I am such a personal scanner geek.
I’ve always looked for ways to de-clutter my life, and for well over ten years, I’ve always had some sort of scanner in my home. My earliest scanners were big, slow, clunky, and extremely finicky, and some of them were really only useful for saving scans as images, not actual documents that could be edited or searched. Later came a few new desktop scanners that allowed me to convert scanned images to text using OCR (optical character recognition) and save to different formats. Finally came the smaller, portable scanners that were fast, supported OCR, and could even save my documents to the cloud.
I have a couple of scanners in my home at various locations. One runs off an internal battery — no wall wart required — allowing my wife to scan anything she wishes immediately; I pull the scans off the device as needed by connecting it to my PC with a USB cable. I also have the Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i that I use with my MacBook Air; it travels with me occasionally and allows me to send scans directly to my iPad. Both scanners work great, but I must admit that I do occasionally push them to their technological limits, and sometimes discover special scanning needs that neither device can provide.
Rather than list them out here, I’m going to explain to you some of the limitations I’ve encountered with my other scanners and then tell you how my new best friend, the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, solves them all. I’ve been using the ScanSnap iX500 for a few weeks now; there was one instance of actual laugh-out-loud enjoyment and at least three or four exclamations of Cool!
Before I get into the newest features the iX500 offers, let me give you some basics about it.
First, it’s meant to be used as a desktop scanner, not a portable scanner. That said, it’s still not very large. When you close the top and bottom lids (the one that holds the paper in the top and the one at bottom that holds the scanned paper coming out), the thing is about the size of the typical shoebox I get free with every shoe purchase. And it’s sleek. Very sleek. This thing has one button on its front. One. I’m looking at it on my desk and it just looks like it came from the future. Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra.
Second, the iX500 works with both Mac and PC. As with the ScanSnap 1300i, it can send your scans directly to Evernote, Google Docs, Dropbox, and a few others. It can handle single-sided and double-sided documents, and you can choose not only the resolution of the scan, but also whether it’s black-and-white or color AND you can apply compression before the scan using the ScanSnap software.
But now let me tell you about some of the newer features and why I’m so impressed with this new scanner. Some of these are simply improvements to the personal ScanSnap scanner, but others are outright amazing features that I either didn’t realize I was missing or didn’t realize were possible. I’ll explain each of them as I go.
Speed and Improved Feeding System
The iX500 is blazing. Compared to my 1300i (which I still think is very fast for such a small scanner), the first time I fed a single document into the iX500, I thought I’d actually done something wrong. The paper was pulled in and pushed out in about 2 seconds! According to Fujitsu, the scanner is capable of 25ppm (pages per minute), but my timed tests show it to be much much faster. I scanned in a 101 page stack of double-sided pages (a magazine with the spine cut off – more on this later) in less than three minutes – an average of 33.67 pages per minute! And these were full-color scans at 300DPI!
Fujitsu has improved the reliability of the feed system by using some technology available in their higher-end (and much more expensive) commercial scanner systems. You can actually look inside the scanner and see the feed mechanism, and it’s definitely different than the 1300i. Two rollers spin at different speeds (as I understand it), one pulling in a sheet and the other roller preventing the sheet above it from accidentally being scanned. Does it work? Yes, and well. I’ve been scanning hundreds of pages in over the last few weeks and I have had ZERO misfeeds. None. With my 1300i, I would occasionally have two sheets go in at once if the sheets were very thin, but I tested a few stacks of thin papers and all of them were pulled in one sheet at a time.
Apparently there’s also an ultrasonic sensor that’s been added inside that will detect a double-feed. It does this using a sender and receptor unit above and below the paper — with a misfeed there will be that place where the two sheets overlap and the sensor detects this change in thickness and stops the scan, alerting you and asking if you wish to continue. I believe the purpose for this interruption is for those times when you may have a document taped to another sheet such as taped receipts on a single sheet of paper for an expense report. If the multi-feed is correct, you can choose to continue with the scan.
New GI Processor Allows for No-Computer-Needed Scans
My 1300i allows me to send scans directly to my iPad, but it does have to be connected to either my PC or Mac. Up to now, I was fine with this, although it was sometimes annoying when I needed a single document scanned and had to connect the 1300i to my computer and go through the on-screen software options to send the scan to the tablet. Not anymore! Fujitsu put in a special processor (GI Processor) that allows me to scan directly to my iPad. On the back of the iX500 is a switch that lets me turn WiFi support On or Off on the scanner — the first time I installed the software, it asked if I wished to configure the scanner to join my WiFi network and I walked through the simple wizard to make that happen. (You can skip it and set it up later.) I already had the free ScanSnap Connect app installed on my iPad (for use with the 1300i), so once I provided the app with the name and password of the scanner, the computer doesn’t even need to be turned on. I tested this by tapping the large SCAN button in the app and sent a few scans directly to my iPad — both PDF and jpeg images. Both scans looked great and were able to be opened using other apps (GoodReader and PDFPen, for example).
