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Vuescan Review - Superb Scanning Software

Vuescan is another piece of software we regard as an essential tool in our toolbox. Let's face it - just about every person working in the visual arts has to scan something, sometime. Indeed, just about every human has to!

Vuescan is normally the best solution to just about every scanning problem.

Inexpensive and compatible with just about all scanners out there (both film and document/artwork), it is capable of excellent, professional results, and can tremendously speed up your workflow.

If you're still stuck in the software hell that is things like 'Epson Scan' or 'Canoscan' - do yourself a favour and try Vuescan. You'll never look back!

(Review updated based on version 9.7.82 in March 2022)



Introduction

Vuescan is a pretty remarkable piece of software.  It's from a family business (like Image Science!) - and has been a reliable tool that we have used for some 20 years now.

The Vuescan website focuses foremost on compatibility - and it is indeed compatible with a mind boggling array of scanners (see the many brands/models here) - and one of the common uses of Vuescan it to support an older scanner that no longer has drivers available for modern operating systems. 

Why should perfectly useful hardware be discarded if there's an easy solution like Vuescan?  So that is indeed a very valid use case for Vuescan.  (I should note here that really high end like Imacons etc, are not supported - but just about everything else is - Epson, Canon, HP, Brother, Canon, Nikon, etc etc).  It's also worth pointing out that, even for supported scanners, the Vuescan drivers tend to be more stable than the drivers that come with the scanners!

Also worth noting that Vuescan runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux (including the Raspberry Pi!).

Vuescan - Easy to start with, but abundant hidden power!
Vuescan - Easy to start with, but abundant hidden power!

But to focus on the wide scanner support is, I think, to rather undersell the full power and utility of Vuescan. 

I think the primary reason to use Vuescan is that, once learned, it is excellent professional level scanning software that unifies your workflow across machines.  That is - you can use Vuescan with ALL your scanners, for jobs both simple and complex - meaning if you upgrade/change your scanning hardware along the way, there's nothing new to learn.  You can even unify your approach across both film and document scanning, if you do both. 

Put simply - learn Vuescan once, and learn it for life.  This is an enormous time saver, that really pays dividends over the years.

Above and beyond providing a unified interface to all the scanners you're every likely to use, the real benefit of Vuescan is its power.  Vuescan is vastly superior to the scanning software that comes with your scanner - more controllable, more predictable, and once mastered can give you far superior results, AND in less time. 

Vuescan is also at least the equal of other after-market alternatives like Silverfast  (and does not suffer from the truly ridiculous and quirky interface issues of Silverfast either!).

Let's look at what Vuescan can do, and why it's so helpful for people looking for the best scans possible.

Multiple Scanners / Worklows

Epson Perfection V850 Pro Scanner
Epson's flagship film and document scanner, offering both better quality and speed.
Currently on back order - ETA of early June but subject to change based on supplier delivery date. Available to order now but do not order with other items or those will also be delayed.
$1,410
More info

Vuescan support 'Option Sets'. 

This makes it easy to use Vuescan with multiple scanners and/or multiple workflows with a scanner - just load up the option set for the scanner or workflow you want to use and all the settings will be loaded for that workflow.

So, as an example, you scan both film and artworks with an Epson V850.

This is two entirely different use cases, and normally you'd have to run through and click a bunch of settings to switch the scanner from one mode to another.  Not so with Vuescan - save your options for each workflow and then you can switch between the two entirely different use cases with just a couple of clicks - no need to find and remember all the settings changes you need to make.

It's hardly a revolutionary idea, of course - but it's super super handy!

Scanning Artworks & Photos

Precise control of artwork scanning, by Vuescan (Rabbit artwork by Aviva Kalagas)

Vuescan is a great tool for scanning artworks and photos (we talk about document scanning, including OCR, below).

Of course all the basics are in place
- you can specify resolution (separately for both the preview and the actual scan).  You can set colour, black and white, greyscale, etc, the scanning bit depth (including control over the infrared channel if your scanner has Digital ICE capabilities). 

