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Scanners and Mac OS X

by David Weiss

Editor's Note: When I first read David's article, I wondered if Canon had finally posted a driver for my USB-powered CanoScan FB 630. In its day it had been quite the charmer, and I always liked its portability. For months I had checked the Canon site to see if a driver was posted, only to be disappointed every time. Finally, I gave up and put the scanner away.

But after checking the Canon URL in this article, I saw that a driver had been posted, finally. I downloaded and installed it. As David explains, the Canon drivers are easiest to use with Photoshop or Elements. Sure enough, my CanoScan was back in business. The new driver even had a sweet "descreen" option that enabled me to scan a magazine photo essay I had written.

If you've given up hope of using your existing flatbed with Mac OS X, then take a look at this article. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that you're back in the scanning business.

First There Was Photoshop...

Photoshop for Mac OS X has been around for a while now, but it's been only recently that we've had a decent selection of scanners for the platform. And now that they are on the scene, does that mean they all support OS X equally? Just because it says "Mac OS X" on the box doesn't mean you have all the functionality you enjoyed with OS 9 or Windows. I've opened a few boxes and can shed some light on what you might find inside.

Why Mac OS X?

By the way, if you're still using Mac OS 9 and you're perfectly happy with your current scanner, you might also be wondering what the big deal is about scanning and OS X. The truth is, scanning alone is an excellent reason to go to X. On 9, no matter how much RAM I had, I was accustomed to crashing every now and then while scanning. For large files, I often restarted Photoshop (if not the whole Mac), "just to be sure". And I often fed Photoshop more than enough memory, drawing resources from other tasks. But OS X throws as much memory toward a task as the task demands, whenever it's needed, taking it from tasks that don't need so much. I've tested many scanners on a variety of machines and, to this day, I've never crashed while scanning on Mac OS X.

The Software Factor

On OS 9, most scanner drivers were Twain drivers, which are accessible from directly within an image-editing or OCR application. Also, because they live in your System, if you install a new image-editor, for example, it will still be able to access your scanner (as long as the application is Twain-compliant). Scanner manufacturers had to create modules for each new scanner, in accord with a Twain specification that was pretty well established. For Mac OS X, however, the Twain specification was still being tweaked well into the release of Jaguar late last year. So scanner manufacturers had a less stable base to build upon, when it came to creating Twain drivers for OS X.

Scanner manufacturers took three different approaches to this hurdle: Some damned the torpedoes and went full speed ahead, creating Twain drivers; some created scanner plug-ins that fit the Photoshop plug-in architecture, rather than that of Twain; and some created stand-alone applications.

The Epson Approach -- Twain

Epson was the first scanner manufacturer to create OS X Twain drivers for consumer (that is, less than $300) scanners, and the company supports a good number of its scanners on Mac OS X. All of the Perfection series use Twain drivers, while the Expression series uses Photoshop-compatible plugins. The company plans to move fully to Twain drivers for all scanners. One benefit of OS X Twain drivers is that they can be used with Image Capture, the image-acquisition app that comes with Jaguar (before Jaguar, Image Capture only worked with digital cameras). So, if you have Jaguar, but you don't have Photoshop 7, or any other Twain-compliant application, you'll always be able to use Image Capture.

By default Image Capture is set up for very limited features. In fact, by default it won't use the Twain driver that comes with your Epson scanner; it will use a less featureful version of the driver called an "Image Capture Module". But if you check "Use Twain Software Whenever Possible", in Image Capture's preferences, you'll get all the features that you'd get accessing the scanner from Photoshop 7. Here's something else to be aware of when you're launching the Epson Twain driver for the first time: by default, it will run in "Auto" mode, which has far fewer features than the Manual mode. To get Manual mode, you have to Cancel the first scan and pick Manual. Then you're all set.

Twain Compatibility. Epson's driver is fully compatible with Twain and Image Capture.
Click for larger image

Currently, Epson's Twain driver version 5 comes in two flavors: 5.73A for OS X.1 and 5.75A for OS X.2. I worked with 5.73A and an earlier version of 5.75, with several different Epson scanners; I think the driver is both clean and full-featured. In a single panel you can adjust the resolution, output size, and scale, and see how the file size is affected. The driver offers a full compliment of tools for descreening, tweaking the color, and adjusting the contrast. You can adjust the color using a Curves editor or run an Auto Color filter. The driver comes with a number of useful presets, organized by document type, such as Color Photo, Color Document, Text, etc., but the preferences also allow for a good degree of flexibility. You can use Color Sync (or choose not to), you can embed whatever color profiles you have on hand, and you can either use Epson's color-correction schemes or rely on your own intuition.

I think the driver gives you just enough control before you bring your images to Photoshop. When I tried this driver back in November, it had two minor flaws. It didn't support the scanner's push buttons, for one-touch commands such as scanning a file directly to an outgoing email, or sending it to the nearest printer. Also, the SmartPanel software wasn't supported, which performed similar functions via icons on a control strip. I just spoke with a representative from Epson, who told me that the SmartPanel software is being revised for the newest scanners--the Perfection 1670 Photo and 3170 Photo--and this software also allows the push-buttons to work with the OS X Twain drivers. Epson plans to provide similar upgrades for future and past scanners. Next on the list for the SmartPanel upgrade, says Epson, is the Perfection 2400 and Perfection 3200. I haven't tested the 3200, but I think the 2400 is an excellent scanner for under $250; it's relatively fast and offers better-than-average color fidelity.

