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What Is an Automatic Document Feeder?

Updated Dec 04, 2023

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When you have one- or two-page documents to copy or scan, handling the task manually is simple and quick. However, if you have longer documents with 10, 50 or even hundreds of pages, standing at the copy machine or scanner and manually inserting each page one by one is quite time-consuming. To streamline the process, the best copiers, scanners and multifunction printers include automatic document feeders that do the work for you.

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What is an automatic document feeder?

An automatic document feeder (ADF) is a mechanism found on devices like printers, fax machines, scanners and photocopiers. ADFs are handy when you have multiple sheets of paper to deal with and can be a crucial element of document management

An ADF is a standard feature on most multifunction or all-in-one printers; it takes the burden off employees who otherwise would have to monitor a printing job and ensure every page is handled correctly. 

When it comes to scanning, ADFs are a significant upgrade to the old flatbed scanners that could only read a single document at a time ― a process that could take up to 30 seconds per sheet. With an ultrafast ADF that can scan up to 200 pages per minute, you’ll be liberated from the tedious, time-consuming task of scanning documents.

How does an ADF work?

Mechanically, an ADF operates by guiding a sheet of paper through a series of rollers and into an exit tray. For example, on a scanner, rollers guide a sheet over the scanner flatbed or platen to capture the image and send it to your PC. On a printer, an ADF guides paper to the printing heads to produce a physical document.

However, some ADFs are more advanced. They can scan both sides of a document or process more documents in a fraction of the time. For example, a reversing automatic document feeder (RADF) feeds a document through a scanner’s platen, flips it and feeds it through the scanner again to get a copy of both sides of any sheet of paper.

A dual-scan document feeder (DSDF) is another, more expensive type of ADF. It costs more because it has multiple scanning surfaces to capture both sides of a document in one pass. Since there’s less movement for the original document, it can complete a scan in about 70 percent less time than a RADF.

Did You Know?Did you know

If you frequently scan large amounts of double-sided documents, a dual-scan document feeder allows you to complete any workload in a fraction of the time. Of course, when you use higher resolutions to scan, the longer things take.

What are the benefits of an ADF?

The benefits of an ADF are far more extensive than you would initially believe. Aside from allowing for faster scanning and printing, the advantages you get from an ADF can trickle into software testing, know-your-customer (KYC) background checks, financial compliance and the digitization of a company’s records.

Here are a few examples of an ADF’s benefits in various industries:

  • Quick, accurate data input: For a developer building new software featuring optical character recognition (OCR) technologies, an ADF is a useful tool to input data quickly and conduct stress tests on the application. With the minor miscalculations found in the scans, developers can make the adjustments they need to update their software to capture the correct information with minimal errors.
  • Customer data collection: When you have a high-quality scanner equipped with a high-capacity ADF, a financial institution can quickly collect the customer information it needs to conduct KYC processes and confirm compliance with every customer it serves. A bank could perform the same checks manually, but that method is more a relic from before the 1990s when you would wait hours for confirmations. More importantly, those lengthy wait times often result in a negative customer experience or waste a company’s valuable time and resources.
  • Digitizing documents: For a business upgrading its overall infrastructure, digitizing old documents is a typical way to create an accurate record of past company activities and create a computerized filing system. However, because of the time limitations involved, it’s nearly impossible to do if you only have access to a single-sheet document feeder. In these instances, a high-volume, high-speed scanner is needed to quickly create digital copies of physical documents. Some of the more expensive machines have an ADF capacity for as much as 500 sheets, so you can return later and reload your scanner.
FYIDid you know

If your business digitizes documents using a scanner, you can more easily share documents, store information safely and meet compliance regulations.

Who can benefit from an ADF?

Individuals and professionals in any sector can benefit from a business copier, printer, scanner or fax machine equipped with an ADF. The cost of having an ADF vs. a single-page, manual feeder is so negligible that it’s almost always worth the upgrade.  

Anyone from a healthcare provider to a banker can benefit from the fast scanning, faxing, copying and printing an ADF delivers. As automation, OCR and artificial intelligence technologies advance, an ADF-equipped device could be the key that unlocks a new level of business insights by allowing you to quickly digitize any organization’s records.

Did You Know?Did you know

An ADF-equipped scanner can help you transition your business into a paperless office and conduct operations more securely.

How much do new automatic document feeders cost?

You may pay anywhere from $100 to tens of thousands for various new devices with ADFs. However, most companies should generally expect to pay between $500 and $1,500 for a robust ADF-equipped device.

ADF device costs vary according to numerous factors, including the following: 

  • Capacity and speed: The price of a device with an ADF will vary according to how many sheets it can hold and how many sheets it can process in a minute.
  • Purpose: Devices with more niche use cases tend to attract a premium price. For example, you’ll pay top dollar for a high-volume scanning device for larger offices, medical practices and libraries. Companies that need ultrafine scanning for photography, artwork or graphic design should also expect to pay more.
  • Features: Manufacturers charge more for advanced features like the ability to handle various sizes and types of paper. Specific scanning technologies (and whether they must integrate with a business’s internal software) and the ability to detect double feeds will also command a higher price.
  • Maintenance and support: Although not an upfront cost, check reviews for general manufacturer reliability and the likely costs of servicing the feeder during its lifetime.

The best automatic document feeders available

Many reputable and well-established electronics equipment manufacturers make ADF devices. A handful of the best-value and most-capable scanners with automatic document feeders include the following:

Fujitsu fi-8170 document scanner (around $1,000)

  • Speed: 70 pages per minute (ppm)/140 images per minute (ipm)
  • Special features: Color LCD, 2D barcode support, ultrasonic multifeed detection
  • Document handling: Long page scanning up to 240 inches; thick document scanning (e.g., passports, ID cards)

Fujitsu fi-8270 document and image scanner (around $1,650)

  • Speed: 70 ppm/140 ipm
  • Special features: Color LCD, 1D barcode support, sonic paper protection
  • Document handling: Long page scanning up to 240 inches; thick document scanning

Fujitsu ScanSnap overhead simplex scanner SV600 (around $650)

  • Speed: Can scan an A3 size area in less than three seconds
  • Scanning technology: One-button overhead scanning; CCD optic with LED illumination
  • Special features: Book curve image-flattening; erase finger from image function

Canon DR-M160II document scanner (around $1,000)

  • Speed: 60 ppm
  • Special features: Single-pass duplex scanning; up to 60 sheet ADF
  • Document handling: Scans both sides of a sheet in one pass; suitable for paper-based documents

Epson DS-6500 document scanner (around $1,100)

  • Speed: 25 ppm/50 ipm
  • Special features: 100-sheet ADF; four-line CCD sensor (RGB and black) for vivid colors and sharp text
  • Document handling: Scans documents up to 8.5 x 40 inches; flatbed for hard-bound books or other odd-sized items

Avision AD240U simplex scanner (around $495)

  • Speed: 40 ppm.
  • Special features: Handles forms up to 242 x 356 mm; advanced straight paper path; image processing
  • Document handling: Can manage mixed batches of documents of varying sizes and weights

Mark Fairlie contributed to this article.

Eduardo Vasconcellos
Contributing Writer at business.com
Eduardo Vasconcellos is a veteran copywriter, creative content producer and marketing communications specialist with over two decades experience, able to take complex concepts and turn them into something simple and memorable. By focusing on customer psychology and product benefits, his specialty is crafting full marketing campaigns that follow industry best practices while authentically speaking to a customer’s need.
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