Joining the scanner club

The Scanner Club is a group of people interested in scanning lots of the extra paper in their lives by sharing a high-end double-sided “document scanner”. We share this scanner, and other high-end software and gear to clear out our paper, then sell it or donate it.

I purchased, on eBay, a high-end (normally $6,000) production scanner the Fujitsu fi-5750c. (Follow the link for specs and a movie.) I scans 50 to 80 pages per minute at 12 x 18” size, and has a very fast 12x18” flatbed under it as well. I got it for under $2,000 used but it needs a cleaning and other parts bringing the total cost a bit higher than that. (It has currently been sent back to the seller for the servicing. If they can’t service, we’ll get another, either of this model or similar.)

The plan is to share it around a group of people, who each get it a couple of weeks to scan all their stuff. It’s pretty impressive, and also scans large stacks of photo prints — you can do a stack of 100s of photos in a couple of minutes. (See below for notes on photos.) It will also scan large stacks of business cards — both sides. You can probably do 1,000 cards in 10 minutes of your time, not counting fixing jams for mangled cards. But its main purpose is scanning large stacks of paper, all the way up to 12x18” size but of course very good at letter sized paper.

The scanner has Kofax VRS Basic which is software to process scans, straighten pages, remove backgrounds and speckles etc. We can consider the fancier VRS Pro, which does much more, and can be had for about $500 on eBay. The Kofax web page details what it does, I think it’s worth it if we get a decent number of members — though I am not sure we’ll recover the cost as readily. The important features include automatic orientation detection (so it fixes it if you put pages in upside down), better blank page elimination, better cleanup and colour detection (ie. if a page uses colour it stores it in colour, if it is just coloured paper it does not.) Put in your vote as to whether you need this one.

I also wrote more details at this blog post.

There are a few other options possible, detailed below.

In the Scanner club kit

  • The scanner(s).
  • A commercial copy-house paper cutter, able to cut the bindings off books and magazines up to 300 pages thick. About $250 on eBay.
  • A selection of staple pullers and other such tools.
  • Omnipage 16, a high end OCR and PDF creation program. (About $160 on ebay.) Takes your scans and quickly turns them into MS Word files, Searchable PDFs or other formats. Note that Ominipage does online verification for copy protection, but you can transfer the licence from PC to PC.
  • Optional: A dedicated Windows PC, so that members do not have to try to connect the scanner to their own computer, or need Windows.
  • Optional: A shredder, for when you’re done. (Note that serious shredders able to do 20 sheets at a time cost $1000 or more.)
  • Optional: The Kofax VRS Pro upgrade.

More notes on 5750c

I chose this scanner because Fujitsu was recommended by Gord Bell, and because their scanners also work under linux (though you can’t use VRS or windows OCR etc. there.)

Here are some things worth noting:

  • This is a duplex scanner. It scans both sides of the page, up to 600dpi, in colour, B&W or as bitmap. It is almost as fast in colour as in bitmap (it is your computer that will be slower handling all the colour data.)
  • It has USB 2.0 and SCSI. Most people will use the USB
  • Unlike most, this one has a straight-through paper path, which is better for thick or messy documents and cards.
  • It’s quite big and heavy. So members of the club will need to drive to pick up the scanner when its their turn. I mean it, it weighs 85lbs! Mostly for the giant flatbed.
  • The giant flatbed turns out to be useful. It scans in just a second. You can quickly slap down lots of photos, newspaper clippings and other fragile things that won’t go int he ADF and scan them.
  • As noted you can use it from linux. Useful programs include gscan2pdf and eikazao, plus command line scanners.
  • The linux scanner drivers do run on the mac. You can probably also run stuff on Windows under Parallels since that handles USB devices. I have not tried this.

(The optional items might be items some members already have and would loan to the effort as part of their share.)

Second Scanner: Fujitsu 3093dg

I also picked up an older high speed scanner. The Fujitsu 3093dg. This scanner is about 27ppm, monochrome and requires a SCSI card (it does not use USB.) It is quite fast though, but not as good as the 5750 of course. It also has a fast (monochrome) flatbed. I plan on keeping this one but it, or another like it might be useful for the club. With two scanners you can have two jobs going at once to optimize your time. The older scanner can do some of the plain paper jobs.

