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First Look: Scannerless scanning with Creaceed Prizmo


Last year I resolved to start keeping track of my business expenses more accurately. I bought NeatReceipts for Mac, but found that even with the diminutive size of the included scanner I didn't want to take it on trips with me. The result? I still ended up with a pile of receipts at the end of each business trip that I needed to scan. What I needed was a scanner that was always with me and didn't take up any additional space in my laptop bag.

Creaceed has come up with a solution in the form of Prizmo, which allows you to use any digital camera -- including the one built into your iPhone -- as a scanner. Once you've taken a picture of any item, you drop it onto Prizmo on your Mac. The application then corrects for lens distortion and perspective, essentially "flattening" the item you're scanning, and provides tools for cropping, changing brightness, and tweaking contrast.

The lens distortion algorithm uses a calibration that is created for specific cameras. As users calibrate their own cameras through a process described in the Prizmo user manual, they can add them to a calibration library that is being created.

I found that taking pictures of my receipts with the iPhone camera and then cleaning them up with Prizmo worked much better than just trying to hold the receipts up to my the iSight camera, which is what Evernote tries to do. Speaking of Evernote, I was discouraged to find that it doesn't accept the import of .jpg images as it would be a perfect storage place for the scans from Prizmo.

One thing I did notice is that I could take the cleaned-up receipt "scans" and pull them into NeatReceipts to be stored and have the text recognized through the magic of optical character recognition (OCR). The OCR wasn't perfect, but still worked well enough that the information on a majority of my receipts was captured for posterity.

Here's what a receipt photo taken with an iPhone (on the right) looks like as it is being "cleaned up" (preview is on the left):

The corners of that light blue border are dragged to the corners of the receipt, thus cropping it and cleaning up the perspective distortion. The three icons in the middle of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen provide sizing of the saved receipt, allow lens distortion to be cleaned up, and provide the photo enhancements such as sharpening that make the receipt readable.

Creaceed also suggests using Prizmo to take pictures of signs or documents that ordinarily aren't scanned. For example, if you see a sign that you want to capture for posterity, take a photo from any angle and then use the perspective tools to provide a perfectly "flat" copy of the sign. I did this with an elevator sign at the hotel where I'm staying during this business trip, and you can see the results below.

Of course, you could do a lot of the same tricks with Photoshop or some other tools, but Prizmo makes the process fast and easy, even for beginners. My personal opinion is that the price is on the high side, but considering that one of the other alternatives for doing this type of work involves purchasing and carrying a small scanner, it might be worth the cost.

I would love to see an iPhone-specific version of this app that would take and allow processing of documents like receipts, business cards, and signs, and then upload them to MobileMe or Evernote.

And now, for something completely cool -- another TUAW Giveaway! Creaceed has provided us with Prizmo licenses to give away to ten lucky readers. To enter the giveaway, write a comment with your idea of what you'd like to scan...with a digital camera.

Here are the rules and a link to the obligatory legal statement:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • To enter leave a comment with an idea of what you'd like to scan with a digital camera and Prizmo.
  • The comment must be left before Thursday, April 23, 05:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Ten winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Prize: One license for Prizmo (US$39.95 value)
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
Good luck!

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