If you have piles of paper stacking up on your desk, a document scanner can move that clutter into the digital realm. However, not all document scanners are created equal. Some excel at receipts and small documents, while others specialize at digitizing long tomes in a single bound. To cut through the confusion we've laid out a step-by-step buying guide that will lead you to the right model.
Choosing the Right Document Scanner
Step 1: What Are You Scanning?
Our review focuses on document scanners, which can generally handle paper documents, receipts, and ID cards. If you'll mostly be scanning these types of things, read on.
If you're looking to digitize a bunch of old photos, you're going to want a dedicated photo scanner. These models are generally bed style scanners (so you don't bend the original photograph) and are better optimized for high resolution and more accurate color reproduction.
Step 2: How Often/Much Do You Scan?
The volume and type of scanning jobs that crop up during a normal day will largely dictate which model you should get. If you tend to scan only a few documents or receipts a week, you're best off using a cheap smartphone app like the Scanner Pro App. This app uses the camera on your smartphone to create high quality PDFs that can be shared via email, text, or Bluetooth. If you tend to scan a few 10ish page long documents a week, a portable model like the Brother DS-620 Mobile adds a level of convenience over having to take photos of each individual page. You just have to feed each page you want to scan into the scanner and it does the rest.
If you scan dozens of pages everyday, it is worth investing in a high end model like the Fujitsu iX500 ScanSnap or the Epson WorkForce ES-400. High end models can zip through documents in a flash and often have automatic document feeders so you don't have to load the pages individually. You'll want to make sure you have a document feeder that is large enough for the types of documents you tend to scan, as their capacities range from 10-pages to 80-pages.
Step 3: Do You Need Optical Character Recognition? Probably
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a software program that recognizes text, resulting in PDFs with searchable and copy/pastable text. Even if you're not planning to copy and paste large sections of text from the documents you scan, OCR can help keep you organized as you can search your hard drive for documents based on the text they contain (ie. find every document that contains a certain credit card number). All but one of the models we tested have OCR, though some tend to be more accurate than others. You can look to the Software section of our reviews for more information on a model's OCR capabilities.
Step 4: Does Resolution Matter?
For text documents you really don't need to worry about resolution. All but the smallest of text is perfectly readable at a 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution, and all of the scanners we tested provide at least 600 dpi, double the minimum acceptable quality.
Step 5: Think About Compatability
Almost all scanners come with PC compatible software, but some of them don't play so nice with Mac operating systems. While you can generally find 3rd party drivers for models that aren't inherently Mac friendly, this often comes at the expense of some level of functionality. If you're a Mac user it's better to stick with a model that comes with Mac software in the box.
With the right tool you can turn stacks of paper into neat, emailable PDFs. We hope that our buying guide has led you to the right model for all you document digitization needs. You can head over to our main scanner review for a full breakdown of the models we tested.