The TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award winner Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 is the best large format scanner in our review. The Plustek OpticPro A320 runs a close second but it doesn’t support Macintosh and it cannot equal the scanning density – even though the Plustek is twice the price.
The large format scanners in our review are of two sizes: 8.5 x 14 inches or 11.68 x 16.52 inches. While competing products from HP, Xerox and Canon are limited to 8.5 x 14-inch legal-sized documents, the Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro can scan an 11 x 17-inch folio or two 8.5 x 11-inch documents at once.
This scanner’s document feeding mode is flatbed as opposed to automatic document feeder. Flatbed scanners offer more flexibility than sheet-fed scanners because of the ability to scan different sized documents and documents that are too thick to pass through an automatic document feeder. On the other hand, automatic document feeders provide batch-file convenience if the documents to be scanned on the wide format scanner are of relatively uniform size and consistent thickness.
The scanning engine (based on contact image sensors) in this wide format scanner employs red, green and blue light-emitting diodes to create white light for scanning. Contact image sensor technology occupies less space than the competing scanning technology, color charged-coupled devices. Contact image sensor technology is also less expensive than charged-coupled devices, which use cold cathode ray fluorescent lamps combined with mirrors and sensors.
The differences between the two scanning technologies are significant perhaps only for scanographers or those who regularly need to scan an opened book (with the associated challenge to accurately read the gutters created toward the book’s spine). Scanography, a logical successor to the Xerox art movement that began in the 1960s, is the practice of scanning 3-D objects arranged in artful compositions on the scan bed.
Because contact image sensor technology allows a depth of field measured in millimeters, large format scanners that use the technology are not ideal for scanning anything that isn’t in close contact with the scan bed. For scanographic applications and scans of opened books, the Plustek OpticPro A320 is a better large format scanner than the Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro because the Plustek employs color charge-coupled device technology, which supports a depth of focus approaching half an inch.
Although this large format scanner has the lowest price point of any product in our review, only one product in our lineup can scan at higher resolutions: the HP Scanjet 8300. The Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 can scan at densities as high as 2,400 dots per inch, which means that a scan of a 35mm slide can be enlarged to a 4 x 6-inch photo without significant loss of fidelity. This large format scanner’s ability to allow adjustments of highlights and shadow areas far exceeds that of the Xerox Documate 515 or the Canon imageFORMULA DR-3010C. All of the contenders in our large format scanner review have sufficient resolution to scan and copy photographic prints beautifully. However, only the Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 and the HP Scanjet 8300 support the dynamic range to enlarge 35mm film or negatives into prints that are fully saturated.
This tabloid-sized large format scanner supports optical character recognition so that it is possible to scan text and then edit the text from within a word processor. It also scans to email or fax. The scanner device driver is TWAIN compliant to support TWAIN-compliant software. Before the TWAIN Consortium spun out of the Macintosh Scanner Roundtable group in 1990, software vendors and image-acquisition device manufacturers were challenged to write device drivers and application programs that connected specific versions of software with specific models of image-producing hardware. TWAIN is not an acronym for “Technology Without An Interesting Name”; rather it comes from a Victorian Era Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Ballad of East and West,” which contains the line: “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Kipling’s poem, which sprang from British colonial tensions and border disputes in the Punjab region of India (east of present-day Pakistan), captures the spirit of the challenge that software and hardware vendors faced when they first began to collaborate on interoperability.
Users of this wide format scanner can access the TWAIN driver from within the bundled software or from within any TWAIN-compliant program. The bundled software provides control over brightness and contrast. A preview button displays the effects of various control settings prior to scanning. You can also apply curve controls, which enhance brightness ranges. Sliders provide control over color hue and saturation. Other controls available prior to scanning with this wide format scanner are filters to either blur or sharpen image details and options to either invert or flip images of the original. A preview window provides a cropping tool to select the area of the document that will be the final scan. Once you've optimized an image using the tools during a preview, the scan command is invoked, which is an efficient way to get it right the first time.
The Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 Pro is a large format scanner that works with Windows PCs and Macs. The warranty is good for one year. You can contact technical support by telephone or email for free for the life of the product. Large format scanners from better-known brands such as HP, Canon and Epson have technical support policies that are no longer free after the first year.
The Mustek Scan Express A3 USB 2400 is a wide format scanner with a scan bed that accommodates tabloid- or folio-sized originals (almost 12 x 17 inches). It scans at higher densities than the second-ranked large format scanner in our review (the Plustek OpticPro A320) and at half the price. The Epson GT-20000 wide format scanner costs much more and scans with less density. Epson’s technical support policy is not as good, however the Epson product can accept a network card and an optional attachment turns it from a flatbed scanner to a 100-page automatic document feeder.
If a flatbed is sufficient and you don’t mind that scanned items must be touching or close to the scan bed, the Mustek Scan Express A3 USB is best in its class and the most affordable.