Here’s a quick list of currently available scanner models that I recommend for people doing album art scanning.
I’m not covering scanning 12″ vinyl in this guide. For that, you need a large format scanner, which is a completely different price category of professional equipment.
I generally recommend a CCD sensor (not a CIS/Contact Image Sensor). This is important in particular if you’re scanning digipak cases – with a CCD sensor, you can scan right through the tray without disassembling the case. It also improves the quality when scanning exterior of boxes or thick booklets that don’t lay completely flat. CIS sensors can only get a sharp image if the thing being scanned is perfectly flat against the glass surface.
The scanner must be able to do 600dpi scanning (non-interpolated). This is pretty much a given at this point, of course, since even the cheapest current model scanner can usually pull off 1200dpi or higher. But keep this in mind when looking for used or older model scanners.
The scanner must be a direct-connection USB device. Many network scanners and all-in-one devices apply compression and pre-filtering that often can’t be disabled; this reduces the effectiveness of later descreening steps. Scanners marketed as “Photo” scanners are usually good at preserving fine detail without compression artifacts.
If you’re scanning CD discs, A scanner with CCD sensor and LED lighting creates a very noticable pattern. It’s possible to work around it, but you won’t see the issue at all if you pick up a scanner with a CIS sensor instead of (or in addition to) the CCD scanner.
Last updated 2016-07-10. (Last change: Bump up Canon LiDE 120 based on recent work on Linux driver.) At the moment, I’m only tracking the “big three” names in scanners; if you have any other suggestions for widely-available models, or updates, please let me know! Comment here, or mention me on twitter @kepstin.
I list the CCD and CIS scanners separately, to make it easier to select a model based on that feature. The scanners are listed roughly in order of preference, but any one on the list will provide you with good-looking scans.
Current Model Scanners
Scanners with CCD Sensors
Epson Perfection V370 (GT-S740 in Japan) (MSRP: $129.99 US) The entry-level model of Epson’s CCD-based photo scanners (Don’t confuse it with the V39 which has a CIS sensor). Includes film scanning capabilities, at the expense of a heavier lid. LED lighting. Fully supported on Windows and Mac OS X. Supported on Linux, but requires a binary blob (x86/x86_64 only). The discontinued V37 (GT-S640) is the same scanner without the film capabilities.
HP Scanjet G3110 Photo (L2698A) (MSRP: $109.99 US) The current entry-level HP CCD-based scanner. Includes film scanning capabilities, which makes the lid heavier. LED lighting. Fully supported on Windows and Mac OS X. Supported on Linux via open-source SANE driver, but it’s “basic” support only.
Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II (MSRP: $199.99 US) Canon’s cheapest “Film & Negative scanner” model with a CCD sensor. LED lighting. Since this model has film scanning capabilities, the lid is heavy. Fully supported on Windows and Mac OS X and Linux via SANE. A very nice scanner, but a lot more expensive than the alternatives.
Scanners with CIS Sensors
Canon CanoScan LiDE 120 (MSRP: $69.99 US) Canon’s basic LiDE model. A cheap and readily available scanner model that will produce quite satisfactory results. A used older-model LiDE scanner is a great second scanner if you just want something that will make nice-looking optical disc scans. This model is fully supported on Windows and Mac OS X, and will be supported in an upcoming SANE release on Linux. (The previous model LiDE 110 has “complete” support in SANE.) USB-powered (no separate power cord).
Epson Perfection V19 (MSRP: $69.99 US) Epson’s entry-level photo scanner. A bit harder to find than the Canon model. Fully supported on Windows and Mac OS X. Works on Linux, but requires a binary blob (x86/x86_64 only). USB-powered (no separate power cord). The slightly more expensive V39 doesn’t add any features useful for cover art scanning.
HP Scanjet 300 (L2733A) (MSRP: $79.99 US) HP’s entry-level photo scanner. Doesn’t really have any features to justify the higher price over the Canon, but if you see it on sale… Works on Windows and Mac OS X, but not supported on Linux. USB-powered (no separate power cord).
What Scanner do I use?
The scanner that I currently use for scanning album art is the Epson Perfection V330 (GT-S730 in Japan) (discontinued). This is very similar to the current model V370, which is advertised as a replacement. This model includes the film scanner in the lid – which I don’t use. Had it not been on sale, I would have preferred the model without the film support (V33).
I also have an Epson Perfection 1250 that I picked up used. This is basically an older version of the same scanner, with a CCFL light instead of LED and generally lower specs. It has some hot pixels on one side of the sensor bar and colour accuracy issues due to the faded CCFL, so I only use it for CD scans.
Finding older model or used scanners
Since the 600dpi requirement isn’t all that high, you’ll probably be able to find many used or older-model scanners available that meet the requirements I’ve outlined. Here’s a few hints on what to look for:
- If the scanner is thinner than about 2″ / 5cm, it’s almost certainly a CIS sensor. Thicker scanners are usually CCD sensor.
- Scanners marketed as “Film” or “Film and Negative” scanners almost certainly use a CCD sensor. However, they generally have a much heavier/awkward lid that can’t be detached, due to the need for additional moving parts and an extra light source for the film scanner adapter.
- Sometimes the model numbers can contain a hint. For Canon, “LiDE” means CIS sensor. For HP, models with a ‘G’ prefix on the model number are usually higher-end photo scanners.
- Epson keeps the tech details for at least some older models online, so you can look up info by searching.
- Many older scanners (particularly HP models) lack drivers for recent versions of Windows (7+), but are otherwise still quite good – and they tend to have decent Linux support. You can often use the commercial VueScan software to use old scanners with newer Windows, but use the trial to test your scanner before committing.
- To check for Linux support, go to the SANE Supported Scanners Search Engine and enter the scanner make and model. For best results, you want a driver with a “good” rating or higher.