Document scanners

I’ve been hauling around boxes and boxes of notes from my past. Things from graduate school, things from college. Things I had poured years of my life into. As a result, I have a hard time throwing some of this stuff away, even though there’s a 99.9% chance I will never use it again.

Recently, I searched around for some kind of service to scan it all in for me for a price, but it appears that most of those places cater to businesses. Scanning all my crap on a flatbed scanner was depressing since it would be way too slow of a process. I even thought about renting storage space to store this crap in just to free up closet space.

Things changed during my brief tenure at a nuclear power plant, where I was introduced to a $5000 document scanner than could scan 90 double sided pages a minute (180 pages). It was crazy. It was also $5000. Sure it slowed down when you scanned at a resolution I would use (600 dpi) for archiving important stuff, but you could still chew through a binder of papers in 5 minutes or so. A little bit of research turned up their consumer version for $400, the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500. I figured that would be small price to pay to allow me to part with some of my crap with no guilt, so I bought one. It scans about 30 pages per minute at 600 dpi, which is 60 pages if you are scanning in duplex.

This thing is amazing. So far in the two weeks I’ve had it, I’ve scanned over 5000 pages1, enough to fill a 12″ x 12″ x 24″ box. Most of this stuff was handwritten notes, written lightly in pencil on an assortment of paper types (legal paper, notebook paper, engineering graph paper, and printer paper). The auto adjustments for darkness are pretty much perfect and so far everything has come out great. Better than what I got from the aforementioned $5000 scanner. The software will also automatically remove blank pages, i.e., the back sides of paper if you are scanning in duplex. The OCR is pretty quick too, so you can get searchable PDFs. If you are on Windows (I’m not) you also get a full version of Adobe Acrobat X, which is a pretty nice program.

In addition to my old physics notes, I’ve been archiving old investment and bank statements, allowing me to shred that stuff and get rid of it. Once the years of backlog material is worked through, when a new bill or statement comes through, it will take about 20 seconds to scan it and file it.

This short review probably sounds like I’m getting paid to write it. I know I don’t normally write shit like this, but this is seriously a really useful purchase that will change the way I deal files. If you don’t have as big of a backlog as I do, I think Fujitsu sells slower but cheaper scanners. I figured I’d spend the extra money since after I finish my files, I’m going to work several other people’s files, and the extra speed will pay off.

  1. Mostly scanned during the first week of ownership. 

6 thoughts on “Document scanners

  1. What little pack rat-ishness I did have was wiped away from moving to Africa and China. As long as I could get to it in 1s and 0s, I didn’t see a use for it. This broke my need to keep things like C64s and Nintendos.

    About the OCR, does that also do handwriting now? I used to use OCR at one of my former jobs, but it was pretty poor back then, even for printed text.

    You should make a post next about your backup solutions. Do you have ‘off-site storage’? Even with things in digital, it would be a shame to lose it all the same to something like water or fire damage (hat tip to a recent cooking fire).

  2. Nothing like a move to cure one of “pack-ratishness.” Even though we packed and moved a bunch of stuff to WV, MN, and Oh, once we considered how to keep and store it, we decided to divest ourselves of much of it. Hence Tim’s document scanner and my ongoing sales on Ebay selling magazines, Transformers and other toys, household and vintage items. I have made good money, so I guess it was worth the effort to move all of it. And it sure has cured future impulses to keep crap.

  3. I have no problem with digital storage either, but the copies have to be good enough for me to not care about the originals. For printed material, 600 dpi hits the spot. Sure, higher resolution could be nice, but it’s really not needed since most documents are printed out at 300 or 600 dpi to begin with. Also, since I’m storing most of these documents as monochrome for size reasons, some of the detail is lost anyway, but for handwritten and typed documents, that’s not an issue. And when you need something with more details, just switch over to color.

    I didn’t really try the OCR on handwritten stuff. Most of the stuff I’m scanning anyway is my handwriting, which is barely legible, and math, which confuses OCR already. The OCR on printed documents is accurate enough to automate naming and sorting of said documents based on content. So it’s good enough for searching to find the right document – finding the right page or paragraph might be harder if the document isn’t just pages of text.

    As of now, I just backup to an external drive on my desk. In my previous job, I took my laptop back and forth between home and work, and I would back up everyday at work, and back up at home once a week, creating physical separation between drives. I haven’t yet figured out a solution for that here. I’ll probably take a drive to my mom’s periodically, but that won’t be everyday…

  4. And Mom is right – after moving to WV, I have no desire to keep most of this crap. I just need to find the time to weed through it.

  5. Let me echo your praise of the ScanSnap. I purchased 5 ScanSnaps for my office at UD. We primarily use them to scan entire text books for our students with “print” disabilities. We cut the binding off of the book, scan and save by chapter, then save everything as OCR enabled PDFs. Takes us about 30-45 minutes to do a 400 to 500 page textbook from start to finish.

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