Wide-Format Scanners

Rethinking Wide-Format Scanner Paradigms (Viewpoint)

2 Feb, 2009 By: Henrik Vestermark

Market today offers affordable options beyond 36" models.


Wide-format scanner technology has developed impressively during the past 20 years. In the mid-1980s when wide-format scanners were born, the typical scanner processed an E-size (34" x 44") document in black and white in approximately 5 minutes at 200-dpi optical resolution. Wide-format color scanning began to make headlines nearly 10 years later. Today, you can buy fast color and monochrome scanners that exceed most customer needs. Scanning technology has moved from infancy to commodity, and customers today generally expect scanners to perform flawlessly with high productivity and quality scans for a variety of different documents.

Traditionally, the CAD, AEC, engineering, and part of the GIS market segments always requested 36"-wide scanners to accommodate their E-size engineering drawings. Wider scanners were considered a waste of money, because a larger scanning width was more expensive and unnecessary. Today, however, the old paradigm has been replaced with a new market reality, and companies should consider all options when buying a new wide-format scanner.

Available Scanner Models

The number of scanner models available when grouped by scan width shows an interesting trend over time (figure 1). Numbers in the 25", 40", 48", and 54" categories are flat over the years. The three most interesting categories are the 36", 42", and the new 44" segments. Available models in the 36" segment peaked in 2005 and 2006 after nearly 20 years of domination and have been declining for the past two years, but it still is the second most important segment. Most popular today are the 42" models. This segment continues to grow as new models are introduced, and it is the most competitive segment, representing all scanner manufacturers. The 42" market segment is the most popular because it offers wider scans and better matches the 44" printer segment. A 36" scanner is considered too small to work in tandem with a 44" printer. The 42" scanners also better address the needs of the reprographics segment, where wider is always better.

Figure 1. The number of scanner models available from 2003 to 2008 based on scan width.
Figure 1. The number of scanner models available from 2003 to 2008 based on scan width.

Contex, Vidar, and GTCO Calcomp recently introduced models in the new 44" segment. The 44" scanner is intriguing because it allows customers to match the typical 44" wide-format printer with a scanner that accommodates the same size documents. Whether the market will shift its preference from 42" to 44" remains to be seen.

Latest Price Trends

Until 2006, scanner prices were surprisingly stable; however, in the past two years there has been a sudden drop in the average price. This is good news for the consumer.

The average price of scanners in each category shows no drop for the 48" and larger segments (figure 2). The reason is quite obvious: Only one manufacturer produces a product in the 48" or 54" width, although it is not the same manufacturer in both categories. Limited competition means no pressure on the current price level.

Figure 2. The average price for all vendors scanners grouped by scanning width from 2003 to 2008.
Figure 2. The average price for all vendors scanners grouped by scanning width from 2003 to 2008.

For the hot segments of 25", 36", and 42" — by far the most competitive areas — a steady price drop has occurred over the years. The 36" and 42" segments account for approximately 80% of all scanner sales in the United States, and all competitors offer models in these segments.

In the past, conventional wisdom said that as scanner width increased, so did the price. However, figure 2 shows two pricing abnormalities: Scanners in the 40" and 44" segments generally are priced lower than those in the 36" segment. Studying the numbers closely also reveals that both the 40" and 44" segments are represented by only one vendor — the 40" segment by Colortrac and the 44" segment by Contex and its other brands, Vidar and GTCO Calcomp.

Looking at several years' data shows that 36"-wide scanner pricing dropped from 2006 to 2008 as a competitive response to the new 40" segment. Pricing for 42" scanners has dropped over the years, mostly due to competition among 42" scanner manufacturers. Today, we have a clear price advantage in buying a 40" scanner instead of a 36" scanner. Colortrac priced its scanner in the 40" segment aggressively by offering a price lower than models in the 36" segment and a significantly better price position against the 42" models. Of course, if a user needs a 42" scanner, then he or she obviously wouldn't consider a 36" or 40" scanner anyway. But how many CAD users need a 42"-wide scanner? In the CAD segment, most documents fit D- or E-size media (maximum 36"), so this segment traditionally doesn't go any wider. Going wider was considered to be a waste of money, because the maximum document width is 36". However, scanners are also sold to other areas such as reprographics, graphic arts, photo shops, copy shops, etc. where scan-width requirements usually are wider. Combined for all segments, the 42"-wide scanner is the most popular.

Recommendations

When purchasing a wide-format scanner, you should consider a variety of factors, including size, scanning speed and quality, software — and of course, price. But the trends as outlined here give rise to a speculative recommendation. Gone are the days when you had to be conservative with your scanner choice simply because of price. Today you also can consider 42" or 44" models that can be had for less than the price of a 36" model. Keep in mind that the 44" segment is new, so this pricing phenomenon could be short-lived as the market discovers the better price value of these scanners. Eventually the introduction of 40" and 44" models will lead to price adjustments in the 36" and 42" segments to bring it all into equilibrium.

Finding the perfect scanner means evaluating a variety of factors, including price. If you're in the market for a new 36" CAD scanner, consider also the 40" or 44" scanners that could meet your needs for less money. If a new 42" scanner is on your radar, include the equivalent, less-expensive 44" scanners in your search as well.

Henrik Vestermark is an independent consultant who has worked in the wide-format scanner and printer industry since 1988. His expertise includes all aspects of the wide-format digital capture market and focuses on the wide-format scanner industry. Reach him at hve@stanleyadamsgroup.com, www.stanleyadamsgroup.com.

Editor's note: "Viewpoint" is an occasional feature that invites guest authors to express opinions about CAD-related topics.


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