This has to be one of my favorite features. My wife calls me from her office frequently to ask me to scan this or that document that she forgot to take back to the office. Rather than pulling out the 1300i (not constantly connected to my laptop) and getting it setup and prepped for a scan, now I just scan open the lid on the iX500, open the ScanSnap Connect app, load the paper, press SCAN, and email the document to my wife. I probably save only a minute of my time, but it feels like more when I don’t have to connect anything or login to my laptop or computer before beginning the scan process.
This no-computer-needed scan is available for iOS and Android, by the way, and I’ve got the app also installed on my iPhone. I had need of this the other day when I scanned a parts list for a tool I’m fixing; I got to the hardware store and opened the scan on my iPhone for an employee to reference the part numbers on the store computer.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences sending two books and a magazine to 1DollarScan, a service that takes your books and magazines and converts them to digital files. I am completely happy with the book scans they provided, but I just can’t justify the costs of scanning magazines. I need digital magazines to be searchable, so this feature alone makes the cost of a single magazine scan start at $4.00. And this isn’t counting the costs of shipping to California where 1DollarScan is located. Also, the 84 page Family Handyman I sent for scanning came back at 216MB in size. The document was searchable, however, which was a primary requirement of any magazine I have scanned. With the high cost per magazine and the large file size, 1DollarScan just isn’t the solution I need for magazines. Fortunately, the iX500 solves my problems.
Let me start with the cost issue. For $1.50, I had an employee at FedEx-Kinkos use their guillotine machine to cut the spine off the magazine. I asked him to cut as close to the spine as possible to separate the pages but also to avoid cutting off any text from the pages. The cut was perfect, and I ended up with a 104-page Family Handyman stack of pages.
I inserted the pages, 10 at a time (although the hopper can handle about 20+ pages at a time), and set them for a double-page scan at 300DPI — 600DPI is slower but with higher resolution, but on the iPad screen, 300DPI is perfect). When done, I ended up with a 104 page PDF that was 50MB in size. Now, keep in mind that this scan was NOT searchable.
The iX500 has two options for converting an image to a text-searchable document. First, you can configure the iX500 to convert every page as it is scanned (see above image). It slows down the scan a little, but nothing extreme. I can see using this option if I had less than 20 pages to scan. For a larger number of pages like my 104-page stack, I chose the second option that allows you to convert a PDF to searchable after it’s been scanned and saved. This is done using the ScanSnap Organizer application that’s installed on the computer. It took about four minutes for the conversion to finish. When done, I was a bit worried that the conversion was going to increase the file size dramatically. I was wrong — it remained at 50MB! At this rate, I’m estimating I can scan in two years’ worth of Family Handyman magazines for about 1GB of storage space, all searchable. Not bad.
Virtual ScanSnap Folder
File this under the I Never Knew I Needed This Feature But Now I Do category. Normally, when I’m typing an email and I realize I need to attach a document I haven’t scanned, I have to scan the document, save it to a folder on my computer, and then browse to that folder and attach. Now, the iX500 software creates ScanSnap Folder, a virtual folder that can be browsed by any application. So, once I’ve typed my email, I click the Attach button and browse to the ScanSnap Folder. Once there, I then scan the document and it automatically opens up a window allowing me to name the file. When done, the file is attached. Pretty slick! Works with my Gmail account as well as other applications where I might open a scanned image.
Custom Scan-To Button
Here’s another new feature of the iX500 software that I’ve already found a use for — creating a custom Scan-To-App button. I use Skitch a lot for adding callouts (arrows pointing out things on images) to sketches that my book editors provide to the art department so they can make pretty, professional-looking images with arrows and text descriptions for chapter figures. Normally I take a photo of my sketches or scan in the sketch. Then I provide two copies to my editors — one unaltered and one with the text and arrows pointing out things that I create with Skitch. Not anymore. Now, I scan in my sketches and they automatically open in Skitch for me to add the callouts. It saves a little time, but when I’ve got a dozen or more sketches to turn in, it’s a time saver.
The standard software provides you the ability to save a scan to an email, a Word or Excel file, Dropbox, Evernote, and many more. But if you’ve got a specialty app (like Skitch) that doesn’t exist in the default Scan-To-X buttons, you can easily add your own. As long as the application can open a JPEG or PDF (and you must specify which), you can create a custom button like I’ve done here. Put the document in the scanner, press the Scan button, and when the list of buttons appears on the screen, your custom button will also be visible. I click the Skitch button and the document automatically opens in Skitch. Also pretty slick!
