Photo by Dave Kitabjian
Some 20 years ago, personal desktop scanning was available only to those with the time and money necessary to use large, flatbed devices connected via SCSI. The luxury of being able to pursue a paperless office softened the burden of having to configure numerous technical parameters to make a single scan. Interfaces like this one from Epson—and others even less friendly—were common.
Fujitsu attempted to address these challenges with its line of ScanSnap scanners. These predominantly “sheet feeder” devices saved desk space and reduced the amount of paper swapping required. But the real secret sauce of ScanSnap was the accompanying software that was centered around what you were trying to do rather than making you constantly fiddle with scanning parameters. Finally, a developer was thinking like a customer instead of a scanner! The combination of a simple user interface, intelligent defaults, seamless integration with external apps, and automation of the entire workflow created a user experience that was hard to beat.
For example, I simply use the contextual menu from ScanSnap Manager’s Dock icon to choose Medical Documents, insert my insurance documentation, press the blue button on the ScanSnap S1300, and ScanSnap Manager will:
- Duplex-scan the entire stack of pages
- Deskew any pages fed at an angle
- Handle pages of varying size and shape in the same batch
- Remove blank pages
- Pick the right resolution and color options
- OCR the text to make a searchable document
- Save the resulting PDF to a specific folder
And if the paper jams, I can fix the jam and pick up right where I left off.
The Day the Scanning Died
They say all good things come to an end, and perhaps I should have known my scanning setup was too good to be true. Some months ago, Fujitsu sent users of older ScanSnap models email informing them that their ScanSnap software would not be updated to 64-bit and would therefore not run under macOS 10.15 Catalina. While Fujitsu had developed a new, 64-bit scanning application, it would not support many of the older, wildly popular ScanSnap models, including the S1300 I use:
***For users of S1500, S1500M, S1300***
The ScanSnap software you are using is not available on the macOS 10.15 Catalina.
We would suggest using your ScanSnap with the current version of macOS.
Or upgrading your ScanSnap to a recent model.
No further updates will be provided to the ScanSnap software you are using.
The ScanSnap software is not available on the macOS as it does not support any 32-bit applications.
If you will use macOS 10.13 or earlier, you can keep using ScanSnap S1500,S1500M, and S1300.
When you use macOS 10.14 or later, please consider purchasing a ScanSnap that is currently available.
Fujitsu’s solution is for us to buy newer scanners. Of course.
Besides the environmental impact of filling landfills with possibly millions of perfectly good scanners, Fujitsu is asking consumers to part with another $250 (for the S1300i, which is the replacement for the S1300, the middle of the product lineup). Or you could virtualize ScanSnap Manager in 10.14 Mojave (see “Moving to Catalina: Keep Your 32-Bit Mac Apps Running with Parallels,” 18 September 2019), keep an older Mac running Mojave or older just for scanning, or forgo upgrading to Catalina (which is fine for now, but a bad idea in the long term). Fujitsu’s decision to stop supporting older scanners seems unethical, environmentally irresponsible, and frankly, unnecessary. If you want to tell Fujitsu how you feel about it, I received this unedited suggestion from Fujitsu:
Third-Party Software to the Rescue!
Given this dire situation with no hope in sight, I was thrilled to hear that some third-party scanning software applications were stepping in to support ScanSnap customers. ExactCODE’s ExactScan supports some ScanSnap models, including the S1500, but the popular S1300 is not yet among them. The company plans to add support for the S1300 in the coming months and just made news by pulling out of the Mac App Store.
Hamrick Software provided a review copy of VueScan Professional Edition, which currently lists for $89.95. (VueScan’s Standard Edition, at $39.95, doesn’t support automatic document feeders or OCR, basic features that ScanScan customers are accustomed to.) I got busy installing and testing VueScan, and worked out questions with the software’s author, as Hamrick is a small father-son operation.
Easy Installation of VueScan
Installing VueScan was painless—just a matter of copying the app to the Applications folder. Since Fujitsu’s ScanSnap Manager software wasn’t running, VueScan automatically took control of the scanner. Zero setup was required, and VueScan instantly detected (and displayed) the make and model of my scanner. Pressing the S1300’s blue button automatically scanned an inserted sheet of paper and sent the scan to VueScan for post-processing.
Unfortunately, like a Vegas marriage, the whirlwind romance of getting up and running smoothly was the high point in the relationship. For example, resetting the application to all its default values, I was able to make a simple, one-sided PDF that opened in the default viewer, Preview, and saved to my Pictures folder. But as soon as I made the single change of saving as JPEG, VueScan started acting up by not opening the document in Preview.
