By John Roling
Every once in awhile I happen upon a piece of software that I didn't even know I needed, but after using, I can't imagine ever being without it. Hamrick Software's VueScan is one of those programs.
VueScan is simply a scanner driver. Instead of using the drivers that came with your scanner, you use VueScan instead. VueScan currently supports over 400 different scanners, and is available for Windows, Mac and even Linux.
I can hear you now saying "Why would I ever need to use another scanner driver? Wouldn't I be better off using the software from my vendor?" The answer, simply, is no. VueScan will almost always give you better quality, color and output options.
Out of the box, VueScan has a brain-dead simple wizard (also referred to as Guide Me). This wizard, shown in Figure A, walks you through the tasks necessary to scan something.FIGURE A
A basic wizard can get you excellent results (click for larger image)
You choose your task, (such as scanning to a file, or scanning for output directly to a printer) you choose the type of object you are scanning (photo, magazine, newspaper, etc.) you choose the size of the media, the quality of final product (for email, editing, archiving) and then VueScan scans a preview with those settings. Once the preview is in place, you choose your crop, and then do a final scan.
This wizard is much like all of the standard printer drivers out there. The difference is that VueScan optimizes the scan based upon your settings much better than a typical scanner driver. If this is all it did, it would be a decent product in its own right, but VueScan is far more powerful.
The way you unleash all that power is through clicking the Advanced button. Once you do this, VueScan abandons the simple wizard and allows you to tweak to your heart's content. It does so through tabs of settings needed for the scan.
There's an Input tab, shown in Figure B, that allows you to choose what type of media you are using and the quality of the scan (much like the wizard) but it also allows you to choose your bit depth. This allows you to go all the way up to 64 bits. You can also set your resolution (for both the preview and the final scan) and impressively, the number of samples.FIGURE B
Your options can be as basic or advanced as you want (click for larger image)
The number of samples is simply the number of times the scanner registers data for the object it travels over. Typically scanners take the data from the one scan and that's it. VueScan allows you to choose multiple samples, so for instance if you chose four samples, VueScan would make the scanner register the same points of data four times and then average them. This typically results in much better accuracy and sharpness as well as less noise in your scans.