A useful piece of electronic equipment for the home office, a scanner digitizes documents and images and creates files to store on a computer or the cloud to back up data and share with others. The best scanner can digitize hundreds of pages a day—some can process upward of 80 pages per minute. Some scanners not only digitize standard-size pages but also work with legal sizes, receipts, business cards, and old photos. Keep reading to discover the essential shopping considerations as well as a selection of products among various categories.
- BEST OVERALL: Fujitsu ScanSnap Versatile Cloud Enabled Scanner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Brother DS-640 Compact Mobile Document Scanner
- BEST FOR DOCUMENTS: Canon ImageFORMULA R40 Office Document Scanner
- BEST WIRELESS: Brother ImageCenter Wireless Document Scanner
- BEST SLIDER: KODAK SCANZA Digital Film & Slide Scanner
- BEST FOR SMALL SPACES: Epson DS-80W Document Scanner
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Scanner
To determine which model is best, users must consider their specific scanning needs. Will the scanner be used with paper only or with photos and receipts as well? Also consider the amount of scanning required, whether it will comprise single pages or hundreds of pages a day. Also keep in mind the amount of space available for the unit and how it will connect, wired or wireless.
Scanners are available in various types that differ in functionality.
- Flatbed scanners, the most common type, can scan almost any sort of paper document, depending on size. Usually, the lid can adjust to fit larger documents, such as books and magazines. Some flatbeds support page sizes as large as 11 by 17, the maximum area for any scanner.
- Photo scanners, ideal for scanning photographs and other images, provide color depth superior to that of a standard flatbed scanner. Some photo scanners also come with photo-editing software.
- Document scanners, also known as sheet-fed scanners, can handle different page sizes. A document scanner can process a large number of pages daily.
- Portable scanners range in size from about as large as a pen to around a foot in length. They work when connected to a handheld device via USB or wirelessly and don’t require a lot of power to function. You can scan a page one line at a time with a pen-like scanning tool or, with a larger model, the entire document.
- Slide scanners scan 35mm slides and film negatives. Depending on the model, users either insert the slide directly into a slot or place the slide in a tray.
The amount of space available in a home office or on a desk may influence the purchase. Smaller flatbed scanners support 8.5-by-11-inch pages only, while larger ones can scan up to 11 by 17 inches. Compact scanners work well, especially with a computer and printer. Measure the available space and keep those dimensions handy when reviewing scanner specifications.
Scanners work on the concept of reflection and transmission. A light shines on a document, passes the image through a series of mirrors and lenses, and reflects it onto a sensor or photosensitive element that digitizes the information. Not all scanners use the same type of image sensor to accomplish this task. Two possible image senors are: Charged Coupled Device (CCD) and Contact Imaging Sensor (CIS).
CCD, the most widely used scanner technology, uses electronic integrated circuit sensors. CCD offers high-resolution details, extensive colors, and sharp focus (depth of field). With this technology, fold lines can be edited and reduced to be less visible. CCD scanners capture 16-bit grayscale (64,000 shades of gray) to produce sharp, clear, high-resolution graphics.
CIS scanners use fiber optic lenses to transfer the image information to various sensors. Although less expensive than CCD scanners, image quality isn’t as good. A CIS scanner has lower resolution, depth of field, and range; it only captures 8-bit grayscale (256 shades of gray). If working with text documents only and not high-quality, high-resolution images, a CIS scanner may be a good option.
Resolution and Bit Depth
A scanner reads and records information as a grid of pixels. Resolution is determined by the multiplication of the vertical and horizontal pixels. The amount of detail captured depends on the scanning resolution, which is measured in DPI (dots per inch). The higher the DPI, the higher the resolution and the greater the image detail—and the larger the file size of the resulting scan.
Bit depth—the amount of information gathered from a document or photo—basically pertains to color. Higher bit depths increase the colors used. Grayscale 8-bit images use 256 levels of gray, while color 24-bit images contain nearly 17 million colors.
For text documents, a DPI of 300 is sufficient; no noticeable difference exists between 300 DPI or 6,400 DPI. Graphic designers and professional photographers benefit most from increased DPI. Most scanners today support 600 DPI, providing enough pixels to maintain photographic quality. For slides and negatives, look for a scanner that can provide between 2,400 and 3,200 DPI, especially to print a decent-size photo. Enlarging negatives requires a higher DPI to achieve good results.
