Digital Check scanners and teller equipment

Celebrating over 60 Years In Business!

In 1957, one man took an idea about a tiny piece of plastic and turned it into a new way to store microfilm. Two years later, Thomas P. Anderson, Sr., founded the Microseal Corporation, launching the new company on a journey through an entire new world of film, cameras, and images.

Sixty years later, that story still continues, as Digital Check carries on the company legacy as experts in image processing. Take a look at our company’s history in a condensed timeline, or in the clickable photos below.

Our History In Photos

A walk through Digital Check’s history, from a mere idea in the 1950s to a global enterprise today. Clink on the links underneath each photo for a short summary!

Tom Anderson Sr.

Foundation: Microseal

From humble beginnings, a simple invention that started it all!

Aperture card

Aperture Cards

A new way to protect microfilm – soon sold all over the world!

Microseal exterior

Going Global,
Growing Pains

“We’re not selling your product anymore.”

1969: F4 Flight Simulator

A film-based simulator for the Air Force – before there were computers!

1970s: Seeing Stars

The Hollywood studios made movies with our high-speed editing projectors!

To Another World

Our cameras helped bring photos from the Viking and Mariner probes to life!
microfilm aperture cards with 36 slots.

Microfilm's Heyday

Organizing film archives was big business through the 1970s!

Learning Quality Firsthand

Working with big-name partners taught us a lot about smart processes!

Quantum NDP

The Age of 'Big Iron'

When room-sized reader/sorter machines ruled the Earth!

Salvaging a Tragedy

The Challenger disaster indirectly led to a new document-capture device.

Reinventing Ourselves

The end of high-tech analog, and our entry into mass manufacturing!

Joining Forces

Microseal and Data Conversion, Inc. officially become one company!

End of an Era (for Now)

A successful partnership led us to briefly exit the microfilm business!

... and Start of a New One

In 1995, we became Digital Check and first got into the check scanner market!

... and Back Again

Our absence from the microfilm business didn’t last long!

Check 21 Arrives

In 2004, check scanners went from niche to mainstream overnight!

Working Out Kinks

What caused us to bring scanner design completely in-house!

Finding a Groove

Designing better products for a fast-growing market!

Coming Full Circle

We close the loop with the acquisition of a microfilm conversion company!

Joining Forces, Pt. 2

Solidifying our commitment to the check processing business!

To the Future!

Our diversification into networking, software, and beyond!

1957: Tom Anderson's Big Idea

A New Way to Protect Microfilm

In the mid-1950s, our company founder, Thomas Anderson, Sr., was working as a paper broker – an agent who matched buyers of paper goods to the mills that produced them in bulk. At an industry convention in New York, Anderson and some fellow brokers were hanging out after hours at the Waldorf Astoria’s famed Bull and Bear Bar.

One of the other brokers showed off a new product he was selling – an elongated punch card with a rectangular hole cut in one side. The hole was sized to allow a piece of microfilm to be mounted to it, and a light shined through to read it. The rest of the card contained the information used to sort and file the cards in the vast paper archives used by companies of the time. This unassuming product was known as the microfilm aperture card.

Anderson noticed that the new design, while novel, had one major problem: The microfilm was left exposed on both sides, and easily damaged. As legend has it, he borrowed a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes from one of the other brokers at the table, pulled off the cellophane wrapper, and used it to fashion a crude protective covering that was transparent enough to see the film through. Little did he know, he had just come up with a new invention that would sell in the millions.

1959: Aperture Cards Take Off

Turning Tom Anderson’s original cigarette-wrapper aperture card from an idea into a mass-produced finished product didn’t happen overnight. But, after two years of prototyping, fine-tuning, and successfully filing for a patent, the Microseal Corporation was founded in 1959 with its first product, the protective aperture card. These cards used a sturdier, but still transparent, piece of plastic to protect the microfilm, and saw immediate success in the domestic market.

