A bad eyesight that’s getting worse make it so that I can’t read print anymore: black text on a white background is illegible for me.
“It’s easy, David,” you could say, “just open your ebook and put it in night mode”. You’re right, and it’s exactly what I’ve been doing for a long time—that or using an accessibility setting in macOS and Windows that allows one to invert the colours of the screen.
And it’s working great until one wishes to read a printed book.
Many older books are not available in digital format, even some recent books aren’t. Because the publisher consider these books are not worth being digitised, or because the publisher doesn’t like ebooks, or fears piracy. Whatever the reason it sucks.
What am I to do? Not read the book I want to read? No, thanks. I’d rather make my own ebook.
Work in progress: the partial scan of “A Grammar Book for You and Me” by Edward Good. It’s opened in PDF Expert, that has the option to display PDF in inverted colours. But it’s a standard PDF with white pages and dark text, as one can see in the thumbnails on the left
Enters the ScanSnap v600, a Fujitsu scanner optimised for books and magazines.
The ScanSnap v600
Here is a short video ad showing how it works. It’s dead easy: you turn the pages under this odd lamp-like scanner and, tadaaam, a few moments later the app delivers a PDF (with OCR, so one can search for any text in the book):
In reality, it’s a bit longer than that, and a little less magical too: it can automate everything, but you’ll have the best results by doing it by hand.
Scanning a book
- Launch the app, lay the book flat on the provided black mat, and press the big button at the base of the scanner.
It’s important to use the provided mat as the scanner uses contrast to detect the edges of each page and applies its voodoo-like straightening on each of them. That’s also why it won’t work that well with dark full bleed pages (pages with borderless dark background, often used in magazines).
- Rinse and repeat for each spread–aka, for each pair of facing pages in the book.
The scanner can be configured to auto-scan a new page every few seconds, without having to press the button each time, while leaving you enough time to turn the page. It can also be fitted with an optional foot-pedal, to control it.
- Now, the tedious part: cleaning and preparing the scan before letting the app straighten all pages and turn them into a PDF. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
- When done, click Finish and the app will create your PDF.
- Optionally run the provided OCR to make the text searchable.
- Enjoy reading your new ebook.
Cleaning and preparing the scan
This step is crucial, as it helps the app straighten and flatten each page and its printed text, making it more comfortable to read. It’s done in two (or three) steps, don’t skim on the first two:
- Check that each spread is split in two pages.
- Check the borders of each page
- Optionally: remove your fingers from those pages.
Spread and edges
The software’ll try to do all of that automatically, but most of the time you’ll need to check after it.
See that each spread is divided in two pages by adjusting the green dashed line between them. Most of the time, it’ll be good:
Then, check the edges of each page using the red dashed lines and the little. There, you’ll often have some adjustment to do.
Move the little handles thingies (they’re way too small for people with a bad eyesight, Fujitsu!). The software’ll then detect the edge of the page as you move each handle. As a matter fo fact, it’s quite good at it, it’s just too bad it’s not better at doing it all by itself—in the year or so I’ve been using it, there is almost never been a book where I could trust the automated edge detection.
Removing your fingers
If the book can lay flat while scanning it, you won’t have to do it at all. But if you hold the pages and if you don’t want the tip of your fingers to appear on each page…
Dear reader, here are my hands. Don’t be shy hands, say hi!
Click on the third button from the left. The pages are straightened and cut to edges, that’s why it was essential to do it well:
To remove a finger, click anywhere on it. When it works as intended the whole finger’ll be selected at once. But it won’t often work as intended and you’ll have to fiddle with it. Click anywhere on the finger or, if it doesn’t work, near the finger, to create an empty selection, then use the handles to recover the finger or any other defect (useful to remove pen marks too).
Don’t worry about precision, just make sure that you select no part that you want to keep, as all that is selected will be removed:
Everything is ready? You’d better check one last time, because you won’t be able to undo it. Click Save and quit and you get your brand new PDF.
The bundled OCR for MacOS is some version of Abby Fine Reader, so it’s good and supports many languages. I have not checked what comes with the Windows version.
The final result’ll depend on the quality of the original scan, though. So, make some tests before scanning a full book. Pro tip: the higher the DPI of your scan, the better the OCR, but the bigger the file size.
Is the ScanSnap v600 worth it?
Maybe. I know… But it really depends on your situation, your needs and if you can justify its price.
- Its price: 700€, without the optional foot pedal. 700€ that I’d rather have spent in, well, actual books.
- It’s a one-trick pony: it’s great for scanning books (and good for magazines), but it’s meh for any other usage, even those suggested by Fujitsu. Sure it’ll work, but one could to the same thing for much cheaper with a traditional scanner.
- Even if it’s much faster than a traditional flatbed scanner, it’ll take time to scan books: as a voracious reader, in a year I’ve used it maybe 12 times not for the lack of books to scan–I intended to use it much more than that—but because it’s time consuming and boring. If only the software was just slightly less dumb, it’d be so much better!
- It can’t scan thick books (30mm max), or very large one (A3 max).
- It’ll also struggle with glossy pages, and with pages that are too distorted (i.e. when one press them too hard to keep the book flat), resulting in a wavy scan. Usable, but not great:
- The software is functional but lackluster. One can only dream of what Fujitsu could offer if only they devoted a little more resources on software development.
- No matter the book you want to scan, often someone else will already have scanned it and put it online somewhere.
Isn’t it piracy to download scanned books? As far as I’m concerned, no: I already own the book, I just can’t read it on paper any longer. I’d gladly purchase the book again in a digital edition, if only to save time, but if the publisher gives me the finger, well I make do.
- It’s a great device. Simple to use and, despite a few glitches in its software, it does the job the publisher should have done: delivering an ebook.
- It’s optimized for books and magazines. Nothing is there to make it more complicated to use.
- It’s much faster than a flatbed scanner.
- It doesn’t ruin the book: no need to tear the book apart to scan it.
- The resulting PDF is good.
- It comes with an OCR, to make the text searchable.
- One can export to PDF or Word.
Do I recommend it?
As a personal book scanner, if you can afford it and if you have time, yes. Even more so for people like me: it’s a blessing, giving us access to books we can’t read otherwise.