All scanners come with some kind of driver software that does a job, of sorts. However, some packages don't even allow full access to all the features on a scanner. The problem is worse if you lose the original CD and have to download a package from the manufacturer's website. Take the Epson 3200 for example. Download the official driver from the Epson website and discover that it will only let you scan prints. Although it's a flatbed scanner, it has a removable hood that allows transparencies to be scanned as well. The options that come with it are also so limited you may as well just photograph the print with a digital camera.
The first job is to set the scanning parameters for the image type and resolution you want the output file.
Enter Hamrick Software's VueScan 8.4.43. The version number is important because this used to be shareware and unrestricted. However, the latest version, which is much improved and easier to use, is a trial version to new users, or existing users with no upgrade allowance. During this time, the program places Dollar signs in the corner of the scans until it is bought and unlocked.
Unlocking the program will cost you $40 for the Standard version. Now, even with the exchange rate being so favourable that the Dollar is almost Monopoly money, that's still going to be £20+ for software that shouldn't be necessary if the manufacturer's own offerings were any good. It means VueScan needs to do a pretty good job and fortunately, it does.
The first benefit is that it supports over 750 scanner models, including some fairly old ones, so if time has left your scanner gathering dust in the loft because it's no longer supported, then VueScan could bring it back to life. Once installed the interface presents the simple view so clicking on the Advanced icon brings up more of the options that you want.
The layout is clear and simple, all your options through the stages are in tabbed window to the left, the preview and final scan are in the window to the right. Under this are the file dimensions and file size, so if a specific resolution is required, it can be produced without guesswork.
The scanning options
To kick things off, the Input tab sets whether the scan is going to a file or printer, and then what mode the software is to run it. If you didn't already have a device driver for your scanner installed prior to installing VueScan then this is where you can select the right model. If it isn't there, then just choose between flatbed and transparency and it will have ago for you anyway. Then there's the image type to select from print, slide film, colour negative, black and white negative and for the part-time spy, microfilm. The next option is to set the Quality of the output, whether this is for the web, print, e-mail, editing or archiving. The preview resolution and scan resolution options which follow this are set to Auto initially so they will default to resolutions suitable for the Quality setting. Fortunately thy can be changed anyway, which is the whole point of having a scan resolution option. Here the dpi that you want can be set - this is then updated in the scan window to what the file dimensions are going to be.
From there you can just scan and go, run the preview, make sure it's right and then hit the Scan button. Job done. There are more options though if needed. Prints are one thing, but if scanning a rack of 35mm slides, then the Crop tab might be worth visiting next, to avoid scanning empty space. Whether you use the next option, which is the Filter, is down to how you like to process your scans. Get the scanner to do some remedial work, or do it yourself in Photoshop. Here there are option for restoring colour and fading, reducing grain and sharpening the image. The grain reduction option has three level of strength, the others are just tick boxes.
Colour is next, which can be handy if scanning a batch of mouldy old slides with a tungsten glaze. There are a number of presets for colour balance, but rather than using suggested variables for night, landscape, portrait, tungsten, fluorescent etc, it just makes the options available for them. I would have liked to have seen some default values for the tungsten and fluorescent settings at least, not just here you are, have a go yourself. In this section the brightness of each RGB channel can also be adjusted in the scan.
Ouput the file
Once the preview scan has been done the image can be cropped and the full scan carried out. Set up the parameters to save the image here.
So to Output then and all the options you could possibly want. Set where the scans will go by default and what the printed size will be or to stick to a fixed dpi or the scan size. The filenames can be automated, so a batch scanning job will just add incremental numbers to them. The main filename can be set to whatever you like and the file format can be either TIFFs or JPEGs, or both at once. VueScane can also output OCR text files and PDFs if required.
Once everything is set up the preview scan can be performed, any cropping carried out and the main scan done. All of this is done in a logical sequence and can be tinkered with and reset if unhappy with the results. In practice, the program is fast, rarely needs any adjustments and sets the automatic crop to the right position more often than not. If just scanning prints, the whole process is very simple, with slides and colour negatives requiring slightly more attention.
You can download the trial version, which is fully functional and let's you try everything out, before purchase. If you like VueScan you can then buy it over the net and get the serial number directly. The Professional version adds more power to the app, with use of colour spaces for the scanner, monitor and connected printers and also gives unlimited free upgrades.
VueScan 8.4.43 Verdict
If your current scanning software does the trick then home users may be hard pressed to justify the expense of VueScan, though it could give better results. At least you can try it out and see. If though, your scanner isn't supported, or you are patently unhappy with what the manufacturer has served up - and even the big boys can just dish out some fairly rudimentary programs - then this is a no-brainer. It's a cracking program, both fast and relatively easy to use, with extra detail and options for those who like to tinker. It produces great results and will bring your moribund scanner back to life.
VueScan 8.4.43 plus points:
Supports over 750 scanners
Excellent, step-by-step interface
Can use colour profiles
Good for batch scanning
VueScan 8.4.43 minus points:
Not an extensive list of filters
Filters not sophisticated
Lacks presets for colour correction
VALUE FOR MONEY
VueScan costs $40 (around £20) and you can download the trial version of VueScan here