The first generation of aperture cards was used to protect 35mm microfilm “chips” – oversized pieces of film that were used to record complicated documents like blueprints, scientific drawings, and the like. This was a logical first step, since those large film clips were both some of the most important and the most prone to accidental damage. Eventually, Microseal expanded its product line to include aperture cards for standard-sized film strips, as well as transparent “jackets” for mechanical feeding of microfilm in bulk.

"Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket"

A canceled deal causes a scramble, but leads to a more diversified company

In the early 1960s, the Remington Rand Corporation signed an agreement to become a distributor of Microseal aperture cards in the United States. That partnership quickly blossomed, with Remington growing to account for more than 70 percent of the company’s aperture card sales by 1967. That all changed overnight, though: A leadership change at Remington led them to cancel the contract abruptly – literally calling on Friday to announce that the deal was over on Monday.

The Microseal sales team scrambled over the weekend to secure direct commitments from dozens of smaller endpoint distributors who served as the ultimate resellers of the aperture cards, keeping business as usual afloat in the short term. They also vowed to diversify the distribution channel so that it wouldn’t become so top-heavy with a single partner again.

Eventually, the new strategy paid off with several lucrative partnerships, including one with Eastman Kodak and several of its international subsidiaries, that led in part to the opening of Microseal’s first European office, in London.

At left, John Symon, Director of International Markets (1974-94), and Ernie Pestell, Director of European Markets (1970-88) were a key part of expanding and maintaining Microseal’s global distribution network.

The F4 Phantom Flight Simulator

Our high-speed projector finds a use in the military

Before computers, flight simulators were nothing like the ones today. Early attempts to simulate the act of flying an airplane using film had severe limitations – they were single-speed, “on-rails” experiences not unlike watching a movie.

Digital Check’s predecessor, Electro-Optical Mechanics (EOM), helped solve many of these problems with a precision variable-speed projector that was combined with an array of prisms to create the first simulators in which the pilot could actually “fly” the aircraft. The first project in which we were involved was an F4 Phantom simulator for the Air Force; the same technology would later be used as a simulator for the Boeing 747, as well as other vehicles of all kinds, including trains, coal mining machines, and even NASA’s Skylab.

See the full story here to learn more about how early flight simulators worked!

The Hollywood Editing Projectors

How better motors sped up the process of making movies

In between the time when the director yells “Cut!” and the finished movie is shown in theaters, an incredible amount of editing takes place — sifting through hundreds of hours of footage captured on multiple cameras, from all different angles. That meant you had to have a way of handling mile and miles of film, and not just any projector could do that.

Our EOM Model 421 editing projector was one of the few projectors of its time that was both powerful enough to handle huge reels of film, and also capable of running at 5,000 rpm and switching from forward to reverse instantly. The projector was so effective that one of our first customers, RCA Burbank Studios, licensed it under their own name and sold it to other Hollywood studios.

The Model 421 also had a brief run as a commercial projector in movie theaters — but that story ended with a shady tale of intrigue and sabotage.

Read the full story to learn more about how our editing projectors helped transform the way movies were made!

To the Stars!

Making photos out of beamed-back signals from spacecraft

When the space probes of the analog age beamed their pictures back to Earth, they didn’t arrive as finished photos — they were radio signals of binary code that were recorded on reels of magnetic tape.

Converting this data to actual images meant finding a way to project them onto a screen, pixel-by-pixel, and then taking a photograph of that screen with an extremely high-resolution camera that used 5-inch film. Color photos needed three separate exposures – one each for red, green, and blue – and that meant the film needed to stay in exactly the same spot. We built these cameras, dubbed the EOM Model 505, for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to convert photos from the Mariner and Viking missions. The Mars photo that you saw on the previous page was probably captured on a Model 505!

These cameras had to be precise to within a few ten-thousandths of an inch, and we devised a new vacuum-based system to keep the oversized film steady during the exposure. Only eight Model 505s were ever built, but they remain one of our most impressive feats of engineering.

Read on to learn more about how beamed-back pictures were converted into actual photos!

