How to make your own network scanning rig

We recently covered a networked scanner for serious business, able to whip through stacks of documents at a rate of 30 a minute, or just pound through endless heavy-duty office service. At $2,500, it's not the sort of thing that consumers buy. You can, however, get sooooort of close by making your own. After the jump, BBG reader Zuzu describes how he created a similar rig for under $700 a few years ago. As of 2009, all you need is a hackable router with USB host capability, the balls to install third-party firmware on it, and any sheetfed model compatible with SANE, an application that sprinkles magical fairy dust on scanners.
Several years ago I bought a used Fujitsu ScanSnap fi-5110C on eBay for $600, which is kinda stupid overpriced (but was still *way* cheaper than the competition), and it has real ISIS and TWAIN support, as well as being "good" supported according to The SANE Project itself at the time. SANE is a fickle bitch, in my experience, so strong developer community support is very important if you want the thing to actually work. These days I think the more inexpensive non-TWAIN ScanSnap models are also specifically supported by SANE, but you'll have to check for yourself. That's really the important part. Originally I set this up with a Buffalo LinkStation running Gentoo, which I also wanted to put Google's OCR software on, but that became an administration nightmare. Later I got an Asus WL-500g Premium (version 1; the version 2 came out awhile later, and has differing DD-WRT support) and that includes two USB ports. One USB port can be used to expand the storage capacity of the router. (I like the 8GB Imation Atom because it's very small and is only $25 on Amazon.) The other USB port is for the duplex scanner. IIRC, the beta versions of DD-WRT v24 for the Asus WL-500gP included SANEd with the other USB drivers (e.g. mass-storage), but I think v24 Final no longer includes it. So, you'll have to get ipkg installed and add SANEd yourself. Then, if you use OSX, install TWAIN-SANE. I prefer MacPorts for this, but you can also be "lazy" and use the pre-compiled packages. This will add SANE devices (including those shared over a network using SANEd) to the list of TWAIN scanner devices that show up in Image etc. Now, given that SANEd is open-source, and that some companies such as Brother even explicitly support SANE, none of the multifunction "all-in-one" printers include an embedded Linux (ala DD-WRT or Gentoo on the Linkstation NAS) for network sharing of both the printer *and* the scanner. That seems like such a facepalm to me. OSX also has a scanner sharing protocol, but I don't think it's SANE; not sure what it is, but I'd also think that'd be "mainstream" enough to support, just as most networked printers today support mDNS / ZeroConf / Rendezvous / Bonjour. Then again, Apple themselves fail to support scanner sharing over the network for their printer sharing devices such as Airport Express.

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6 Responses to How to make your own network scanning rig

  1. zuzu says:

    Nicely tarted up. :)

  2. dculberson says:

    I know of a local company that does a lousy job describing their stuff on eBay. They occasionally get machines like what I need, and it works out well. It’s definitely a long term, keep-an-eye-on-their-auctions kind of thing.

    The first unit I bought was an HP Mopier 320, again insanely expensive new, bought for sub-$500. I resold it three years later for more than that.

    The second unit was an Imagistics DF200 without scan-to-email, for $225, gave that to my dad (he’s got quite an office machine collection) when I acquired the $250 unit with scan-to-email. The catch is you never know 100% that it has the feature set you need unless you check it out in person. And you cannot add the features for a reasonable price. Just the scan-to-email, which is a software upgrade, is over $1000.

  3. dculberson says:


    Since I have to print large documents (60 pages or so, two+ copies) quickly, I wanted a workgroup quality printer. The plus side of that is they also come as all-in-ones with scanner/copier/etc. I manages to buy an Imagistics 20ppm printer with copier and duplex network scanner – a $17,000 printer – two and a half years old – functioning perfectly – for $250 locally. Shibbidy what?! And that wasn’t the first time. Anyway, if you have room (2′ deep, 3′ wide, 4′ tall at the minimum) I highly recommend this method. The printer has needed nothing but toner and has worked great for three years.

    It scans directly to email. Black and white only, but color ones are frequently available in the sub-$1000 range. Takes a lot of research ahead of time, and time to check it out in person, but it’s totally worth it.

  4. dculberson says:

    Forgot to add: Scans directly to email or FTP server.

  5. zuzu says:

    Looks like the ScanSnap S510 is hovering around $400, compared to the fi-5110C which has apparently retained its value (at least relative with depreciating US Dollars) at $600-700. I haven’t used the S510 or looked into it much, but upon first glance it appears to have the same specs (and form factor), minus the aforementioned ISIS and TWAIN support. (But with TWAIN-SANE, the important part is the “Good” support rating. So via SANE you get “TWAIN” anyway… until some graphic designer schools me on all the things that are missing without real TWAIN, anyway.)

    Also, a minor correction. I meant the Buffalo KuroBox, which is basically the same thing as the LinkStation except that it can store the bootloader and Linux boot partition in included flash memory, rather than on the hard drive itself — which is a world of difference in terms of still being able to telnet / ssh into the thing after changing hard drives or reconfiguring the kernel.

    Sadly, the coolness of these embedded Linux NAS devices has waned somewhat now that there are all these far more powerful and just as inexpensive Intel Atom devices on the market — such as the Asus EeeBox series. Not to mention nVidia’s Ion platform on the horizon.

    They’re still nice for putting a 1TB 3.5″ drive in to store all your MP3s and share them (iTunes Music Sharing) on the LAN with mt-daapd though. (Maybe this is all being replaced with DLNA as that standard matures, however.)

    If you were still interested, here’s the Gentoo installation instructions for the Kurobox / Linkstation.

    I manages to buy an Imagistics 20ppm printer with copier and duplex network scanner – a $17,000 printer – two and a half years old – functioning perfectly – for $250 locally. Shibbidy what?!

    Yeah, what?

    How’d you find the sellers at that price? Craigslist? Social networking?

  6. Rob Beschizza says:

    I could have bought one of those gigantic HP designjet plotters for $500 a couple of years ago. That’s my nearly-got-a-great-deal story.

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