Banctec Inc. and Picture Elements Inc. have jointly developed an image scanner that can capture grayscale at high speeds.

Grayscale is a term for the varying degrees of light and dark printing that appear on documents.

Early versions of document imaging equipment were ill-equipped to pick up subtle printing shades, but the technology has matured in recent years. The improvements mean banks and other companies can turn a wider range of documents into digitized images that can be stored electronically.

The new S-220 scanner, which will be widely available later this year, can read documents measuring between 3 by 5 inches and 11 by 17 inches. It can capture printed detail with 256 different levels of intensity.

"Any document that can be read by the human eye, the scanner can capture,"said Stephen Rapier, Banctec's manager of worldwide sales for scanners.

Better grayscale imaging is good news for banks with check-imaging systems because checks often feature a variety of printing shades.

The S-220 can read currency amounts, shading of signatures, pictures on the front of checks, and subtle stamps on the back.

The joint development project involved adapting Boulder, Colo.-based Picture Elements' grayscale-imaging board to Dallas-based Banctec's S- Series image scanners.

"You can use grayscale to do quality processing without using the post process for image quality," said Mr. Rapier.

Louis Sharpe, president and founder of privately held Picture Elements, said the scanner "has a real advantage for forms processing."

"The fact that it is a fast scanner which can capture grayscale is phenomenal," he added.

The S-220 can scan as many as 220 documents per minute. Because it uses a duplex camera, the scanner can capture images on both sides of a document in a single scan. It can be driven with conventional personal computers.

Banctec said the S-220 will retail at $94,000, and any of its S-Series of scanners can be upgraded to incorporate the new grayscale capabilities.

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