Using Your Scanner Under Linux

Last Updated on July 16th 2000


So you're thinking of running Linux, or already are, and wondering how you're going to use that glitzy scanner you happily used under Windoze now. Maybe it's one of the reaons you keep Windoze around on your system. Well, here's one less reason to do so.

I wanted to cover primarily free software here, and xvscan costs $50US, but I feel it's a nice, solid application - one that should not be overlooked. Note that there's a review of it in the August 1997 issue of the Linux Journal on page 61 by one of the staff there at SSC as well.

I will be expanding this page as I come across more software and perhaps provide a simple HOWTO on scanning images for use on web pages.

The Options


SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) is an ambitious project with great results. It's what I use now over XVscan for several reasons - the most important being it's integration into GTK/GNOME apps like the GIMP. In this scenario, it works much like the equivalent Photoshop "acquire" function under the file menu - and appears in the same fasion.

Where SANE really shines is it's support of a great number of scanners and it's layered approach. There's the back-end which comprises the drivers for the various scanners and the middle and front-end area, which consists of a GUI or network interface. Because of this abstraction, driver development is separate from front-end development - and allows integration into GNOME/GTK apps so easily. It also functions as a networkable scanner interface out-of-the-box. As with all scanning software, you need to have the "general SCSI" module/driver loaded into your kernel.

The interface you're presented with under the GIMP is pretty extraordinary and fully-featured. With most scanners, you're presented with a great variety of controls and settings, and depending on your window manager theme, it can look pretty wild to clean and neat. Below is a screenshot of the interface using the Sawfish "Aquafied" theme. The integration is awesome - if you do a lot of scanning, this is the ticket. No more scan, save and load - you simply execute the plug-in and get a new GIMP image in return from which you can make your modifications. You can find more information at the SANE home page.

SANE is free and Open Source, which is another benefit to using it. You get all the source code and if you're so inclined, can develop your own scanner driver.

There is a review of SANE under Linux on the German magazine CT's site. Be aware that it's written in German... :)


XVscan is a great product that just works and is quite simple to get up and running. Many of you are probably familiar with the program "xv" that comes to us from the Sun world. It's been available on Linux since the early days and remains a very useful tool. The version number hasn't changed since I can remember - it's always been at v3.10 (or v3.10a). That doesn't mean that it lacks innovation, just that it's reached it's ultimate goal - to do what it does and do it extremely well. I've never had it crash on me and find the visual schnauzer tool indispensible. It is this solid foundation that XVscan is built.

You receive a new xv binary from that replaces (or co-exists if you wish) your reguar version of xv. That's it - that's all there is to the install. If you've had xv running on your system before and had all the proper image libraries installed, then you're ready to go. Most Linux distributions have all the libraries installed by default, since so many programs - including window managers and the GIMP - need them.

Where XVscan shines in it's simplicity, therein lies it's shortcomings as well. The interface (pictured below) is rather simple. There's the usual controls for brightness, contrast, resolution and gamma value as well as quick size settings which can be further adjusted manually. A "pre-scan" and "scan" button complete the interface.

XVscan interface screenshot

My only complaints about XVscan is that it is part of a separate program and doesn't integrate into anything - like GNOME or GTK-based applications. It is completely standalone - which means that if you're doing a lot of scanning for use in the GIMP for example, you must scan, save and load repeatedly. Not a big inconvenience, but if you do a lot of scanning, XVscan might not be for you. Otherwise, it is an excellent program that does what it's supposed to with minimal fuss and keep on running strong.


It's called tkscan and it was written by Hang-Bae Kim who seems to have abandoned this program - perhaps he was done with it...

You can pick it up at

I'm using this program with an HP ScanJet using the hpscanpbm package, hooked up to the host via an Adaptec 2940UW PCI controller.

There are not that many scanners which are supported under Linux right now, but tkscan works with all that I'm aware of. Mostly SCSI scanners are supported at this time (as opposed to parallel port models) which is fine - you really should be using SCSI for all this stuff, including external drives. Parallel port stuff is for low-end use and laptop users...

Here is the list as of version 0.8 that tkscan supports:

What it Does


If you were using your scanner under Windoze previously, you're half way there already. All you need now is some software on the Linux side. The best part is, most Linux distributions already have most of the software you'll need installed by default. Of course you want to make sure you have some good image editing programs (like the GIMP if you somehow don't have it already!). The hardest part is downloading and installing the driver for your particular scanner (as listed above) and tkscan. Here's a rundown of the requirements:

The Interface

Below are screengrabs of the main interface with the various option panels unfolded. There's a different one for setting basic scanner options like gamma, color correction, brightness and contrast, as well as for output options like printing, saving, faxing and more.

Original Option Manager File Manager Print Manager Fax Manager

Once you get your scanner fully tweaked via the image settings (on the options manager foldout) you can pretty much close it and not worry about it too much, unless the image source you wish to scan is abnormally light/dark and such.

The Results

Final Scan Thumbnail The results depend a lot on your scanner of course, and just how much time you put into tweaking the settings of your scanner to give you the best image possible. You can then take the results into xv or even better, GIMP to do some really fine-grained tweaking.

The images come out very clean and of high quality, as you might expect. In most cases you'll want to adjust the curves of the image and do some more careful cropping, etc. Use whatever program you like to do this.

The thumbnail just up above is a photograph taken of myself in Epcot Center in Walt Disney World, Florida that I used as a sample for scanning during the writing of this article. If you click on it, you can view the image at it's normal size to see how clean and snappy the resulting scan is. It would be better, but it's a blowup of a smaller section of the full 4x6" photograph. Needless to say, it was brutally hot that day in Epcot, and I had just doused myself with water in the fountain in Morocco. Shortly after that picture was taken, I hit the English Pub there in England and quaffed a nice, frosty yard glass of Bass Ale. :)

All images are (C) 1994-2005 by Michael Holve