If you want to do simple scanning, you may have a painless experience, writing JPEG or multi-page PDF files to disk, or using some of VueScan’s many sophisticated advanced features. And as such, VueScan may well rescue your aging ScanSnap from the trash heap.
But I ran into a number of issues that you should be aware of.
A User Interface That Can Strike Fear in the Heart of Even a Pro
Part of ScanSnap Manager’s appeal was that its user interface was simple. Fujitsu grouped settings by function and laid things out logically and aesthetically, making for an interface that’s largely self-explanatory.
Alas, VueScan hearkens back to the Stone Age of scanning, with a large preview area on the right and many confusing parameters on the left. Note that the screenshot below shows only one of six tabs, each of which has a similar number of options.
Choosing Options > Basic (the topmost pop-up menu) simplifies the view considerably, but it also hides critical controls such as the advanced cropping tools and viewer selection. Those limitations have forced me to spend all my time in Professional mode. The sheer number of settings would not have made the challenge insurmountable, but countless quirks compounded the effect. For example:
- The Options menu’s choices of Basic versus Standard versus Professional affect the entire application, so why is the Options menu on the Input tab?
- The choices in the Task menu are Scan to File and Copy to Printer, which seem to be output options, are located on the Input tab.
- The Mode menu includes options for Doc Feeder and Duplex Feeder, but the former has nothing to do with the use of the document feeder. Instead, it simply means simplex (one-sided) scanning.
- Some items, like PDF File Name, appear in more than one place, such as on the Input tab (which makes no sense) and the Output tab (which does make sense).
- Default Options is a highly non-standard control. It shows up unchecked when settings on that tab are not at the defaults. Checking it returns those settings to their default states, after which the entire checkbox disappears.
- Few of the settings are self-explanatory, and neither the tooltips nor the documentation helps much.
Cropping and Deskewing
Deskewing, which is the capability to automatically straighten an image whose sheet was inserted on an angle, has been a fundamental feature on scanners for decades. Equally standard is automatic cropping of “white space” around the edges of scans. VueScan’s handling of these critical functions is abysmal.
For starters, deskewing is curiously off by default (more on what happens with it enabled next). Weirdly, VueScan truncates the corners of skewed images, as you can see in the left-hand photo below. By contrast, the right-hand photo shows how ScanSnap Manager deskews by default and preserves almost all the original image’s pixels out to the very corners.
(While I’m not going to get into details here, the difference in the default color handling is also rather glaring. Note, too, the way VueScan introduced vertical streaks. At first, I thought they were a hardware transport issue until switching to ScanSnap Manager made the streaks disappear completely.)
“So,” you ask, “perhaps all you need to do is enable the deskewing feature in VueScan, and all will be well?” To be sure, I promptly selected the Auto Skew checkbox, which, other than changing the Media pop-up menu from B/W to Color, was the only non-default setting I had in place. The alarming result was an image that was (mostly) deskewed but severely cropped vertically.
Why had VueScan chosen to truncate so much of the photo’s content as part of the deskewing operation? And notice that the cropping of whitespace to the left and right of the photo, which is what cropping is supposed to do, did not happen. So enabling Auto Skew chopped off a massive portion of the usable image while failing to eliminate the unwanted white borders.
I tried choosing different options from the Crop Size pop-up menu in the Crop tab, including Manual, Maximum, and Automatic, but none made the problem go away. So I tried unchecking Auto Skew to attempt to baseline the situation again. Amazingly, while VueScan stopped trying to correct the skew, the bizarre cropping problem continued. In fact, it actually placed the skewed, improperly cropped image into the center of a full “page” of even more white space.
Resetting VueScan’s settings with File > Default Options didn’t help, nor did quitting and relaunching VueScan, or restarting the Mac. The eventual solution turned out to be power cycling the scanner, suggesting that VueScan’s interface to the ScanSnap’s driver has some bad code that persists in memory until forcibly cleared out. But I have not been able to reproduce this workaround reliably.
I shared the cropping problem with Hamrick Software, providing them with the VueScan configuration file and log file, as well as a description of how I was able to reproduce the issue along with screenshots. They replied, “I think setting ‘Input | Media size’ to ’Auto’ has problems when the image is too skewed.” But the image was not heavily skewed, and the problem occurs even with a picture inserted straight. They then suggested restoring to defaults and proceeding by changing one setting at a time. But I had previously explained that going back to defaults and even restarting the app didn’t address the issue. They had no solution.
