Price: £1,275 plus VAT
Over the past year, sales of high-end professional pre-press scanners in the £15,000 to £20,000 range have plummeted. The reason is the appearance of models like this A3 flatbed for less than a tenth of the price.
While the resolution and quality aren’t as high as that found in the professional models, they’re good enough for most general print and Web work. The low price allows small design and photographic studios to do most of their own scanning in-house. Less work is going out to scanning companies, so they aren’t buying new pro models either.
This new large format ScanMaker 9800XL is particularly versatile, with an oversized A3+ format (305-x-432mm) bed plus an optional transparency adaptor lid for sizes up to 406-x-305mm. This scanner’s modest footprint (627-x-376mm) is much smaller than the A3 models of two or three years ago. There’s a full set of interface ports to connect it to anything: SCSI-2, USB, and two FireWire ports. A FireWire PCI card is included for Windows PC users who need it.
The dynamic range of 3.7 is fine, though the relatively low resolution (1,600-x-3,200dpi) is a bit marginal for decent enlargements from 35mm originals – so if you do a lot of 35mm work, you’ll probably want a dedicated film scanner as well – £500 to £1,200 will buy a good one. Umax’s PowerLook 3000 flatbed has enough resolution for 35mm, but it’s A4-only, and costs £3,500.
The 9800XL is a fast scanner. When used with FireWire and a Power Mac G4, it took just 1 minute 35 seconds to scan a 4-x-5-inch transparency to a 33MB file – enough for a full magazine page at 175dpi. A couple of grouses about the hardware: there’s no raised edge to the scanning area, making it hard to line-up the originals or film-holders squarely; and the transparency lid doesn’t press down hard enough to flatten curled prints, even when using the black backing sheet. So tape has to be used.
There’s a good software bundle for both Mac OS (but not OS X) and Windows, including Microtek’s own ScanWizard Pro 6.1 scanner controller; an ICC Profiler for calibration; and an alternative scanner controller, the repro-quality LaserSoft SilverFast AI 5.5. Also included is Adobe Photoshop Elements; Ulead’s PhotoExplorer image-browser; and ABBYY FineReader Sprint OCR. The documentation is clear, and includes a clearly written introduction to colour management written by UK colour specialist TypeMaker’s Simon Prais.
ScanWizard and SilverFast operate via Photoshop plug-ins, and can be calibrated using IT8 reflection and transparent targets supplied with the scanner. Both support batch scanning – so users can set up several images on the bed, then go and do something useful while they’re scanned. The ScanWizard Pro software also includes the Microtek Scanner Server (Windows only) for sharing access to the scanner across a network.
Any Windows PC running ScanWizard Pro can log onto the scanner to access it as if it were connected directly. Our review scanner had only Mac software – so we couldn’t test this. ScanWizard Pro has a good set of automatic and manual tools, though SilverFast is better. The separate ICC profiler is used to scan the IT8 targets and write ICC profiles for ScanWizard.
SilverFast is standard-issue with high-end desktop scanners from most manufacturers. The automatic image-analysis and -correction work well, and there’s a full set of manual controls. The built-in calibrator tools are also easy to use. RGB or CMYK files can be exported, with 8 or 16 bits per channel.
The image-quality is impressive once the scanner has been calibrated; the wide dynamic range pulls out subtle details in highlights and shadows. Unfortunately, neither ScanWizard nor SilverFast incorporate dust-removal routines. Users have to spend a lot of time dusting-off originals and cleaning the bed before scanning, and will still end up having to touch-out dust spots in Photoshop.
If you need to scan large artwork, or you often need to batch-scan a bunch of smaller originals, the ScanMaker 9800XL is versatile enough to handle anything you throw at it.