Scanners aren’t everyone’s passion in life. More often than not, you find that you have a need for a scanner but not much information on what exactly would work best for your situation. Are you a small business? A big one? Do you just need a scanner for your home for every now and then projects? There is a plethora of scanner options, and it can be overwhelming to anyone not well-versed in scanner lingo.

There are so many different features offered on so many different machines, but the first step in choosing the right scanner is deciding what type of scanner will work best for you or your business.

Cue breakdown of different types of  scanners!

  • Hanhandheld scannerdheld Scanners:  If you are constantly on the go, but need a scanner to tag along with you, handheld scanners are for you. They are small, super portable, and easy to use. The drawbacks, though,  are that they may not give you the best image quality, and it may take multiple passes through the scanner to scan the entire document.
  • portable scannerPortable scanners:  Like handheld scanners, portable scanners are ideal for people who are often out of the home/office, but still need scanning capabilities. They offer the ability to scan entire documents in one pass, and many have the ability to scan double-sided papers. Depending on the model, the image quality of your scans can be surprisingly high.
  • sheetfed scannerSheet-fed scanners:  Sheet-fed scanners are ideal for high volumes of loose pages. They’re not huge machines, so they are often put to use in small businesses or homes. Sheet-fed scanners allow you to put in a certain number of loose pages (the number depends on the model), press scan, and then leave while the scanner does the work for you.
  • flatbed scannerFlatbed Scanners: Flatbed scanners are most likely what you imagine when you think of a typical scanner. They’re bigger and heavier than the other types we’ve gone over, and they have a hood that you raise up which exposes the glass you do your scanning on. They’re the most commonly used scanner in offices and homes because they can scan basically anything. Books, magazines, art, flowers, you name it, as long as it fits on the glass, it can be scanned. Because of their versatility, these will be the most expensive “everyday” scanners on the market. Some flatbed scanners come with sheet-fed capabilities, which basically just combines the good things about sheet-fed and flatbed scanners, but those will be even more expensive.

There are other, more specialized scanners available, but this list gives you a pretty comprehensive look at the “normal, every-day” scanners your home or business could benefit from.

Once you’ve figured out the type of scanner you want, check out our post on helping you decide what features you’ll need!

If you’re looking to buy a scanner, but you are wary about how pricey they can be, try checking out our online store that has many professionally refurbished scanners!

How to Clean Microfilm and Microfiche

main_1129Information on how to clean microfilm and microfiche can be hard to come by. There are some companies that are willing to clean your microfilm or microfiche for a fee, but are tight-lipped about their actual cleaning methods.

There are cleaning products available, though they can be hard to come by. One we know of is a slide cleaner that is safe for microfilm and microfiche, which can be found here! 

For some, though, this can be too pricey of an option. For that reason, we also have some basic steps you can use to remove grime, dust, and smudges from your microfilm or microfiche safely and cost-efficiently.

You will need:
-Any lens cleaning solution approved for glasses
-A microfiber or other soft, lint-free towel.
Instead of the two above, you can opt for the pre-moistened eyeglass towelettes (anti-scratch and lint-free).
-Clean paper
-Lens cleaning brush (optional)

First, use your lens cleaning brush on the film to remove any dust or grime that will come off freely.
Next, lay your freshly brushed film on the clean paper.
Moisten the towel but don’t over-saturate it (or use your pre-moistened towelettes), and gently stroke the area you would like to clean in one motion.
Rotate the towel/towelette to a clean portion and again gently stroke in one motion. Repeat this step until you’ve covered all the areas you would like to clean.
Allow the film to dry completely, and you should be set!

We suggest running a test on a small portion of the film to make sure this method works for you before you clean your entire collection only to find out something went wrong!

If you tried this method and are still seeing imperfections, it could be that your microfilm reader/scanner needs a thorough cleaning or possibly a few replacement parts.

Microfilm Scanners VS Microfilm Reader/Printers

We understand how difficult it can be, if not just plain confusing, to decide what kind of equipment to purchase when it comes to document storage. We also understand that it’s an expensive investment and Imaging Systems wants you to make the most informed decision before you take the plunge.  So the question remains—should you invest in a microfilm scanner or a microfilm reader/printer?

Below are some helpful pros and cons of both machines in order to point you in the right direction.          

 Microfilm Scanners

PROS:

  • Microfilm scanners allow you to create digital images (i.e. digitization) of microfilm and microfiche giving you instant access to your documents via your computer. So instead of digging through filing cabinets and archival boxes, your documents are stored directly on your computer for immediate retrieval.
  • Digitization as a technological storage method is a huge space saver – you no longer have to worry about boxes upon boxes of archives taking over every square inch of your storage.
  • Digitization of documents also allows you to make your documents readily available to the public. For example, the Census Bureau recently digitized millions of the 1940 Census Records electronic distribution.
  • Data that was previously stored on film can now be converted to various formats including PDF, Adobe, TIFF, and others.

CONS:

  • When stored properly, microfilm can have a life expectancy of up to 500+ years , whereas the life expectancy of a hard drive is unpredictable.
  • Because the life expectancy of a hard drive is unpredictable, you have to create digital forms of back-up to ensure the security of your documents.
  • If you store digital documents on an online database, they are susceptible to being compromised by hackers.
  • Keep in mind that most microfilm scanners do not support OS upgrades. For example, Bell and Howell Spectrum XF machines will no longer support Windows XP in 2014.  Fortunately one of our technicians found a solution, otherwise these particular machines would have become obsolete.

 Microfilm Reader/Printers

PROS:

  • As stated above, microfilm has a longer life expectancy than computer hard drives.
  • Companies have been using these machines for years; its proven technology that people can rely on.
  • Because microfilm scanners are now in the forefront of document digitization, these analog machines are no longer manufactured which makes them much cheaper than their digital rivals.
  • They are often easier to operate because they require fewer programs to operate.

CONS:

  • These machines generally take up more space – they’re heavy, large, and the hard copies of your documents need to be properly stored somewhere.
  •  Although microfilm has a longer life expectancy than digital documents, the drawback is that they are susceptible to natural damage such as fires, water, and general wear and tear.
  • They are analog machines so microfilm reader/printers cannot digitize information
            MS7000 Micro Scanner                                         ABR2600 Reader/Printer