Notes

Members should live reasonably close, to make it easy to move the kit around. Certainly all in the Bay Area. If the scanner is to live somewhere when not in use, it might be nice if it’s at a house with a teen-ager willing to work scanning documents for an affordable hourly wage.

I am considering donating a share of the scanner club to the EFF, so they can scan some of their piles of documents. It is also something worth considering that we could donate the scanner to the EFF when the club is done, with the condition that members get to borrow it for a weekend once/year.

Alternatives

With enough members in the club, or with a smaller scanner budget, we could also elect not to re-sell the scanner. In this case, it would become a time-share, and be shuttled around member’s homes forever. That way you could scan your bulk paper, but a few times a year get the scanner again to do the new paper. (This does give a plus to whoever is the keeper of the scanner.)

Of course, a member of the club would be given first refusal at buying the scanner for their own use when done.

The club could also rent the scanning kit to friends and associates, and thus probably pay for all the depreciation. There could be no club at all — I could buy the stuff and rent it. These scanners all have an “odemeter” for how many pages they have done. They need cleaning and roller replacement every so often.

After having this scanner you may decide you like having a scanner for your new documents. I suspect many members will buy one of the lower end scanners (such as the Scansnap) that only do 20ppm, with smaller hoppers and only letter sized pages. This way the big scanner can be used for a concentrated scan effort to scan your old documents, photos, cards and books, and the smaller scanner can be used for slower future needs — it’s up to you.

Scanning workers

It may also make sense to find a low-cost (ie. teen-age) scanning worker who will do the scanning for scan club members at some nice hourly wage. The reality of scanning does mean that documents in rough condition will jam and require re-feed. For those there is probably no “put it in and come back” style of scanning.

The person would need to be reasonably bright to do things like classify or name documents as they are scanned. And chances are after a few weeks of doing this, they would get much more skilled at feeding than an individual just starting out.

Another alternative for workers for odd documents is photographing them with a high-res digital camera. An 8MP camera like my EOS 20D is over 300dpi colour for an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and this is much faster than flatbed scanning if you don’t care about perfect quality. (Perfect quality means getting the page to be flat, having no glare etc.)

Resources

Joining

If you are interested in joining, add a comment here. If you register with the blog you can edit your comments after the fact. I am also interested in input on buying VRS Pro and any other optional items.

I would aim for about 8-10 shares in the club. 3 are already spoken for. Total cost might be about $3,000 or 375 per share, but I expect to get back a fair bit of that when we sell all the stuff, leaving each person’s cost under $100 — but no guarantees.

Note: I am away Jan 17-28. Before I can start really setting up the scanner and getting ready for the club, it must be cleaned (I found a place in San Leandro) and more software must be bought.

I'm in!

I like the idea of a) teenage slave labor, and b) a good OCR program. I've been scanning paperwork on and off for a year, using linux tools and Google's Tesseract-OCR program; it's okay, but it'd be great to do a bulk OCR of old scans while I'm timesharing the current scanner. Just having some sort of regular batch access to the OCR software for ongoing day-to-day scanning would be a boon (not sure what the software's license would have to say about that).

EFF already has a good scanning deal with a company,but I believe they may be D.C. based and mostly concerned with our FOIA work.

has potential

I'm kind of in favor of bringing the paper to the scanner, not the scanner to the paper. It's the same principle that makes you jettison things when you move to a new house. If I am required to carry the paper, I will have much less paper that I decide needs keeping.

I LOVE this idea

Brad - I am so in! Let me know when you've reached critical mass.

Count me in

Brad - count me in. I'd love to get rid some papers!

Scanner interest

I am tentatively interested, depending on the cost.

--Chris

Two others

Jeff Ubois

Tim Pozar

(That makes 8 including myself, with one or two other tentatives.)

At 10, shares would be about $250 each, expecting to recover perhaps $180 each after selling it -- no guarantees.

Scanner club

Is this idea dead or alive? My (senior) housing cooperative in Berkeley has records going back to 1962 and is making plans to digitize them all. This scanner club is one possible means to that end. If it's real, please let me know. My username is pool and my domain is utilika.org. Thanks.

I got some scanners

But have not moved too far forward because I have found there is still a lot of logistics around getting the stuff scanned. What I want seems not to exist at least in what I’ve looked at - put in a stack of different papers, and have software figure out the groupings and different dimensions. Perhaps I need better software or to go up a level in software?

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