You have complete control over the scanning bed (including right out to the maximum your scanner allows, often a bit more than the default software gives you access to!).  You can rotate, flip, mirror and skew to your heart's content.  

If your scanner overs multiple pass scanning (e.g. to reduce noise), you can control this too.

When it comes to file output, you can output to all the normal formats.  Better, you can output to multiple formats at the same time - e.g. producing a TIFF master file and a fast access / web ready JPEG in a single process.   Add a PDF too, if you want!

But beyond the basics is the control and quality.

Vuescan has in-built ICC profiling.   You will need an IT8 target of course (an IT8 target is a set of known colour patches - you scan these, Vuescan measure the results, and from that produces a correction table - and ICC profile).  ICC profiling can very significantly improve the accuracy of your results, so this is definitely a great feature to take advantage of.  We've used the in-built profiling many times and found it compares very favourably to e.g. X-Rite's scanner profiling results (with the X-Rite stuff costing something like 100 times the price of Vuescan!!).

Output multiple formats at once with Vuescan

You can specify the input profile (i.e. the profile you have made), the output profile (and ICC profile you choose).  You also have complete control over the (critical!) white and black points, and the tone curve in-between those points. 

This means, unlike the software that comes with your scanner, you can actually preserve all those precious details in your highest highlights and deepest shadows.  This alone is absolutely key to good results with scanning - with most manufacturer scanning software it is difficult or near impossible to stop it from clipping your highlights (in particular) - and often your shadows too.  This can make it essentially impossible to get good results with delicate pieces - even though the scanner itself is perfectly capable of capturing this detail!  So this significantly improved control over key tonal areas alone make Vuescan worth it.

Between profiling and control over the black, white, and tone characteristics, you will be able to get the maximum quality your scanner can achieve, with complete control.  Of course, you won't suddenly have a scanner as good as ours, but you will see much improved results from small studio scanners like the Epson V series.

For photo scanning, there are filters to restore colours & fading (compensate for the way classic colour prints have faded) - plus options to sharpen, de-screen (if the photograph has been printed with a half-tone matrix), reduce grain, and so on.  And of course, Vuescan can scan multiple images at once a flatbed, identifying, de-skewing and cropping each photo to a separate image, with a flexible approach to saving the files to folders and handling automatic naming and so on.  It's really pretty remarkable how quickly you can take a library of old photographs and get them digitised, at superb quality, with Vuescan.  We've used Vuescan for this precise task, many times over the years, and it can save literally hundreds of hours of your time with big jobs like this.

Scanning Documents

It's not the most exciting thing, but we all have to do it sometimes. Vuescan makes it easy & reliable.

In addition to the regular formats like TIFF and JPEG, Vuescan of course supports multi-page PDFs.  But - not just capturing them, but extended things like reversing order, moving pages around and so on - things you normally need dedicated PDF editing software to do.

Have an automatic document feeder (ADF?) on your scanner - Vuescan very likely supports it.  Need to de-skew your pages - no worries again.  Vuescan is built from the ground up to make as many things as possible automatic - if you want them to be.

And, there is even in-built OCR support - so if you want to scan to editable text, Vuescan has got you covered there too.

Scanning Film

If your model supports film scanning, or you have a dedicated model like the classic Nikon Coolscan series - Vuescan can help you get more from your scanner.  Again, if you have a batch feeding option, Vuescan will drive it - and has all the productivity features you could possibly want. 

Whether scanning a single image or scanning thousands, you can set up a fast, effective AND superb quality workflow - which is what we want, right?

A bit of Image Science history:

I have personally scanned more than 200,000 slides with a Nikon Coolscan (with batch feeder) and Vuescan.   Fun fact - this was in fact the very, very beginning of Image Science - a Nikon Coolscan and a properly profiled Vuescan workflow let me start a micro business whilst studying photography - scanning slides for fellow students and the college lecturers! We soon branched out to much more, and here we are 20 years later...but this is where it all began!).

