A Smart move for ship-shape studios

Creating high res scans has always been the domain of bureaus outside a design studio. But Scitex’s new scanner could change that, explains Sutherland Lyall

Ordinarily we wouldn’t get round to reviewing so apparently expensive a scanner as Scitex’s Smart 320, on the grounds that few Design Week readers could afford it. What persuaded us into looking at it more seriously, apart from our cheerful Top 100 figures, was the amount some design practices spend on scanning with their favourite bureaus. Compared with the figures we’d been shown, 17 500 for a Scitex Smart 320 looks as though it might well be a sensible investment for many practices – especially when owning one means you can legitimately charge your client the going rates for scanning, personally supervise the quality of scans and have the facility to do ad-hoc high quality scans. For the 320 is a serious bit of kit which you will find soon in your local bureau – if the bureaus haven’t got pissed off at Scitex seducing their customers.

The mechanical details are a one-pass, three-colour CCD head scanning system, CMYK, RGB, greyscale or bitmap scan modes, 12-bit colour and 5260dpi resolution, while output files formats are Photoshop, EPSF, TIFF, PICT, PSImage and Scitex CT. Originals can be up to around 260mm x 430mm for trannies and 300mm x 432mm for reflective material. A Mac interface with a minimum of a Quadra or PowerMac with 8Mb RAM and a 24-bit colour adapter board. Claimed productivity is 6 scans per hour – that is making 150 per cent CMYK enlargements of 4 x 5 inch images at 300dpi.

It’s a big beast at 1030mm x 340mm x 690mm, the size of a serious photocopier, and it’s heavy – it took four men to get it in and out of the office. And it’s not quiet. Our reviewers said that its combination of Dalek/electric wheelchair operational sounds meant it would have had to be allocated a separate room.

But the Smart 320 does wonderful things: you can do RGB to CMYK – on the fly rather than later. You can do local and global colour corrections, change brightness, contrast and white and dark point interactivity. You can enlarge and control resolution and there is unsharp masking.

And all this is very simple. Everybody in our office was using it after 15 minutes of group instruction – although what you actually do is stick it on auto and off you go. The A3 screen means you can get 30 or so trannies on at one time. So when you are happy with one of them you can make a big scan – all in the studio. And despite the above productivity figures, you can do around 12 to 15 high res scans per hour.

Our reviewers put it on a network which already has three or four rather lower res scanners plugged in. They could say only good things about getting used to its finer points. There is a lot of learning material, a good CD, a manual and a great exercise book. And installation is a piece of cake.

So the downside? Oddly enough, this is cost and the fact that the scanner is probably capable of doing too much. First, cost. One thing a tight design ship doesn’t want is high-priced design staff doing mechanical things like scans. So installing the Smart 320 calls for an extra staff person, but probably not full-time. Maybe this is the opportunity to hire someone who would, for example, also work as a network administrator – which high-priced designers shouldn’t be doing either. The other more obvious question is do you do 17 500 worth of scans, probably mostly trannies, per year or however long you reckon to amortise the acquisition of a high res scanner?

Quality is an issue though. Designers often tend to work with low res images in those experimental phases leading up to the preliminary client presentation. You use low res images because you can play around with them faster. You don’t use high res images because the file size is too big and slow – and they cost a lot from a bureau. Once you’ve got client approval you work up the final design using high res scans. The argument here is that you don’t want to use all that many high res scans a year.

The second stage of this argument is that what design studios want from high res scanners is high res scans – and little more. This is because designers often need to go back to the original image. Much better and safer to work with an original scan and do everything in Photoshop and the usual suspects. So most of the 320’s image manipulation features, essential for the bureau market, are probably not essential for designers. A trade-off between sexy but strictly unnecessary features and lower price might be a way of inveigling the technically wonderful Smart 320 into the financial hearts of design practice finance honchos. At a more amenable price, it’s just possible that those objections about high-priced computer jocks doing their own scans might just fade away.

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