Canon Opts for Plugins

Canon supports a good number of scanners for Max OS X (14, when I last counted); see Canon's site for the complete list. Rather than going the Twain route, Canon developed Photoshop plugins for scanner support. As with a Twain plugin, you can acquire scans directly into Photoshop with Canon's driver, but if you get a new version of Photoshop, you'll have to reinstall the driver. The driver, called ScanGear CS, works any application that supports Photoshop plugins. The driver might not be called "ScanGear GS," depending on which scanner you're using it with, but I've seen the Canon driver on a few different Canon models, and they seem identical. If you don't have Photoshop, or any application that supports its plugins, you can use Canon's CanoScan Toolbox, a stand-alone application for speaking with scanners over OS X.

Auto Pilot. The CanoScan Toolbox runs complex commands with a single click.

Like the Epson Twain driver, Canon's driver is also clean and comprehensive, giving easy access to settings and controls. In fact, it has many similarities. It also shows you an integrated panel for adjusting the resolution, image size, and scale, and it has similar capabilities in terms of adjusting the contrast and brightness, or adjusting the color via curves.

Plugging Into Photoshop. The Canon driver isn't Twain compatible, but you can use it right from within Photoshop.
Click for larger image

Hewlett-Packard Breaks into Twain

Hewlett-Packard supports all ScanJet scanners on OS X: the 3670 (which replaces the 3500), the 4570, the 5500, the 5550, and the 8200 series. And, just recently, the company has provided Twain support for all of these scanners. Soon, in fact, HP also plans to support all of its legacy ScanJets via OS X Twain drivers, so be sure to check the web site for updates.

I haven't worked with the HP Twain driver, but I have high hopes for it. Back in November of last year, when I tried out PrecisionScan Pro 3.0 on a few HP scanners, I thought it was a bit clunky compared with the offerings from Canon and Epson. When you first started the program, for example, the resolution field was hidden. I haven't worked with the current version, 3.2, but a representative from HP told me that the main changes were geared toward Jaguar compatibility, and that the product's features hadn't changed.

HP also makes a few printer/scanner combo units, which also have support for OS X via a series of stand-alone applications, the main one being "HP Scan" governed by the HP Photo and Imaging Director application. I tested the prc1210, and found HP Scan to be very basic. You can adjust the contrast and brightness as well as the color, but the latter is adjusted via a slider bar and it's close to impossible to guess what effect the control will have. But to be fair, this machine and most "all-in-ones" aren't geared toward the graphic designer; they're pitched mostly toward students and home office workers who want to scan and print simple color documents.

Scanning Basics. The driver for HP's printer/scanner combos is very basic, geared toward simple documents.

Lexmark Offers Twain

Lexmark also offers OS X support for its multifunction printers that also scan. The X5150, X75 PrinTrio, X73, X83, and X1150 PrinTrio "all-in-ones" are supported by OS X Twain drivers. I haven't tested out these machines, but if you have any experience with the Lexmark Twain drivers, please post a message at the end of this article.

Microtek's Approach

Microtek began by supporting its high-end scanners on OS X, and is now extending support to many more. The company's site has separate lists for Home, Midrange, and Professional scanners, and it has a special page devoted to OS X support. Here's the scoop. Using a stand-alone application and Photoshop (non-Twain) plugin called ScanWizard, the ScanMaker 3800, 4700, 4800, 4850, 4900, 5600, 5700, 5900, 6400XL, 6700, 6800, 8700 (and 8700 Pro Design), X12USL, 9600XL, and 9800XL are supported on OS X, as are the ArtixScan 120tf, 1100, 1800f, 2020, 2500, 2500f, 4000tf, and 4500t film scanners. I don't have hands-on experience with these scanners on OS X; if you do, please post a message. Microtek announced that it would release OS X Twain drivers for these scanners by the end of the fourth quarter.

Third-party Support of Mac OS X

But if you want to make the jump to Mac OS X, and you want to bring your old scanner along, there are a couple of other options for you, in case your scanner isn't yet supported on X.

VueScan, from Hamrick Software, is a $40 stand-alone scanning application that works with a long list of scanners. But it's also got some interesting and powerful features that you won't find in most other scanning drivers. For one, rather than doing new scan for every crop, it does one big scan, and lets you save crops, which saves a lot of time. Also, it tells you the RGB values of any spot in the preview image, which is a boon if you've got to capture a particular color as accurately as possible.

SilverFast is another option. SilverFast is a Twain plugin, but it also ships with a stand-alone application if don't have a Twain-compliant image editor. SilverFast puts out a separate CD for each scanner it supports, and it supports a wide variety. It costs around $100, depending on which version you pick (it comes in a few different varieties, with different amounts of features). But SilverFast's main strengths are image-editing and color correction. SilverFast Ai, for example, has some sophisticated tools for removing color casts, some of which rival those of the mighty Photoshop itself. For example, SilverFast lets you neutralize up to four points in an image, using an eyedropper tool, to remove color casts while preserving the colors you want. The best part about doing your image-editing in the scanner driver, before you get to Photoshop, is that if you're scanning a batch of photos, you can apply the same settings to each scan, rather than applying each effect separately.

Go Forth and Scan!

So there are a number of good ways to get scanning on Mac OS X. But no matter how you do it, you'll be glad you did; Mac OS X has finally become a solid platform for scanning on the Mac. Was it worth the wait? For that, you'll have to be the judge.

David Weiss is an Oakland, California based freelance writer. He's worked as a senior editor at Macworld magazine, and as the lead editor of MacHome Journal. Read more about David at

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