Oversized Page Scans
My very first How-To article for GeekDad described how to use a personal scanner to scan in kids’ activity books so the pages can be reused. I still scan in worksheets and activity books for my two boys today, and I cannot even guess how much money I’ve saved over the years by scanning in my five year old’s activity books and making them available to my 2.5 year old. I now use PDFPen (instead of Doodle Buddy) to open the PDF scans because there’s an Undo button in the upper-right corner that immediately erases their work (and mistakes). And even if one of my boys saves the PDF with the writing/scribbles in it, that stuff exists as a separate object that can be highlighted and deleted later.
So, my five year old likes pirates, and I just recently purchased him this cute little book called Pirate Mazes. It tells a story about Captain Silver and there are about 30 full-color mazes in the book, all of them unique and different in how they are drawn and solved. Normally I’d just cut the book apart, scan in each page, and I’d have 30 mazes ready to go. But this book posed a problem for me — there are three mazes that are oversized and appear as two-page spreads as shown in a photo here. With my 1300i, my solution would be to scan each half of the two-page maze and then use a specialty application to stitch the two together. But with the iX500, I don’t have to do that.
I’m going to admit right now that I really should learn to read the manual. Yes, I’m one of those. If I had, I might have immediately understood the special value of the included Carrier Sheet. Instead, I got extremely lucky and discovered its usefulness by making a mistake. The carrier sheet is two clear plastic sheets connected at the top. I thought it was simply for inserting pages that might be curly or wrinkled or for sticking in a bunch of small items like sticky notes or receipts so they all appear on one scan. What happened was that during my test of the carrier sheet I stuck in a single page of Family Handyman, intending to scan only one side. I had set the scanner to double-sided, and when the scanned image appeared on screen, the front and back of the magazine page had been stitched together. HA! (This was that laugh-out-loud moment I wrote about earlier!)
I quickly figured out that by placing Sheet 1 on side A and Sheet 2 on Side B, where the two edges of the two separate sheets touched was where the stitch would be made. I’ve got a photo here showing the two-page spread of one of the pirate mazes. I had already cut all the page out (wish I hadn’t done that) so the front half of the maze was on one sheet and the other half was on another sheet. I stuck them in the carrier sheet and ran them through the iX500. Attached you’ll see the final results, complete with my solution to the maze (using PDFPen).
Words to the wise: read the manual. I got lucky; I don’t know if I would have figured out the carrier sheet for some time if I hadn’t made that mistake.
There’s a lot of things that the iX500 does that I haven’t yet mentioned, but deserve some attention. As with the 1300i, the iX500 automatically increases the resolution for tiny documents like sticky notes and receipts. It makes almost zero difference in scanning speed or size of the final document, so for smaller files just know that it’ll be the best resolution available. The iX500 also auto-fixes skews (slight angles in how you feed a page in) and it’s also pretty good at flipping upside down documents — I tested it and it does work, but a few it couldn’t figure out such as hand drawings from my son (and let’s be honest — who among us hasn’t had our child tell us we’re holding a drawing upside down?). I don’t know what the rules are for how the iX500 handles a page’s orientation, but it works.
You’ll also find that the scanner auto-detects color, grayscale, and monochrome and can make the correct setting changes to the scanner’s software. It’ll also auto-configure paper size — stick a personal check in there and the scan will autosize to fit the small check size. Stick in a larger legal-sized piece of paper and same thing… final scan will appear as legal size when viewed at 100%.
The scanner also comes with a copy of Adobe Acrobat X, allowing you to modify your PDF scans if you need that functionality. It’s useful for flipping upside down scans (they happen occasionally) or rotating pages 90 degrees, but you can also crop which I did with the pirate maze to get rid of an inch of white space that bordered the scan.
I’ve still got my Dropbox’s Action folder that I created long ago for my 1300i, and I’ve configured the iX500 to automatically send scans there so I can decide where to file them later. (This tip came from David Sparks, the author or Paperless — if you want some SERIOUS advice on getting your clutter under control, you’ve got to get a copy and read it. Cannot recommend it enough. Useful for both Windows and Mac users.)
If you’ve been telling yourself it’s time to get organized in 2013 and have been looking for ways to do it, start with getting your paper clutter under control. You’ll need a good scanner to do this, and you will be extremely satisfied with the iX500. It’s fast. It’s quiet. It’s powerful. It’s awesome.
The iX500 is being announced at CES 2013 this week, so I have no information on pricing or availability yet. Be sure to check out Fujitsu’s official ScanSnap Community website for more details.
Availability: January 7, 2012 (Today!)
Note: I’d like to thank Fujitsu (and special shout-out to Amelie and Jordyn!) for providing me with the iX500 test unit and inform them that they will have to send at least two large pro wrestlers to my house to pry the iX500 from my hands. Not kidding.