Mac 101: Connect Your Scanner

Maybe you want to digitize all your old film prints or slides. Or you want a way to file your printed documents electronically. Or maybe macro photography is a passion, but you lack a camera. If you're looking to turn tangible matter into an electronic form, a scanner will do wonders. Whether you've got a flatbed or film scanner, here's how to connect it to your computer and set it up for whatever type of use you desire.

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Connecting a Scanner

Install the software and driver that came with your scanner to ensure that you have full access to your scanner's features.

  1. Install the software drivers and scanning software that came with your scanner, if needed—you can also download the latest driver from the manufacturer's website. You don't need to install all the third-party applications most scanners come bundled with image-editing software and other graphics applications.
  2. Restart your computer.
  3. Depending on your scanner's available ports, connect your scanner to either your computer's USB or FireWire port.
  4. Turn on your scanner.

Setting Your Scanner to Scan

While scanners and scanning software differ from model to model, the following steps show you the basics of manually scanning an item into your computer. Your scanning software may have options that automatically do the deed for you. Please note that your scanning software interface elements and menus may differ from ours, but the types of things you'll need to select will be the same.

Make sure that you choose the right settings for your subject;
we chose a 300 dpi resolution so we could print copies of a photo print.

  1. To configure your scanner for the job at hand, place a specimen, for example, a photo print or slide, film negative, a paper document, or any small object on your scanner bed, or insert film in the film slot (film scanners only).
  2. Open the scanning application that came with your scanner and click Preview (or Prescan, or something similar). Your scanner will make a quick, low-resolution scan of your item, which will appear in the interface window.
  3. Use the crop box or selection marquee to frame the exact area that you wish to scan.
  4. If you don't see any controls that let you set the image type, size, and other options, change the setting so that your scanning software isn't set to full auto mode.
  5. From the Image Type pop-up menu, choose the type of item you're scanning, such as Color Photo for prints or transparencies, Negative for film negatives, Color Document for magazines and brochures, or Text/Line Art for text documents or black-and-white line drawings.
  6. For the Destination, choose where your scan will ultimately be used, for example, choose Screen/Web for stuff that you plan to view on your computer screen, or Printer if you want to print the item after you scan it.
  7. Choose a resolution that you want your item scanned at. If you're only going to be viewing the item onscreen, 72 dots per inch (dpi) should be fine. If you plan on printing it, choose at least 200 dpi or a higher resolution.
  8. Your scanning software should provide a scaling bar or fields that allow you to enter size dimensions for the resulting image, and a menu that lets you set the unit of measurement to pixels or inches. Use "pixels" for screen images and "inches" for printed items. Then scale your size dimensions appropriately.
  9. If your scanning software offers any image adjustment controls, feel free to use them to enhance your image.
  10. When finished, click Scan to scan your item. Please be aware that some scans can take a really long time, especially if you set a high resolution, so have some patience.

Using Image Capture to Scan

If your scanner is TWAIN-compatible and is connected to your computer's USB port, you can use Image Capture from the Applications folder to scan stuff. If you haven't done so already, connect your scanner by following the steps in "Connecting a Scanner," above, and then do this:

If you don't want to use your scanner's scanning software, you can use Image Capture if your scanner is TWAIN-compatible.

  1. Press a scan button on your scanner. Image Capture opens and displays a low-resolution preview of your subject.
  2. Select the exact area that you wish to scan by dragging the selection marquee across the image.
  3. Click Options if you want to access your scanner's settings options. You'll see settings similar to what we explained in "Setting Your Scanner to Scan," above.
  4. Make whatever adjustments you wish, and then click Scan.

Tips for Getting Great Scans

  • When scanning items from a magazine, newspaper, or book, select the Descreen option in your scanning software to remove the moiré pattern that often appears in the resulting file when scanning these types of sources.
  • Beware of setting a scan to use your scanner's interpolated resolution. Use its optical resolution for the best clarity. Like digital zoom in a digital camera, interpolated resolution pretty much gives you a magnified version of your scanner's maximum optical resolution.
  • Wipe your scanner bed clean before using. Dust, hair, and fingerprints can mar your scans. Even though you might not see the offenders on your scanner bed initially, they'll be a lot more noticeable in the scan.
  • If your scanner comes with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, you can use it to scan text documents and edit the text in the resulting file in a text editor, such as TextEdit.
  • If you plan to print a film or slide scan, be sure to scale up the size and resolution accordingly, or you'll end up with a postage stamp-sized image.


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