How to buy a scanner
A scanner buying guide
Scanners are a helpful part of a modern business or home office, because they make it simple to reduce paper clutter and organize your records digitally. Today's scanners let you easily convert not only paper documents, but photographic slides, business cards and other materials into digital files for archiving and easy access. Common types of scanners include flatbed, sheet-fed, multifunction machines, portable and specialty scanners.
>> What will you scan?
The first thing to consider when you are learning how to buy a scanner is how you will be using it. The types of materials you intend to digitize play a big role in helping you choose the right scanner. For most household and small offices, a flatbed design is suitable. This design accommodates a variety of materials including business cards, magazines, receipts and pictures. It is an all-purpose scanner.
If you anticipate regularly scanning items larger than a standard piece of paper, consider a specialty scanner that accommodates larger documents. If you plan to preserve film, slides or negatives, you will need a specialized film scanner for the best results.
For convenience in scanning a large volume of business cards regularly, the best scanner to buy might be a dedicated business card scanner or card-scanning attachment along with software that exports the scans to your contact manager.
>> How fast do you need to be able to scan?
Speed is an important feature to consider when you think about which scanner to buy. For home use or occasional use in an office, a scanner's speed is probably less significant than its quality and versatility. Flatbed scanners or multi-function machines with scanners are usually a good fit for light use.
If you will be using a scanner to process batches of documents or have thousands of documents to digitize, you'll probably prefer a different type of scanner — one designed to handle a heavy workload. The features of scanners designed for heavy usage vary, from sheet feeder functions, to automatic document feeders (ADF), to two-sided scanning (duplexing). In many cases, you can meet your needs with an advanced multi-function machine with an ADF. There are also several high-quality scanners available for home and office use that offer duplexing options, even in a portable design.
>> What quality do you need for your digital files?
When a scanner converts a document to a digital file, it literally takes a picture. The quality of the image produced varies from unit to unit.
One of the most popular features of a scanner is color. If you are going to be scanning pictures or photos, a color scanner is essential. If you will primarily scan documents, like contracts and correspondence, then color is not as important. Document scanners that produce only black and white images might be the right option for you.
The next quality consideration is the resolution, expressed in dpi (dots per inch). One of the main scanner advantages is that you can convert printed pictures into a high quality digital picture. If you will be scanning pictures on a regular basis, look for a top-rated scanner with 600 dpi or higher. If the scanner will just be for general use, then 200-300 dpi will be sufficient. Some scanners offer dpi of 12,800 or higher.
>> Scanner Comparison
The scanner comparison below helps you examine the different features and benefits of the most common scanners. You will notice the various models have a lot in common.
|Scans photos ||Y ||Y ||Y ||Y |
|Scans documents ||Y ||Y ||Y ||Y |
|Print/fax ||N ||Y ||N ||N |
|Low profile design ||N ||N ||Y ||Y |
|Works without computer ||N ||N ||Some models ||Y |
|Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections ||Some models ||Some models ||Some models ||Some models |
|Color available ||Y ||Y ||Y ||Y |
|Sheet feeder/ADF ||Some models ||Some models ||Y ||N |
| || || || || || |
>> Is the scanner compatible with your system?
Most types of scanners are compatible with PCs and Macs, so if you use one of these two types of common computers, you will have the broadest selection available. However, if you run a system like Linux or a custom operating system, you might need to refine your search by compatibility.
Another consideration is the types of connections on a scanner. Most scanners connect to a computer via USB cable, Ethernet cable or wireless (Wi-Fi) connection. Some scanners have VGA or HDMI connectors. For wired connections, make sure that your computer has an open port (plug) that matches the type of scanner connection.
>> Will you be scanning on the go?
If you are wondering how to buy a scanner for use on the go, look into handheld scanners and portable scanners. Both types of portable scanners have the advantage of a compact design, which allows you to take them anywhere. Typical designs are a wand for handheld and sheet-fed for portable models. To use a wand scanner, simply turn it on, hold it in your hand and slowly pass it over the document. Sheet-fed models feed a document through a narrow opening over the scanner element to capture the image.
Other convenient features these scanners might include are Wi-Fi connectivity or scanning to a memory card. With the memory card option, you do not have to connect to a computer to take a scan. With Wi-Fi, the computer must be nearby, but the scanner does not have to connect physically to a computer. A USB connection, battery or traditional AC adapter can power portable scanners.
>> How to buy a scanner: choosing which scanner to buy
The most important considerations are the size and type of documents you will be scanning, how much material you have to digitize and whether you need to do your scanning on the go. After reading this scanner buying guide, you should have a better idea of which scanner to buy.