The Golden Age of Microfilm

Through the 1960s and 1970s, it was the top data-storage medium

Microfilm experienced a boom in the two decades leading up to the 1980s. More compact and longer-lasting than paper files, and far more practical than the primitive and expensive digital storage methods available at the time, microfilm was the perfect way to archive large amounts of data. It’s estimated that at least several trillion documents were recorded on microfilm and microfiche before the arrival of affordable digital media.

While we were making cameras and projectors at EOM (the predecessor of our California manufacturing operation), Tom Anderson’s Microseal Corporation was expanding worldwide, selling millions and millions of storage media.

Microseal’s original single aperture cards did a fine job at the purpose for which they were designed — but companies needed a bulk sorting method that could keep up with their huge (and constantly growing!) microfilm collections.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Microseal came out with cards that held ever-larger numbers of film chips, as well as plastic “jackets” to store strips of film that could easily be read later. During this time, we also signed distribution agreements with dozens of distributors worldwide — even a few in hard-to-reach localities such as Eastern Europe. This strategy was the beginning of our current global partner network; although individual distributors have come and gone, we’ve maintained a worldwide presence continuously since this time.

Learning Quality Firsthand

How we honed our own processes building devices for 3M, others

While some of our proudest accomplishments are machines that we designed and built ourselves, we’ve also worked with some big names in the electronics business — including 3M, Motorola, Honeywell, Bell & Howell, and others. Usually, it was our expertise with cameras and film that led outside companies to come to us and request us to build part or all of a finished product at our facility.

Taking on these projects was a revelation in terms of manufacturing processes. When we were a smaller company that basically invented all of its own products, we were able to develop our own manufacturing and quality-control procedures as we went. But these huge, household-name electronics companies each had their own stringent processes, which we had to follow to the letter in order to win their business.

A project we did with 3M, in particular, was credited with igniting a modernization in the way we did things at the factory. Even though many of these projects started back in the 1970s and 1980s, the lessons learned have stuck with us to this day, and we pride ourselves in being a “mid-sized company that runs a big-time manufacturing operation.”

For more about what we learned from working with big-name manufacturers, click here!

Burroughs and Big-Machine Banking

What our SmartSource division did, long before check scanners

The SmartSource team didn’t become part of Digital Check until 2016 – but prior to that, it had a long and rich history manufacturing banking hardware as part of the Burroughs Corporation.

These were no ordinary machines – they were some of the largest and complex pieces of equipment ever used by the banking industry. Measuring up to 20 feet long (or even more!), these behemoths took up an entire room, often cost upwards of $100,000, and employed a team of dedicated and highly trained staff. Most of these machines were introduced in the 1970s, and continued in service for decades until smaller and cheaper replacements became widespread.

Despite the high price tag, banks found these ‘Big Iron’ machines invaluable for their speed and efficiency in sorting mountains of documents. The fastest, like this IBM 3890 pictured at top left, could read and sort more than 2,000 checks per minute! Burroughs had two equivalents, the Network Document Processor – or NDP for short – and the NDP Quantum. The NDP reached similar speeds to the IBM models, up to 2,000 documents per minute; while the NDP Quantum was geared toward slightly lower-use environments, topping out at 800.

The last of these full-sized reader/sorters were produced in the early 2000s, but a handful remain in service, mostly overseas. As these machines reach the end of support availability, many owners have switched to slightly smaller sorters such as the SmartSource Quantum DS.

Seizing an Unlikely Opportunity

How the Space Shuttle disaster led us to produce some of the world’s first high-speed document scanners — 10 years after the fact

Sometimes, the impact of a single moment can be felt in ways that no one could have ever foreseen. So it was with the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1983, which set in motion an unlikely chain of events that involved the demise of the world’s first mainstream fax service, and truckloads of old equipment saved from the scrapyard.