Vuescan allowed me to easily outperform even commercial film scanning services (who charged more than 10 times the prices I did!) - using surprisingly humble hardware - simply because the control Vuescan gave me, combined with a much better understanding of the fundamentals of digital imaging (my computing background served me well here!) - allowed me to produce much more colour accurate work than other services that existed at the time.  I tested those other services to make sure this was true - spending thousands of dollars on test scans from (now mostly defunct) places like LabX, Bond, The Edge etc - and honestly, their scanning work was - no exaggeration - just shamefully bad. 

As word spread, I was able to very quickly pick up the sorts of photographers that worked for high end publications - like National Geographic - because, simply. I knew how to properly control a machine, and understood digital colour, better than others.  And Vuescan was a big part of this.

Over the years, whilst we upgraded to the benchmark Imacon scanners pretty quickly for our higher end work (2003 or so?) - we still used Vuescan and our trusty Nikon for lots of project work that didn't need the Imacon quality (or have the Imacon budget!).  We scanned many full books worth of images, for all sorts of professional photographers, and scores of images for photo stock libraries.  Literally, so many, we lost count...

Back to Vuescan...

Again, if your scanner has an infrared cleaning option (AKA Digital ICE) - Vuescan supports it.  As anyone who has used this knows, it dramatically reduces the amount of dust and scratch clean up you need to do on your finished files.  Dust is the absolute and annoyingly persistent enemy with film scans, so anything that can minimise the busy work needed is great.  

Multi-pass scanning can significantly improve results, particularly with dense film (e.g. Velvia transparencies) - is Vuescan lets you do this.  You can pretty much eliminate shadow noise in most cases.  It can of course be slow - in effect you're re-scanning an image up to 16 times - but it can make a huge difference with images that have desired details in deep shadows.

What's Not Great About Vuescan

There are lots of readily available resources to help you learn Vuescan...

Vuescan is great, but it's not perfect of course. 

Probably the biggest negative is the learning curve to use it.  They have, in recent years, offered some simpler, more automatic automatic modes - and this can help a lot - but it is a program you need to really dig in to, and more than likely spend some time testing, before you can really extract the full power from it.

Fortunately, Vuescan has an excellent in-built help system, so answers are readily available, and they have lots of info on their website as well. And, if you need actual support, you'll get fast answers directly from the the people who write the software. So whilst there is a learning curve - it's by no means an insurmountable problem, and well worth the investment of your time. And remember - when you do upgrade your scanner, you can carrying on using exactly the same skills you've developed by using Vuescan with your new scanner, so that investment of time pays more and more dividends over the years.

The learning curve is not helped in this by the very utilitarian interface - it's a wall of grey and functional, but not at all pretty, controls.  (I do also wish there was a little question mark by each control that lead directly to help on that control present as well.  Just to make getting to those high quality help materials even easier!).

Edit - this issue following was fixed in V9.7.80 -
 The last thing worth mentioning is that - on Windows at least - the UI works well and is laid out correctly on 4K / High DPI monitors, but the fonts are rendered fuzzily - which is unusual these days.  They must be using an older graphics library and this could really do with updating at this point - high DPI monitors are now quite common.  But that's purely a minor cosmetic issue - it doesn't affect the functionality in any practical way.

There's More!!

There's much more we haven't even got into here - including support for things like watermarking, and even using Vuescan as a batch image processor by 'scanning from file'.

If you can think of a scanning related workflow, it's almost certainly the case that Vuescan supports it.

Summary

Vuescan is another of those pieces of software that have just been such an important part of the Image Science workflow - for so many things, for so many years - it's hard to even imagine a time without it.

Once learned, Vuescan allows for the precise levels of control that high quality scanning requires.  It also supports just about every productivity feature you could ask for to make the (fundamentally boring!) job of scanning - scanning anything, really - faster and more effective.  Add that to the fact it supports just about every scanner under the sun, on every common operating system, and it all adds up to the conclusion that Vuescan is an absolute bargain.

At AUD $130 or so for the professional version described here, but only $49 for the basic version (if e.g. you just want to resurrect a scanner that the manufacturer has stopped supporting and do basic scanning) - it's just unbelievably powerful for the price, and very well supported. (You can try Vuescan for as long as you like - the free version will watermark all your images, though).

Put simply - If you scan, you should more than likely be scanning with Vuescan!