Document Scanning, The Missing Link
Contributed by Joel Zimba, Special Projects Coordinator, MDTAP
How many articles have we posted about scanning printed documents using OCR software? We don’t know either, but you could always try using the “Search” feature on the blog. Anyway, it is not insignificant. Often, I write about a new piece of stand alone hardware, or the latest and greatest software to run on your computer or SmartPhone which will have you up in scanning right away.
There’s a piece of that scanning chain missing—the stand. In the bad ol’ days, we laid a document on a flat bed scanner or fed it into a document feeder and let the software do its job. This worked fine for unbound pages. Then we had the cameras which would click a picture of anything laying under it. This worked great for all kinds of documents. The Hover Cam and the EyePal are examples of this style of stand. When it comes to scanning with a mobile device, things get more complicated.
Who needs a stand? You can always just grab your phone with both hands and do the cannoneer squat. That’s where the device forms the apex of a triangle, with your two elbows forming the base. Your document is between your elbows and underneath the device. To put the historical reference in context—remember the little green army men? We Cold War kids would cultivate our nationalistic aggressiveness by creating elaborate trench warfare scenes in which the binocular holding figures (with elbows forming this particular triangle) would help sight-in the next barrage from the giant foot-long cannons.
This approach works better than you might initially expect. For a one-off situation, a little practice will yield surprisingly good results. If you want to scan several pages at a time, this becomes tedious. Hence, the need for a scanning stand for the mobile device.
If you’re the DIY type, many such stands can be made out of cardboard or other similar rigid material. These stands frequently fold flat and then form into a large box with a hole in the top. Place camera over hole, height of box determines optimal focal length, and you get the picture—no pun intended.
Then there are all of the mobile document-scanning stands which can be purchased. Amazon lists at least a dozen, ranging in price from $12 to upward of $70. At MDTAP we currently have the ScanJig. It is strong, light-weight and about the size of a legal folder, though the folder in question would be holding a couple of hundred pages to achieve the proper thickness.
The top surface of the ScanJig opens upward and to the side, like a book, allowing a mobile device to point at the document which is placed upon the base. The camera is at an angle to the document, the closer said angle gets to 90 degrees, the larger the field of view. Convenient slots and pegs are provided which help to position the ScanJig’s top and the mobile device exactly as desired.
I find the ScanJig a bit fiddly to get just right. I have not spent extensive time testing other models, though many seem to work on the principle of facing directly down over a document and moving a platform up and down to focus properly. I have recently heard favorable reviews of the Fopydo stand and expect to review it myself in the near future.
A stand is not required, though I highly recommend one. The time it takes to scan several pages decreases dramatically when both hands are free to shuffle pages. I have scanned both textbooks and novels. I can’t imagine doing this without a stand. With one, however, scanning with a mobile device should work every bit as well as the stationairy scanning solutions.