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Document Scanner Buying Guide

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo
at Fortune Web Marketing

Document scanners allow you to create a digital archive and ditch the filing cabinet.

Businesses are trading in their filing cabinets that are filled with files from who knows how long ago and using document scanners to scan and store their important documents. By using a document scanner for your business, you open up more space in your office, you can bolster the security of sensitive information, plus you have an electronic copy of critical documents that will not be irretrievably lost. 

How to choose a scanner for your small business

To help you choose the best document scanner for your business, there are some key questions you want to ask yourself that will help you effectively narrow your search. 

What do you need to scan?

The type of scanner you select should be able to easily scan the types of documents you need to digitize and render clear, crisp images. Are you scanning paper documents and receipts? Do you need to scan photo identification? Are you planning on scanning photographs?

The items you plan to scan should be the primary consideration when selecting a scanner. Most document scanners are capable of handling paper records, receipts and photo identification with ease.

To scan photographs, though, you'll need a scanner designed specifically for images. Photo scanners offer higher resolution and enhanced color, preserving the appearance of photographs when rendered digitally.

How many documents do you intend to scan?

If you plan to digitize paper archives, you will need a high-volume document scanner. High-end document scanners usually come with an automatic feeder that can digitize large amounts of paperwork without requiring close supervision, allowing you to create a digital archive of your files. 

If you plan to scan documents occasionally, though, you'll be better served with a less expensive model. Depending on your needs, there are portable document scanners that do the job, as well as smartphone applications that use your phone's camera to digitally recreate documents. [Interested in learning more about document management software? Check out our reviews and best picks.] 

Do you need optical character recognition?

Optical character recognition (OCR) allows your computer to easily read the text in your documents. OCR makes it easy to organize, search for and format your scanned documents. OCR is generally an industry-standard feature included in most modern document scanners, and it can be a huge timesaver for businesses. 

What operating system are you using?

It's critical that the document scanner you're considering purchasing is compatible with the operating system you use. Most document scanners work well with PC software, while fewer are available for Mac. If your business uses Mac OS, verify with the sales rep or the manufacturer that the document scanner you are considering is compatible. (Even if the scanner isn't immediately compatible with Mac OS out of the box, you can install third-party drivers, however, these can sometimes reduce functionality and hamper performance.)

Which type of image sensor do you need?

A contact image sensor is the less expensive and more compact option. However, it will struggle to adequately scan wrinkled paper or bound pages. Buying a charge-coupled device eliminates this problem, but the scanner will take up a substantial amount of space and cost far more.

What resolution do you need?

If you're only scanning documents, the standard 600 to 1,200 dpi will do. If you're scanning photos, you'll need at least 2,000 dpi. However, be prepared to pay substantially more for a higher-dpi scanner.

What color depth do you need?

Like resolution, low color depth is OK if you're only scanning documents. For photos, you should aim for at least 48-bit color depth.

Do you need USB connectivity?

Many modern features wirelessly connect to your devices; however, USB connectivity is still good to have as a backup option. Alternatively, if you want a printer that doesn't connect wirelessly, you can choose USB connectivity over other types of connections.

Are the customer reviews good?

As with any product, specifications are but one element of the overall solution. Without an abundance of positive customer reviews, good specs don't mean much.


Editor's note: Are you looking for a document management solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Common types of scanners

Isn't a document scanner just a scanner? Well, there's more to it. There are several different types of document scanners out there, and each type excels in different ways, depending on its intended use. 

Here's a closer look at some of the most common types of scanners you are likely to come across in your research:

Flatbed scanners

These are the scanners you are likely most familiar with; they are commonly found in homes and offices. If you have a few loose documents to scan, they get the job done. 

These scanners have a glass pane for scanning documents. You place the document on top of the pane and a moving belt slides a light from one side of the machine to the other, scanning your document. 

Some flatbed scanners are as thin as an inch for easy storage. Pricewise, there's a drastic range:  Some flatbed scanners cost as little as $40; others cost as much as $5,000. 

Key features to look for:

  • Speed: Consider the number of pages the scanner can process per minute. Approximately 60 or more pages per minute is considered fast.
  • Maximum paper size: Do you think you will need occasionally scan larger documents? Not all flatbed scanners can accommodate documents that are bigger than the standard paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches.
  • Resolution: Check the scanner's specs. A dpi of 600 is standard, but if you'll scan photos, you'll want a higher dpi. 

Sheetfed scanners

Sheetfed scanners pull documents in from a feeder tray and push them across an imaging sensor before exporting them to an output tray. If you have a lot of single-page documents to scan, some sheetfed scanners can hold a stack of documents and quickly scan them without user assistance. 

You can typically purchase a good sheetfed scanner for as little as $50. Some cost thousands of dollars, but unless you will be scanning thousands of documents, a sheetfed scanner in the $100 to $200 range should work well and last a while. 

Key features to look for: 

  • Versatility: If you plan to scan receipts or other items, such as bound media and photo IDs, check whether the scanner comes with a flatbed scanner conversion kit so you can quickly digitize hard-to-scan items.
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi functionality is ideal, especially for larger offices where several people will share the scanner.
  • Speed: Like flatbed scanners, you need something that's fast, especially if you plan to scan a lot of items. 

Portable scanners

Portable scanners offer a compact option for digitizing documents. They are ideal for professionals who are on the go, be it traveling for business or working from coworking spaces. While portable scanners typically have a lower resolution than flatbed and sheetfed models, they are suitable for a range of intended uses, such as scanning receipts, invoices, drawings, etc. 

Key features to look for: 

  • Size: Don't waste your money on large, bulky units. With portable scanners, you want compact and light.
  • Scanning area size: Consider your scanning needs. Many portable scanners can accommodate standard paper sizes, which is a wonderful feature considering their compact size.
  • Cloud connectivity: Look for a portable scanner that connects to the cloud, as it will make your life a lot easier.

Other types of scanners

Additional scanners include drum scanners and photo scanners, which are ideal for photographers and graphic designers, but not for the average office that has standard documents it wants to scan.

Drum scanners are very expensive. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The ink can also be pricey. 

Another type of scanner is a handheld scanner. Handheld scanners aren't ideal for the typical office. They require the user to manually scan documents by dragging the scanner over a document. With handheld scanners, one little twitch of your hand can ruin the legibility of your scan.

Popular business scanners include:

  • Epson DS-80W ($198.00 on Amazon). This Epson scanner is ideal for those looking for a light, portable scanner. Epson scanners are also universally compatible with Mac OS. It has both USB and wireless connectivity, as well as Google Drive and Dropbox integrations.

  • Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 ($429.00 on Amazon). This Fujitsu can hold up to 50 pages in the automatic document feeder, and it scans 30 pages per minute. It also includes automatic double-sided scanning alongside cropping and blank page deletion. The ScanSnap is compatible with Windows and Mac OS version 10.12.4 or later.
  • Canon imageFORMULA R40 ($297.00 on Amazon). The Canon imageFORMULA comes with 60-sheet-capacity automatic document feeding, 40 page-per-minute scanning speeds and automatic double-sided scanning. It also accommodates oversized documents, receipts, business cards and pretty much any papers you need to scan.

Additional reporting by Max Freedman and Adam C. Uzialko.

Image Credit: smolaw11 / Getty Images
Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo
business.com Contributing Writer
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional and contributing writer. She has worked with businesses large and small to help them drive revenue through integrated marketing campaigns and enjoys sharing her expertise with our audience.