By GREGORY ZELLER // Victor Susman wants to set a few billion things straight.
That’s his estimate for the number of old family photos out there – actual printed photographs, existing not on a screen but in hard copy, stuffed into shoeboxes and albums. Before they disintegrate into dust or are otherwise lost to history, Susman wants to see them scanned into digital format.
But like anyone who’s ever tried to scan a photo or document with a conventional scanner, he knows this is more science than art – and until now, the science has been lacking.
The problem, as Susman sees it, is that photos placed on a scanner bed don’t stay straight when the scanner lid closes. Even if it’s just a fraction of an inch, the act of closing the lid tends to shift the thing being scanned.
That’s hassle enough for amateurs trying to preserve personal pics, but for a professional like Susman, who runs West Babylon print shop I.L.S. Offset Printing with his brother, Harvey, it’s an ongoing nightmare, haunting him a quarter-inch at a time.
The problem was bad enough at I.L.S., which handles personal and commercial accounts but mostly subcontracts work for other commercial printers, including posters, calendars, envelopes and business cards. In 2013, when Susman officially launched his startup Have Scanner Will Travel – designed specifically to help folks digitally preserve those shoeboxes filled with photos – the inability to keep scanning targets straight became paramount.
“I had a lot of customers with old 3-by-5 and 4-by-6 photos,” Susman recalled. “I’d scan one or two or three at a time, and found that when I put the scanner lid down, even if I was very gentle with it, the photos would become crooked. I’d have to go into Photoshop and straighten them out – another operation, another step, something else to do.”
Frustrated, Susman searched for a scanner frame that would hold photos in place, similar to the one he used to hold slides still on the scanner bed: a thin frame that secured up to 15 standard slides. But his search for a photo-friendly frame – he visited websites of photography giants like Minolta and prime printers like Epson, he scoured Amazon, he even attended photography trade shows in New York City – drew blanks.
Susman had never attempted to design or build anything, but when his search came up empty, necessity mothered his invention. What would eventually become his proprietary Scanstraight device started as a small cardboard cutout, but “cardboard doesn’t last too long,” he noted, “especially if you use it on a daily basis.”
So the inventor turned to something more durable, using the plastic slides frame as a model. Measuring 8 5/8-by-11 5/8 inches, his final product is only one-eighth of an inch thick, meaning “the lid closes without a problem” when the frame rests on the scanner bed, according to Susman.
The Scanstraight fits most scanner beds and can hold up to three 4-by-6 photos securely in place.
Susman landed a design patent in April 2014 and has had about 200 Scanstraight devices produced by a Chinese manufacturer. These are “not prototypes,” he noted, but “the actual product,” and he’s trying to move them through word-of-mouth and the Have Scanner Will Travel website.
But for Susman – a big thinker whose parents launched I.L.S. Offset Printing in 1965 – Scanstraight ambitions don’t stop at 200 units.
“I’d eventually like to mass-produce them,” he said. “I’m trying to get a scanning company interested, like Konica or HP, someone who could bundle this with their scanners.”
Susman has already attended craft shows and is planning to hit more this fall; he may also look to place the Scanstraight on Amazon’s virtual shelves and is “looking at other types of advertising.” He cited considerable marketing guidance from Brian Fried, founder of the Suffolk County Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club, which Susman joined in 2012.
“I’ve learned from Brian and from other members where to market it and how to market it, and I’m trying to determine how to best use the information I’ve gathered,” Susman noted. “The Inventors Club has been a very useful resource.”
In addition to helping him develop a marketing strategy, the club has helped Susman focus his Scanstraight intentions. The device has obvious commercial applications, and his work at I.L.S. and Have Scanner Will Travel is what actually pushed him to create it, but Scanstraight’s bread will be buttered, the inventor knows, by personal users.
“It can be used for commercial needs, obviously, but with the digital revolution growing faster and faster, most commercial shops really rely on digital and stock photography,” he said. “The Scanstraight will mainly be used to make scanning easier for personal users.
“There are a literally billions of photos out there that will fade and turn to dust and be lost,” Susman added. “This frame makes it easier and faster to save them for posterity.”