Do affordable A2 / C-size scanners exist for CAD and CNC work?

(February 2010)

A2/C-sized scanners do not yet exist as affordable CAD and CNC scanning solutions

Although A2 / C-sized
scanners do exist - the
Image Access WideTEK 25
(top) and the Contex
FLEX50i, A2 / C-sized
scanners do not yet exist
as affordable CAD and
CNC scanning solutions.

Over the years we have received many enquiries from our raster to vector conversion software users for an A2 / C-size wide format scanner with which to scan monochrome CAD technical drawings and or CNC shapes and profiles.

Most enquirers expect such a medium-size scanner to be affordably priced and widely available. However, typing "A2 / C-size scanners" or "find the best A2 scanner" into Google just doesn't come up with anything helpful. Any investigation will show that A2 / C-size large format scanners are as rare as hen's teeth - and consequently very expensive!

Because an A2 / C-size scanner is only one size up from relatively inexpensive A3 / B-size scanners, (and two up from the ubiquitous and cheap A4 / A-size desktop scanners), many enquirers after these devices assume that the cost of an A2 / C-size scanner will be proportionate to the smaller sizes. Generally, they expect the cost of an A2 / C-size scanner to be no more than two or three times as much as an A3 / B-size scanner. When they are able to find an A2 / C-size desktop scanner, they are shocked to discover that the cost of A2 / C-sized scanning is much higher than expected.

Historically, the large format scanner manufacturers have found that A1 / D-size scanners are not as popular among CAD users as A0 / E-size ones. This is because a larger A0 / E-size wide format scanner offers the buyer a more complete, professional scanning solution than one whose upper limit is smaller A1 / D-size drawings. At the back of every large format scanner manufacturers' mind lurks the question "if A1 / D-size scanners do not sell, why should A2 / C-size ones?"

To date, the CAD, CNC and other professions have not indicated that there is a big enough market for an A2 / C-size large format scanner to be a profitable manufacturing exercise. Largely for this reason, A2 / C-size scanners do not exist as CAD / CNC scanning solutions.

Those A2 / C-size flatbed scanners that do exist are aimed at capturing artwork, newspapers, fragile originals, books and other thick or delicate materials. Mostly used in libraries, museums and educational institutions, their market is small compared to the one for CAD scanners. As a result, the manufacturers tag these specialist A2 / C-size scanners with a high sales price. They do not expect CAD or CNC users to buy them. They expect CAD and CNC users to buy A1 / D-size scanners or better, A0 / E-size ones.

Both Colortrac and Contex have recently released new models of attractively priced A1 / D-size scanners. Both Colortrac (24" CIS and 28" CCD) and Contex (24" CIS) offer A1 / D-size scanners which cost less than the two A2 / C-size desktop scanners we've identified (see our article At last, more affordable A1 / D-size scanners!).

CIS (contact image sensor) best suits technical document scanning in more affordable scanners; CCD (charge coupled device) is the longest serving optical imaging technology. It best suits color graphics capture but is expensive. The main suppliers of A2 / C-size desktop or flatbed scanners are Contex and Image Access. Both their offerings are CCD-based, providing a professional color capture solution for scanning artwork and manuscripts, etc., and making them generally too expensive for most CAD and CNC users simpler needs.

Image Access WideTEK 25
Flatbed; CCD imaging technology; 1200 x 600 dpi optical resolution; 25 x 17.7" (635 x 450 mm)

List Price: GBP 7,295.00 USD: 10,999
Image Access web site
Allied Images web site (UK distributor)

Contex FLEX50i
Flatbed; CCD imaging technology; 400 dpi optical resolution; 24 x 18" (610 x 457 mm)

List Price: GBP 6,750.00 USD: 11,600
Contex web site
Art Systems web site (UK distributor)

Prices at 22nd February 2010.

Summary

Geared to color graphics, neither the WideTEK 25 nor the Contex FLEX50i are ideal for CAD or CNC usage. Today, CAD users can buy a bigger, more useful A1 / D-size scanner for a lot less than the cost of these two smaller A2 / C-size desktop devices.

To be fair, while both the WideTEK 25 and the Contex FLEX50i can be used for CAD work, neither are intended to do so. Both are very expensive and bear no relation to the cost of an A4 / A-size or A3 / B-size scanner. Being slap in the middle of standard ISO / ANSI paper sizes, they offer the least practical scanning solution to the majority of CAD users who usually work to bigger paper sizes. At present, (22nd February 2010), there appears to be no A2 / C-size desktop scanner available for the mass market, CAD, CNC or other.

So, what is the best A2 / C-size scanning alternative?

Today, CAD and CNC users can buy a bigger, more useful A1 / D-size scanner for a lot less than the cost of the smaller Contex and Image Access A2 / C-size desktop devices. This can offer some benefits.

The following event unfolded recently.

An engineer contacted us via our Scanners4CAD web site thinking it sold scanners. (It didn't - it was a large format scanner news and advice site.) He said that he had looked but had no luck finding an A2 / C-size desktop scanner. Could we recommend one?

He was a CNC user cutting relatively small parts, like gaskets and profiles, etc., often to slightly bigger than A3 / B-sizes, occasionally even to bigger sizes. When he needed to scan to A1 / D and A0 / E sizes he went to a scanning bureau service. He did not need a fancy color capability, he said. A monochrome (black and white) A2 / C-size scanner would do.

We explained the limitations of A2 / C-size scanners and pointed him to both the WideTEK 25 and the Contex FLEX50i. He quickly lost his interest in these A2 / C-size wide format scanners when told the price. Next, we pointed him in the direction of A1 / D-size scanners. Given the cost of buying an A2 / C-size large format scanner, he quickly realized that the most cost-effective purchase he could make was to buy a bigger size of scanner.

After we explained the limitations of Colortrac and Contex A1 / D-size (24") scanners - he would never be able to scan a larger A0 / E-size technical document when he needed to - we suggested he take advantage of some incredibly good offers being made on A0 / E-size large format scanners at present. This he did. We understand that he bought a 40" wide Colortrac SmartLF Ci 40m (monochrome) scanner (upgradeable to color) for, he said, "about half the cost of the A2 / C-size flatbed I was quoted on". And, he added, "I will now never need to leave the workshop to visit a scanning bureau service again".