Adobe Acrobat Capture 2

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Converting an existing paper-based archive to an electronic online  resource is a complex and demanding task, but with Acrobat Capture and a bit of  effort it can be achieved.

Acrobat Capture

In issue 33 I looked at the latest version of Adobe's Acrobat technology which allows high quality portable document files (PDFs) to be produced from any platform and any software. This system works well if you are creating the original documents on your own computer, but it's not much use for those documents that are produced by others or that haven't been produced on a computer at all. A legal practice might be able to directly archive all its own letters, for example, but what should it do about the correspondence it receives? This is where Acrobat Capture comes in. It works in conjunction with a scanner to bring existing, paper-based documents into the PDF workflow.

The Capture interface isn't pretty, but it's very functional. The screen is divided into three areas. The top left area shows your installed scanners. Below this is a list of directories into which you can scan images for deferred processing. It is also possible to set up a watched directory which will automatically process any scanned file that is saved into it. Down the right hand of the screen are the output directories. It is possible to create your own directories with customised settings, for example, to create Word or HTML files. However almost all work in Capture will be directed to the two main directories for directly creating PDFs or for creating special review files.

The heart of Capture is its ability to convert a scanned page into a PDF equivalent. While this is based on optical character recognition (OCR), it's important to realise that "capturing" a page is much more complex process. Capture not only has to break down the page to get at the text it contains, but it also has to rebuild it - including all graphics - as an exact PDF equivalent. The multiple stages involved in this process - finding rules and frames, identifying fonts, reading characters, grouping characters into words and so on - are indicated by an onscreen dialog. It's just as well this dialog is there or you might assume your computer has frozen. While Wordscan was able to OCR a test page in less than 20 seconds, for example, Capture took over three minutes - around ten times as long.

For certain jobs, such as general purpose archiving, PDFs can be created directly and automatically. Capture will OCR where it can and where it is unsure of a word it will store a bitmapped representation. As a failsafe, you can also set Capture to automatically store a full page graphic in the PDF. For more critical jobs, however, you will want more control. This is offered through Capture's Reviewer module. This opens up review files for editing with all suspect words highlighted. It is then possible to tab between these words to accept or correct them. The Reviewer module also allows fine control over layout with the ability to change text formatting, reorder text blocks, import graphics and so on.

All in all, despite an excellent core OCR engine and the wide range of assistance on offer, producing the ideal final PDF can be a pretty lengthy process. Are the end results worth the trouble? This depends entirely on the merits of the PDF itself. The format's overriding strength is the sheer quality of its representation with the positioning of the images and text absolutely identical to those in the original. Moreover, because the words are stored as real text not as bitmaps, the PDFs actually look cleaner than the scanned version.

The fact that text is stored as real text has further advantages. Most importantly for an archiving medium it means that the PDFs can be automatically indexed with the Acrobat Index module and searched with the Acrobat Search module. It also means that the file size of the PDF can be kept relatively low. Obviously this depends on the complexity and number of images in each layout, but a simple test page with two graphics produced a PDF of 72k while the scanned TIF was over 1Mb.

This small file size is important for any archiving medium, but it is absolutely essential for the increasingly important issue of Net and Intranet access. This is another great strength of the Acrobat technology as the latest Navigator and Explorer both allow PDFs to be opened directly in the browser window via the free and widely available Acrobat Reader. When you throw in the capability - via Acrobat Exchange - to add sounds, video and hyperlinks to turn your files into multimedia projects, the all-round advantages of an electronic archive, and of PDFs in particular, start to become a lot clearer.

Having said this, it's important to keep things in proportion. If you are thinking of archiving your correspondence from the local bank manager, for example, the benefits of electronic storage would be minimal - buying a folder would save a lot of money and a lot of effort. If, on the other hand, you are looking to convert an existing paper-based archive into a modern online resource, Capture represents a very effective potential solution. For the serious user, Capture offers a reliable bridge between the very different worlds of paper and screen.

Ease of Use

4

Features

5

Value for Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

April 1998


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