The full story is too long to tell here, but essentially: FedEx had been planning to launch a satellite to support its new ZapMail global fax service; the Challenger explosion caused the Space Shuttle fleet to be grounded and the satellite never launched; ZapMail went under a short time afterward; and many years later, we salvaged the equipment to make some of the earliest high-speed scanners. Some of the resulting devices stayed in service into the 2010s.

Read the full story of how we salvaged the FedEx Zapmailers here.

A Difficult But Necessary Transition

The 1980s: A shift in focus to mass manufacturing

The ’80s were a time of rapid transition and big changes for both of Digital Check’s predecessor companies.

At Microseal, we’d been exclusively producing microfilm storage and related items for more than 20 years, but the market was beginning to shrink as computers came into the mainstream.

Meanwhile, EOM’s California plant had been working on bleeding-edge engineering projects throughout most of the ’60s and ’70s – big machines that cost tens of thousands of dollars and may have sold only a few units per month – but now that line of business was coming to a close. Most of these projects involved extremely high-speed and high-precision analog projectors and cameras, but the advent of affordable computing was completely reinventing that field as well. Phil Barboni, EOM’s president at the time, had made the tough decision to shift production to smaller, lower-tech devices that could be made in greater quantities.

As Barboni explained, “Most of our products to that time had been assembled from start to finish by teams of engineers. Design for manufacturing is quite a different process – creating a process that’s easily repeatable by a layman in the fewest number of steps.”

As EOM changed from more of a specialty engineering firm to a maker of mass-market business equipment, most of the original engineering team departed, and new hires with a more production-focused mindset were brought in. Combined with the lessons learned from our big-name electronics partners, this was a period in which our entire manufacturing operation was reinvented. Soon, market forces and a fortunate meeting would bring the two parts of our present company together for the first time.

Two Companies Join Forces

How our California and Chicago divisions became one

Up until the late 1980s, Digital Check’s predecessor was actually two separate companies – Microseal Inc., of Chicago, and Data Conversion, Inc., of California. (Adding to the name confusion, Data Conversion, Inc., had previously been known as EOM through the mid-’80s.)

Big changes started to happen toward the end of the decade, though. In 1987, current Digital Check CEO Thomas Anderson, Jr., took over at the helm of Microseal following the retirement of his father, company founder Thomas Anderson, Sr. Shortly thereafter, the company entered into a cross-selling partnership with DCI, which was still at least partly in the microfilm business. At the time, Microseal had an extensive global distribution network, while DCI was very heavy in the engineering and manufacturing departments but light on sales staff. The initial partnership was simply a one-year sales agreement, in which Microseal’s sales team would promote DCI products. The arrangement proved so successful that Microseal ended up acquiring DCI in 1989.

The original arrangement is still somewhat reflected in our company makeup to this day. Digital Check’s corporate headquarters in Northbrook, IL, is the administrative center of the company, while all of our American manufacturing still takes place at the former DCI plant outside of Los Angeles.

(At top left, Microseal CEO Tom Anderson, Jr., shares a drink with DCI president Phil Barboni shortly after the deal was completed; the cover photo on the previous page is from a merger party at the plant in California.)

Leaving Microfilm, But Not for Good

A partnership was so successful that we sold part of the company

As more and more technology became driven by computers, our California manufacturing arm moved away from complex analog engineering projects. For a period of several years during that time – approximately the late 1980s to mid-1990s – we made a name for ourselves largely by building image- and camera-related equipment on behalf of bigger, well-known brands.

The longest-lasting of these partnerships was with Bell & Howell, with whom we produced a number of specialty microfilm readers and loaders. This relationship proved so lucrative that, in 1994, Bell & Howell bought all of our microfilm assets, as well as the Microseal name. (We retained ownership of the California manufacturing plant.)

