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Vuescan: A review from a non-photographer’s perspective

Vuescan is a third-party scanning tool for most versions of Windows, OS X, and Linux. It supports hundreds of scanners, including those abandoned by manufacturers. It’s probably better than what came with your scanner. The pro edition probably costs as much as your scanner too, but comes with lifetime free updates, so you know you’ll be able to use your scanner for as long as it continues to operate, rather than rolling the dice on manufacturer-provided drivers working with your next upgrade. And you can run it on up to four computers at a time, which is nice.

Full disclosure: I bought this software myself. I was not provided a copy for review, nor am I receiving anything in exchange for writing this review. Now that’s out of the way, and you don’t to have to guess about my motives.  I bought Vuescan because we have a perfectly good Canon LiDE 30 scanner that’s around 10 years old, but works like new. Driver support ended with Windows XP. There are drivers that supposedly work with Vista and Windows 7 with this scanner, but I had no luck with them. So I broke down and bought Vuescan and, well, it all just worked with no fuss.

Well, mostly. Scans tended to run red, but eventually I figured out that by right-clicking on a white area, I could force it to white balance and make the documents look a lot better. Since I mostly scan documents, that’s important to me. It’s easy enough, but until a tooltip popped up with that option, I had no idea. +1 for useful tooltips.

I don’t know if it was Vuescan, my scanner, or the way the two interact, but being able to quickly fix it with literally one mouse click was nice. Usually you don’t get that option out of the box, and if the scanner starts skewing toward one color or another there isn’t much you can do about it besides buy a new scanner. I think I’d rather buy Vuescan.

The pro option includes all sorts of options for scanning images that I won’t pretend to understand beyond descreening scanned magazine images–which gets rid of the annoying crosshatch patterns you often get when scanning a printed image–and restoring fading colors. A good photographer will appreciate the additional control. I never was anything more than a poor-to-mediocre photographer and I’m getting worse with age, so take that part for what it’s worth.

OCR seemed more interesting, at least to me. I tried it, but found it a bit disappointing. It’s probably no worse than the OCR package that came with your scanner. That said, I found it less accurate than Acrobat Pro’s OCR, even the aged Acrobat 8 Pro. In a pinch it’s better than nothing, but don’t expect professional results from its OCR.

The user interface takes some getting used to, but once you get comfortable with it, it’s fine. Read the tool tips that come up when you launch it. It’s more complicated than the software that came with your scanner because it can do a lot more.

The most important thing is that if it says it works with your scanner, it almost certainly does, and you can try it out before paying for it to make sure. And if you like your scanner, Vuescan will let you use it with almost any operating system you could want. It will also let you use an old secondhand scanner that you can buy dirt cheap, if you want.

To me, the main reason to pay extra for the Pro version is to get the lifetime free updates. I don’t do enough photography to use its photography options, and its OCR capability isn’t all that useful to me. As of right now, there is an option to upgrade later to the Pro version. So if you end up needing upgrades later because the version you buy now ends up being incompatible with a later version of your preferred OS, you’re not out of luck.

I recommend the standard version with no reservations whatsoever, and the pro version isn’t too far behind it. Try out the pro version before you buy it. If you don’t need the pro features, buy the standard one and save the money. Either way, you’ll be a lot happier with Vuescan than with whatever came with your scanner.

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