Some Handy Scanners Can Trim That Pile of Business Cards

New business-card scanners are coming onto the market, making it easier than ever to organize those cards piled high on our desks or stuffed into our wallets.

The latest versions of the devices are getting smaller in size, compared with the old ones, and have more features. You can use them to scan photos, ID cards and checks, among other things — just so the item is no more than slightly bigger than card size.

I have been testing two products: the OptiCard 821 from Plustek Technology, of Cerritos, Calif., and the IRISCard Pro 4, from Belgium-based Image Recognition Integrated Systems, or I.R.I.S.

Plustek's OptiCard 821
Plustek’s OptiCard 821

I found that both scanners have a quick and easy way to organize business-card information, but their software isn’t as easy to work with when manipulating the resulting digital images. Also, the machines work best at their originally intended task, and so are better at scanning business cards than at scanning photos, for example.

The software in both devices, overall, created clear images of the names and numbers from most of the typical cards; that is, those cards written with dark ink against a light background. The scanners did a poor job when they had to read cards that were printed on dark-colored stock.

Installing the software was easy enough, and took only a few minutes. After inserting the software CD into your computer, small pop-up windows open to guide you through the process. When the installation is finished, you connect the scanner to your computer’s USB port with the cord provided.

To begin scanning, you just feed the cards into a front slot on the devices and push the scan button. The scanners pull the cards across the scanning head and spit them out the back, saving the cards in the process.

The first time you use the scanners you will be asked to calibrate them to set the parameters for color, shadows and light. It’s an easy task: You just insert a special card that comes with the packages.

The scanners’ software can recognize and categorize cards written in several languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic and Chinese. Scanning a business card using either machine didn’t take more than five seconds; photo-scanning took much longer.

Both machines have two buttons on the top for scanning and for further customizing the scan. The scan buttom has a few standard configurations for capturing the image from the card and transforming it into a PDF file.

The custom button begins with the same process, but then allows you to manipulate the results. When I inserted a card into one of the scanners and pressed the custom button, a window pop-up opened for me to choose details such as language, color, dimensions, the specific file to which I wanted to send the image and the storage format.

You can edit the cards as you store them and make any fixes you might have from botched scans. The images are saved in the folder you chose when you configured your scanning options. You can opt to arrange them just alphabetically, too.

The scanners come with software that can help make the scanning and organizing process more efficient, but could also be a bit confusing for some users because of all the choices.

To test the new OptiCard, which costs $150, I processed 20 random business cards with white backgrounds. I found that scanning was swift; 13 white-background cards came out perfectly or with such minor glitches that they didn’t require any editing. An additional four needed some editing but fixing them didn’t take more than a few minutes. Three cards needed major retyping, replacing missing numbers and redoing a name that got scrambled into a phone number.

I also tried scanning two dark-background cards but to no avail. One didn’t come out at all and the other had black splotches.

I found the $200 IRISCard Pro 4 slightly more accurate in scanning textual information from the same 20 cards. Only two needed minor editing — replacing a hyphen with a comma, for example — and just one card required major retyping, replacing skipped information. The scanner, however, was no better at the dark cards.

I also scanned a couple photos in both devices, but the copies were too blurry to save.

Both scanners are smaller than many TV remote controls. The OptiCard is 1.5 inches high, 6.9 inches wide and 2.4 inches deep. The IRISCard Pro 4 is 1.3 by 6.2 inches and is two inches deep. I was able to take them to work in one of my jacket pockets. I could imagine bringing the device along for a days-long seminar to keep up with card-collecting. Both are compatible with Windows PCs and Macs.

While the interface between the scanners and the user’s contact data program could offer more features to make organizing easier, these tools are worth a try. At least you can get those cards off your desk before the pile topples.

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