Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Digital Needles and Thread

It's certainly a sign of the Apocalypse when I give a computer software review, but I must admit I'm impressed with the ArcSoft Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe that came with my new Epson flat bed scanner.  Over the years, I've acquired several 1930's era weekly radio newspapers.  The long-since defunct publisher, I'm sure to keep expenses low, used fairly acidic paper which was never intended to last 70 or 80 years.  Consequently, the papers are mostly quite yellowed and brittle and very, very fragile.  So much so, that I'd be afraid to handle them much or to lend them out to others for research.  And yet, the written material contained within is usually just too good.
I heard about a program called "Stitch and Sew" (which is what many libraries use), but it was pricey and too professional.  I considered finding an over-sized flatbed scanner, but they too are way, way too expensive.  I also considered taking digital photographs of each page, under glass and hot lights, but I was afraid the heat would accelerate deterioration, even if only a few seconds.   Plus, it would take a lot more work and space.
But this new set-up is quite handy.  The Epson V33 scanner uses LED lights, which are not hot and seem to be less destructive.  And ArcSoft's "Scan and Stitch" turns the process into a relatively simple process.  The key to success is getting enough overlap for the program to "read."  The manual recommends 20% but I think I'm doing slightly less.  That means a 13" X 11.5" newspaper can be covered in two scans (out of 16 attempts, I only have one failure) and a larger 16" X 11" newspaper requires three scans.
Once the "pieces" are scanned, it's simply a one touch button to have the program automatically recognize overlaps and "sew" the pieces together.  The finished product looks quite good with no visible lines and only a slight color change in some cases.  There are some handy polishing features to rotate, align and trim edges if you want.  The final image can be saved as a jpg, .bmp or .tif (which, archivally, I prefer).
The program does occasionally "burp" and ends up sewing together pieces in all directions.  My only complaint with the program is that you can't go back a step to retry--you have to start from the beginning.  But so far, out of, say, an average 20 attempts it has failed just once for me...a 95% success rate.   The clarity is pretty good...I can zoom all the way in and see the detail of the typeface.  It's pretty fast too....I can scan a 16-page newspaper (while working on other things) in under an hour.
Obviously, most people won't need this program since most documents can fit within a regular flatbed scanner's dimensions.  But if you have large documents or photos or posters and have a little time, this program seems to be an inexpensive way to get quality results on a smaller budget.

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