Economy Size Geek - Adventures in Scanning

Has scanning under Linux improved?

Like many geeks, I dream of a paperless office. I don't know when that phrase first came into use, but a quick scan around both my home and work office convinced me it's still a long way off. To add insult to injury, the fax machine as a means of business communication seems to be a zombie technology that refuses to die. All too often when I deal with businesses, they cheerfully tell me to fax something to a number they provide. That is all well and good, but because I made the switch to VoIP (Voice over IP), which does not support faxing, I am forced to make trips to the local Kinko's more than I would like to admit. Time has moved on, and a number of businesses now will accept a PDF file with scanned versions of the documents. This fills me with both joy and terror. I'm happy I don't have to find a landline with a fax machine, but I'm terrified of scanning under Linux. I haven't done it in a very long time (years), mostly because my experience was so bad and frustrating, I resolved to leave it as one of those things I cannot do under Linux.

Finding Your Scanner

You already may have a scanner lying around, but I didn't. I searched the Internet where all roads led to the SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) Web site, so that's where I started. SANE is the main clearing house for information related to scanners and scanning. It has a big list of devices that shows how well they are supported, but the list is less helpful than it looks, primarily because it focuses on listing all the scanners that are known to work, including many that are no longer manufactured. I spent a lot of time trying to find a scanner that was both on the list and available from I then found the best path was to go to the Ubuntu forums and search for recommended scanners. If you use another distribution, check its forum or assume that if it works for Ubuntu, it will work with any other modern distribution (although that's not always a safe bet). My main criteria were size (smaller the better), USB (is there another interface now?) and cheap (less than $100).

After some searching, I found recommendations for the Epson v300 and the Epson v500. On, the v300 was available for $89, and the v500 was $165. I am sure the v500 is awesome, but given that I mainly wanted to use it for documents, I didn't think I needed to pay double. I was a little confused because the scanner is called a photo scanner, but the dimensions showed that it could scan a full sheet of standard letter paper. It even has a hinge so you can scan from a book.

The Moment of Truth

I hooked up the scanner to the computer. I'm not sure what I expected to happen, but nothing did. I realized I needed something actually to use the scanner. It turns out that the word scanner means security scanner a lot more often than image scanner. This made locating software a little more difficult. I found out that I already had packages for sane and xsane installed. xsane is the graphical front end to the SANE library, and it gives you a GUI to control your scanner. Because it was already installed, I started with xsane. Right off the bat, I hit a problem. By default, xsane connected to /dev/video0, which is my Webcam.

Figure 1. xsane

After a little more research, I ended up at Avasys. It provides drivers and a software utility for talking to my new scanner. I had to download a 64-bit deb for iscap and esci-interpreter. I clicked on Image Scan! for Linux, and the program told me it wasn't able to talk to the scanner. I was beginning to have flashbacks to the last time I tried using a scanner. Remaining calm, I power-cycled the scanner and tried the application again. This time, it started up without complaint. I was able to click Scan, and a scan of a book cover showed up. I was able to scan to several different file types: TIFF, JPEG, PNM, PNG and PDF. I was a little disappointed that the PDF option didn't allow me to store more than a single page in the file.

Figure 2. Image Scan!

As a bonus, the driver package I installed fixed the problem with xsane. Now when it starts, it gives me the option to choose my Webcam (weird) or my scanner. This also solves the problem of not being able to scan multiple pages into a single PDF, because xsane has that feature. The key is to change xsane into multipage mode before I start scanning. This allowed me to scan several pages and save them as a single PDF.