For the first time in our history, we had no involvement with microfilm, although that would only last for about five years. In the meantime, we had another promising new product …

1995: Digital Check Corp. is Born

The BUIC 1000 was the first check scanner we built

After the sale of our microfilm division in 1994, our company was left with a manufacturing plant, a global distributor network, and a contract with an Italian company named BUIC S.r.L. That contract was for the U.S. manufacture and distribution of a new product called the BUIC 1000, one of the world’s first mass-produced desktop check scanners. We would get the designs and components from our Italian partner and assemble the devices in California. Over the years, we ended up making design improvements and sourcing our own components for both this machine and its successor, the BUIC 1500.

It’s important to remember that the Check 21 Act would not be passed for almost another 10 years, so check image capture was far from universal, in the banking industry or anywhere else. However, it found a role in making image capture affordable in places where the “big iron” reader/sorters were not practical.

By today’s standards, the BUIC 1000 was not much to look at: About the size of a small duffel bag and weighing in at almost 25 pounds, it managed a top speed of 26 documents per minute in 200 dpi grayscale. (See our original brochure for the BUIC 1000 here.) Nonetheless, the demand for it was substantial, and we soon found ourselves in the check scanner business full-time. In 1995, we changed our name to Digital Check Corp. and never looked back.

(Cover photo: Members of the BUIC and Digital Check teams pose with the new product shortly after the deal signing.)

Back in the Business

ST Imaging acquisition put us back into microfilm again

After we sold our original microfilm division (and the Microseal company name) to Bell & Howell in 1994, it looked like we were out of that business. But it only took five years before we found our way back in.

In 1999, Digital Check Corp. acquired ST Imaging, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of library-style digital microfilm readers. This was a new twist on an old technology: Instead of analog readers that would simply shine a light on the film – displaying it in the same way an overhead projector would – ST Imaging used digital cameras to read the film in a format that could be displayed and edited on a regular computer monitor.

ST Imaging’s main product, the ViewScan reader, is in use in thousands of locations around the world, and has been continuously updated over the past two decades – pictured above is our latest model, the ViewScan 4!

Check Capture Takes Off

In 2004, the Check 21 Act Changed Everything

Check image capture did not start in 2004, but up until that point, it was a voluntary practice that banks mostly used internally for convenience and efficiency. The check clearing process still required the paper check to be delivered to the original accountholder’s bank for settlement, so having an image of the check did not do anything to speed that up. In fact, the paper checks were flown to their destinations every night by a network of nearly 50 aircraft operated by the Federal Reserve Bank.

When all aircraft in the country were grounded following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the check clearing system also ground to a halt, and lawmakers quickly acted to institute an electronic clearing process in its place. When this new legislation, the Check 21 Act, was announced in 2003 (it took effect the following year), demand for check scanners skyrocketed, as banks scrambled to outfit their back offices, branches, and even teller windows with image capture devices.

It's Not the Problem, It's the Response

Overhauling an early scanner model – and our approach

The check scanner pictured at left is a TellerScan TS220, one of our earliest devices designed for use in the bank branch. Like our other early models, it was based on designs and components from an overseas partner – but this time, there was a problem.

Prior to 2004, when the TS220 was introduced, we’d mainly built bigger back-counter devices, so the more compact design of this model represented a major change. Unfortunately, the device’s smaller size meant that the sharp turn in the paper track created more stress on the drive belt, so the same component from the older models would wear out and snap after about 6 months of use.

We ended up correcting this problem by replacing the old steel-corded drive belts with polyester-corded drive belts in thousands of scanners already deployed in the field – but that wasn’t the real lasting change from this experience. From that point on, we decided we would go back to what we knew best and do all the design and engineering work on new check scanner models ourselves, not follow or enhance designs from elsewhere. This has been our standard practice ever since.

Finding a Scanning Sweet Spot

Opening the door to mass RDC adoption

Not long after the Check 21 Act took effect in the United States, it became apparent that there was a problem with the hardware market. Namely, exactly one kind of check scanner existed: The high-speed, hopper-fed “horseshoe” scanner that was designed for bank branches, and cost $1,000 and up. Cheaper mass-market flatbed or single-feed scanners did not work for check capture, because they had no way to read the magnetic MICR line on a check.