I will add that sometimes I could not reproduce the problem, but on those occasions checking Auto Skew would simply fail to deskew at all and hence didn’t also exhibit the cropping issue.
I knew this problem would be a dealbreaker for my use of VueScan, but I wanted to pursue the product a little more in the hopes that perhaps this was a bug that Hamrick Software might fix soon (though they gave me no reason to believe they intended to do so). So I started looking into automation.
Workflow and Automation
I find dealing with paper at all to be unpleasant. But if the process of eliminating it can be fairly smooth and efficient, then going paperless is feasible. ScanSnap Manager handled this smoothly by encapsulating “profiles” of settings in a convenient pop-up menu and letting the user initiate the workflow by pressing a flashing blue button on the scanner. In order to replace this workflow with third-party software, a comparable level of automation and simplicity would be required. Regrettably, VueScan falls flat in this area.
Ostensibly, VueScan does provide features designed to streamline your scanning operations, such as:
- Auto Scan: Automatically start scanning when paper is inserted
- Auto Save: Automatically save the image to disk without prompting
- Auto Print: Automatically print the image after scanning
- Auto Rotate: Automatically rotate the image when a “text” media type is selected and text is detected on the page
And many others. Auto Scan is a personal favorite, as I found it highly convenient not to have to press the scan button. But all these features miss my two most basic automation needs: managing profiles and importing photos. I think many ScanSnap users will also be troubled by their failure to work correctly.
Depending on what you’re trying to scan, you will likely want to adjust settings differently. For example:
- Bills and paperwork may be fine-scanned as black-and-white text, with OCR enabled, 150-dpi resolution, double-sided, and stored as searchable PDFs to a specific folder
- Photos should be scanned in color, at 300 dpi, typically single-sided, and saved as JPEGs in your photo library
You may want other profiles designed to store files in different places, to route them to email or a printer, and so on. ScanSnap Manager’s interface makes that process a snap.
VueScan offers a bare-bones but theoretically usable set of options in the File menu. Once you’ve come up with a set of options you like, choose File > Save Options to save the current settings into a user-named .ini file. It then presents Load options for the first nine profiles in the File menu with F-keys assigned to them for easy recall. This feature works properly but suffers from some usability problems:
- You have to launch VueScan before you can select a profile from the File menu. This may seem an expected prerequisite, but ScanSnap Manager conveniently eliminated this step with its always-available Dock menu.
- The profiles listed in the File menu were sorted randomly, making any hope of using the Function keys to bypass the menu rather useless. After I raised this issue with Hamrick Software, I noticed that the 9.6.47 version of their software, released shortly after that email, silently addressed this, and yet in a broken fashion, since it only sorts the first nine it finds. From their email to me: “It’s a very rarely used option, so I haven’t spent time optimizing this.” Using the profile menu is a rarely used option? VueScan users must have simplistic use cases or be an extremely undemanding lot.
- When you have a profile loaded and make a change to a setting that you wish to save back that profile, VueScan always treats it as Save As, instead of just saving it like any other document, which seems odd, since the title bar makes it clear that VueScan knows you’re in the context of a specific profile.
For those who scan photos regularly, VueScan’s inability to import photos into your Photos library is troubling.
Let’s recap how ScanSnap Manager handled this. You chose Photos from the Application tab, along with a few other obvious items like color for the media type and JPEG for the file format, and that’s it. ScanSnap Manager took your photo and imported it to your Photos library with no hassle and no questions asked.
Besides making my own life easy, this level of simplicity empowered people like my octogenarian father to scan shoeboxes of photos into his Mac. If any more clicks had been required or decisions to be made, he would not have been able to pull it off.
Alas, you can probably guess by now where VueScan is going to land on this litmus test.
For starters, VueScan has no obvious Application menu for sending scans to other applications like there is in ScanSnap, which also includes Word, Excel, Acrobat, and other options. With some digging, I found a way to configure an external viewer to which VueScan will send the scanned image. In Professional Mode, in the Prefs tab, you first set External Viewer to Viewer, and then you can click the @ button to select an application of your choice. So I tried Photos, as shown below.
I was thrilled to discover that VueScan proceeded to import the scanned photo into Photos. But after a few more tests, I noticed that my results appeared to be intermittent, with some scans not appearing in Photos at all. Weirdly, I discovered that this trick worked only when I selected PDF as the output format, and it didn’t work when I scanned to JPEG format. This is, of course, the exact opposite behavior of what you would expect or desire. But since Photos supports both PDF and JPEG, both should really work.