Scanners function at different speeds, measured in pages per minute (ppm) and impressions per minute (ipm), which refers to scanning both sides of a document simultaneously. Document scanners may work as slowly as 8 ppm and 4 ipm. Fast document scanners can process hundreds of ppm and ipm. These scanners are typically expensive and have advanced features like double-feed detection, auto profiles, and blank feed detection.
Modern scanners work with both Mac and Windows operating systems. Some scanners feature compatibility with Linux.
Scanners come equipped with software that allows users to create PDF files and edit photos and text. Some models come with accounting software. For those who often update their contacts, some business card scanners have OCR (Optical Character Recognition), which converts scanned information into editable, searchable data to upload into a database.
While a well-functioning home office is equipped with all the tools and accessories to help accomplish tasks efficiently, desktop clutter can be distracting. Keep a tidy desk by investing in a scanner model that not only scans documents but also handles business cards and receipts.
Our Top Picks
The following list contains a selection of scanners in a range of categories, considered among the best on the market. They were chosen in accordance with the shopping considerations detailed above.
This document scanner from Fujitsu boasts scanning speeds of up to 40 ppm and 80 ipm. It has automatic color and page size detection, blank page removal, and automatic de-skew rotation to correct a misaligned page. Users can scan documents, receipts, photos, and business cards and program up to 30 optimized profiles based on their scanning needs. A 4.3-inch touch screen allows users to select the device or cloud folder to store their scans.
The scanner connects via Wi-Fi. It allows for four licenses with separate icon and profile customization for each. It also has a 50-sheet auto feeder and a single button scan.
The Brother DS-640 portable scanner, which weighs just 1.5 pounds and measures less than 1 foot in length, fits in most laptop bags or backpacks. Though small in size, it can scan up to 16 pages per minute in black and white or color. It powers via USB, so users simply need to plug it into a laptop—no outlet required.
With the handy “Scan-to” app, users can scan to multiple destinations—PC, network, cloud services, and email and OCR. The scanner includes software for image and text optimization, such as automatic color detection and adjustment, image rotation, and text enhancements.
Consider the ImageFORMULA R40 scanner for scanning lots of pages quickly. Its automatic feeder holds up to 60 sheets, can scan up to 40 pages per minute, and automatically scans double-sided documents in black and white or color. It can scan receipts, photos, business cards, reports, contracts, and standard and oversize pages. Users can create PDF files and JPEG files and convert business cards into contacts. One-touch operation makes it easy to use, and documents can be scanned directly to the cloud. The scanner connects to a computer via USB.
Set up this Brother model in one central location, and multiple users can scan to network locations, mobile devices, and cloud-based applications, such as Google Drive, from anywhere in the house. The wireless document scanner connects via Web Connect—no computer required.
The scanner allows for single- and double-sided scans in both color and black and white. It can scan up to 40 pages per minute, supports larger pages, and saves multiple pages into one file. The software allows users to convert the images into PDF and Microsoft Office documents. A 3.7-inch touch screen provides easy, intuitive access.
This KODAK SCANZA scanner can convert old negatives into digitized photos to save, share, edit, and print. It converts old 35mm, 126, 110, Super 8 and 8mm negatives and slides into JPEGs. The easy-to-use slide scanner boasts a built-in 3.5-inch LCD tilt-up display that lets users view the images as they scan.
The SCANZA’s one-touch buttons have easy scan and save functions. The scanner can output to a TV, USB device, HDMI device, or an SD card. The on-screen instructions let the user know which adapter to use for each film type. All the necessary adapters and cables are included
The Epson DS-80W is slim and compact, but it supports wireless connectivity. It automatically detects transfers from a wired to a wireless connection and vice versa.
The scanner can scan a single page in 4 seconds and up to 15 pages per minute. Users can send scans from their devices or to cloud-based programs like Dropbox and Google Drive. The LCD at the top of the unit provides information about battery life and connectivity mode
FAQs About Scanners
For more information about using scanners effectively, check out the answers to these common questions.
Q. How does a scanner work?
Scanners work on the concept of reflection and transmission. A light shines on a document, passes the image through a series of mirrors and lenses, and reflects it onto a sensor or photosensitive element that digitizes the information.
Q. Can I scan all types of documents with one scanner?
Yes, some scanners allow you to scan various types of documents, including pages, receipts, photos, and business cards. Some flatbeds let you scan photo negatives as well.
Q. How do I maintain my scanner to extend its lifetime?
Keeping a scanner clean may help extend its lifespan. Always follow the cleaning instructions that come with the scanner to ensure optimal maintenance.