Remote deposit – one of the “big draws” of electronic clearing – was stuck. If you did not have dozens or hundreds of checks to deposit every day, there was simply no way to justify the cost. And no one had a good answer.

We immediately began development of an a low-cost, MICR-enabled scanner that would open the door to RDC for small and medium-sized businesses that might only receive a few checks per day. That device, the CheXpress CX30, would go on to become the best-selling check scanner in history (and remains our top seller by number of units even a decade later). Besides proving a commercial success, it also achieved its initial goal of delivering check capture to the masses and established the distinction between high-end production equipment and daily-use devices. No one had made anything like it before, but the results speak for themselves!

Microfilm: The Final Chapter

Our 2015 acquisition of nextScan closes the loop

We started out 60 years ago as a company that made devices for capturing microfilm (EOM) and storing microfilm (Microseal); and along the way, we made numerous devices for reading it. But after a century-long run as the world’s dominant method of long-term data storage, new microfilm is rarely made anymore, and the big question now is how to convert it all into digital format.

In 2015, we executed a deal to acquire nextScan, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of microfilm-conversion scanners. These are the big, heavy-duty machines you would use if you wanted to convert, say, an entire archive of 10,000 rolls of film to PDFs all at once. It is a very specialized, very precise technology that uses equipment reminiscent of the big cameras and projectors we used to make in the 1970s – but this time fully digital, with computer controls and software to match. As more and more microfilm is converted into digital archives, there’s a good chance that Digital Check made both the scanner that digitized it and the camera that created it in the first place!

In a hilarious coincidence, back in the 1980s, our California division had been working on a large-scale microfilm project for Motorola and ran into a complicated technical question about one of the components. Then-CEO Phil Barboni contacted Motorola’s engineering team, who eventually referred him to a specialist with an outside company that had been working on that part of the project. That outside company turned out to be nextScan, and the specialist was Kurt Breish, nextScan’s current chief engineer!

Reinvesting in Image Capture

While some players looked to get out of the scanner business, we doubled down with a key acquisition

The mid-2010s saw a major shakeup in the scanner world, as several companies looked to either consolidate their positions or cash out their chips. In 2014, our Italian competitor CTS Group was acquired by ARCA; and another longtime rival from Canada, RDM, was bought out by Deluxe Corporation. In many ways, this period was a referendum on who wanted “in” and who wanted “out” of the scanner business.

Digital Check went all-in with the purchase of the scanner division of perhaps our biggest competitor of all, Burroughs Corporation. Their SmartSource scanner line had gone head-to-head with our own almost since we first started making them; and Burroughs itself had been in the banking equipment business for decades prior. Many of the salespeople, engineers, and other key people who joined us in the deal had 20, 25, 30 years of experience, or even more.

In the time since, we’ve taken the best of both groups – including products, people, and technology – to create a much stronger product line than ever before.

We’ve also reinvested in our own operation – expanding our manufacturing capacity and facilities not once but twice, and adding key staff to keep our hardware and software arms ready for what comes next!

Looking Forward

Change is constant, and we are continually reinventing ourselves

In the 60 years since Tom Anderson, Sr., founded Microseal, our company has undergone at least three major transformations — from microfilm to digital; from small-quantity engineering to mass manufacturing; and from projectors and cameras into scanners for the banking industry. We have also gone through many acquisitions, name changes, and smaller adjustments to keep us at the forefront of our industry. And the world never stops changing, so neither do we.

The payments world is evolving fast, and paper checks are a part of that. So, we have taken steps to make sure we are ready — not only to keep our position as the #1 maker of check capture equipment, but also ready for whatever comes next. We have made substantial investments into software, network technology, and related fields, while continuing to grow our core businesses of check capture, and yes, even microfilm.

People will often ask us, “Checks are on the decline — what are you going to do next?” And the answer is: The same thing we have always done! We will keep growing and evolving to take care of our customers’ needs today, tomorrow, and any day after that.