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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, not only do you save space, you increase the security of sensitive information, plus you have an electronic copy that will not be irretrievably lost. 

There are several different types of document scanners on the market and dozens of models within each category. By better understanding the different types of document scanners, you can choose the best scanner for your business. 

How to choose a scanner for your small business

Choosing a scanner might seem complicated at first. There are several requirements to keep in mind, as well as many different types of scanners to choose from. To help you choose the best document scanner for your business, keep the following factors in mind. 

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 a clear, crisp image. Are you scanning paper documents and receipts? Do you need to scan photo identification? Are you planning on scanning photographs? What you are scanning 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 on digitizing decades of paper archives, you will need a high-volume document scanner that can handle stacks of documents without much oversight or manual labor involved. High-end document scanners usually come with an automatic feeder that can digitize large amounts of paperwork without supervision, allowing you to create a digital archive and ditch the filing cabinets. [Interested in learning more about document management software? Check out our reviews and best picks.] 

If you only scan documents occasionally, though, you'll be better served with a cheaper model. There are portable document scanners that do the trick, as well as smartphone applications that leverage the camera on your phone to digitally recreate documents. 

Do you need optical character recognition?

Optical character recognition (OCR) is an advanced document management feature that 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 OSX, ask the sales rep or the manufacturer if the document scanner you are considering is compatible. Most scanners can work using third-party drivers even if they aren't ready to go with Mac OSX out of the box, but third-party drivers can sometimes reduce functionality and hamper performance.


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Common types of scanners

Isn't a document scanner just a scanner? Well, there's more to it, as it turns out. 

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 can be purchased for 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: Not all flatbed scanners can accommodate documents that are bigger than the standard paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches.
  • Resolution: Flatbed scanners are known for exporting high-quality scans, but that is not universally the case. Check the scanners specs. A dpi of 600 is standard, but if you'll be scanning 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 have a big business that 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: Add a flatbed scanner conversion kit for scanning smaller documents such as receipts, passports, bound media and photo identification.
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi direct functionality is ideal for larger offices where several people will share the scanner.
  • Speed: Like flatbed scanners, you need something that's fast, especially if you will be scanning a lot. 

Portable scanners

Portable scanners offer a compact option for digitizing documents. They are ideal for people who are on the go, be it traveling for business or working from co-working 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: Unless the scanner easily fits into a backpack, don't waste your money on large, bulky units. With portable scanners, you want compact and light.
  • Scanning area size: Consider your scanning needs. A lot of 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.

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 to scan. Quality drum scanners are very expensive. On the low end of the price scale, a good drum scanner typically costs $15,000. Low-end photo scanners can cost as little as $100, but if it has a built-in printer, the ink can get pricey. 

Another type of scanner you may have heard of 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 your scan.

Adam C. Uzialko contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

Image Credit: pinkomelet/Getty Images
Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo
business.com Contributing Writer
See Marisa Sanfilippo's Profile
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.