IF current trends are anything to go by, scanning technology is moving out of the realm of graphic design and into ancreasingly important role in business and home computing. And advances in all areas of scanning, from output quality to speed and affordability are constantly being made across the board. Anthony Chen, managing director, Asiasoft Systems (HK), said: 'In the scanner market today there are three ranges: the high-end; the mid-range for most businesses; the low-end for the home office and personal users.' Scanners in the personal market are easy to use, have more software available for them and are of generally high quality, he said, adding that prices in this area have dropped. Modern scanners are compact, not bulky. Some are even hand-held. The technology has improved with optical character recognition (OCR). This enables users to work with text documents and transfer them efficiently to word processor or spreadsheet files. Mr Chen said: 'To operate a standard scanner, all one needs is a basic 486 personal computer with Windows. 'On the software side, most of the scanners come with built-in drivers with a simple scanning package. Some low-end scanners are bundled with packages like Clara, which are basically in the US$200 to $400 price range.' In the Hong Kong market, the Macintosh versions are mainly used in the field of desktop-publishing and by graphics firms and design houses. The need for graphic image use is different from document useage. For graphic images, the scanner can be slower, but it has to have a high resolution to produce clear images. For colour images, a large amount of file space is needed. Colour capabilities are vital for working in the graphic design industry, but black-and-white scanners are still used for text-formatting. For a small office or home user who needs to store text files, only one giga-byte of storage is necessary. With colour images, 50 gigabytes of space can often be insufficient. Many low-end scanners come with colour capabilities, but they are not often found in the mid-range scanner market. These machines are built for speed and processing a large number of documents rather than picture files. 'The low-end fits into the retail and home user market for graphical imaging while mid-range scanners are mainly for medium-to large-scale companies who are processing a lot of documents,' Mr Chen said. 'They look for something with laser quality which is 300 dots per inch [dpi], which can scan an average of 30 pages per minute. 'The software is different because for these type of customers the retrieval rate is important while the high-end is reserved for a selected few, such as banks and insurance companies.' High end scanners are judged by their speed - the better machines are capable of scanning as much as 100 pages per minute - and come with a price tag of about US$100,000. Besides these primary scanner categories, machines are available that combine as much as three functions - scanning, faxing and printing - in one box. Although the many functions of such machines makes them useful, their individual abilities can often be improved. Nevertheless, in their current incarnation, scanners require little space and are a boon to the local office market. As scanning technology develops and grows more commonplace, Mr Chen said low-end scanning functions will be built into operating systems to make the it easier for users. Companies such as Microsoft are working with firms such as Wang to start including image views in the basic operating system. As this happens, retail sales of scanners - particularly those for the home market - will grow steadily, Mr Chen said. Sales of business scanners will boom, as large corporations and government organisations climb on the imaging bandwagon, he added.