When I reached out to Hamrick Software about this, they wondered if there might be odd characters in the filename. I explained that I was using the default filename template, which results in simple file names like 2019-09-22-0003.jpg. They then replied:
JPEG output is single-page output, so it gets sent to the viewer if “Prefs | External viewer” is set. PDF output is generally multi-page, so it would be annoying to most users to send every page to the viewer.
But that statement simply emphasizes that we should be seeing the opposite behavior than what we’re seeing since JPEGs are the ones that are not working!
I clarified that I told VueScan to output to both JPG and PDF, and both files were exported to my Pictures folder. But only the PDF was imported to the Photos app (per the Viewer setting).
Hamrick then replied that they had never used Photos and didn’t know much about interfacing with it, and, in general, did not know how to accomplish getting a scanned photo into Photos. I stressed the importance of this use case, but it was clearly not something they had any interest in prioritizing.
Scanning The Big Picture
There are other workflows that I’m not going to detail that presented annoying challenges when working with VueScan. For instance, there seems to be no way to disable saving the scanned file to disk, even if your ultimate destination is email, the printer, or an external application like Photos. Hamrick’s response to this was, “It has to put the files on the hard drive somewhere.” But software often stores files for temporary use that it later cleans up. VueScan doesn’t have to pile every scan up in your Pictures folder, forcing you to delete them by hand later.
Is it possible that some of these problems are just a training issue on my part? Perhaps. But I read most if not all of the online manual and contacted support multiple times for assistance. And then there’s the fact that I’m an experienced software user with years of using the ScanSnap S1300. So if, at this point, I’m still unable to get these features to work, I’m comfortable saying that they don’t work.
I tried to emphasize the importance of these features to Hamrick Software, as well as how many potential ScanSnap converts they might be able to pick up by addressing these shortcomings. But this was a fruitless effort, and they continued to emphasize how many years they have been in business, how many scanners they support, and how many happy customers they have. All I can say in response to that is that I will not be one of those customers.
What made ScanSnap great was its software’s simplicity, how it automated workflow, and the fact that it just worked. And that’s what, in spite of its numerous features and apparently broad user base, VueScan fails to offer.
As I mentioned previously, Fujitsu does have a path forward for macOS Catalina users, but it requires purchasing a new scanner (such as the S1300i) and using the all-new, 64-bit software, which is now called ScanSnap Home. I have not used the newer scanners nor the latest software, but that would make an excellent follow-up article. However, I did reach out to Fujitsu to comment on the feature compatibility between the old hardware/software combination and the new. The company’s rep provided a few points worth noting:
- “Scan to print is currently not functioning in the ScanSnap Home software… We have notified our engineers and are hoping on the next software update it will be.”
- “You do not get the quick menu.” This is no great loss—it is not the same as the Dock’s pop-up menu, which has apparently been replaced with a system-wide menu, the kind that sits alongside your Wi-Fi menu.
- “They are slowly adding things that got removed back.” So it sounds like ScanSnap Home was a complete rewrite which, like Apple’s transition from iPhoto to Photos, left users with fewer features at first until they were finally added back over time.
Besides these details, Fujitsu felt the feature parity between its previous products and new products was intact. This is a good promise, but definitely worth further investigation.
While VueScan is clearly not the ScanSnap Manager replacement I was hoping for, it may function adequately for some of you, sparing you the need to buy a new scanner.
My recommendation to ScanSnap users comes in several layers:
- Don’t upgrade the Mac connected to your ScanSnap to Catalina until you have a path forward selected (keep reading).
- Consider emailing Fujitsu at [email protected] to express your disappointment. I think, however, that the company is using a different circuit board in its newer scanners, and has completely cut the cord on supporting the old. But at least, Fujitsu should be aware of how disappointed we are.
- Consider waiting a few months since ExactCODE is upgrading its ExactScan software to support the ScanSnap 1300 (a few other legacy ScanSnap models are already supported). Perhaps ExactScan will be a satisfactory way to preserve your existing ScanSnap experience under Catalina. Stay tuned!
- If you can’t wait to upgrade to Catalina, save the $90 it would cost you to buy VueScan Professional and invest it in replacing your ScanSnap with a newer model.
I hope this article helps you with your transition, and I welcome feedback about your experience on this topic!