You have decided it’s time to buy a scanner for your office, but how do you know which one to choose? Before you head to the office supply store and face a dizzying array of options, determine exactly how you plan to use your scanner. Answering these simple questions will simplify your decision dramatically – and will ensure your money is well-spent.
- What do you need to scan? This is the single-most important question to answer before you make your purchase. Are you planning to digitize vast amounts of two-sided pages, or is your scanner intended for small, occasional projects? How big are your originals? Are you scanning paperwork, snapshots and film, or even 3D objects?
- Sheetfed or flatbed? A sheetfed scanner is a simple and inexpensive option for digitizing loose (unbound) paper. It scans individual sheets of paper in much the same way as a fax machine. It’s great for letter-size paper – not so great for small items like business cards or receipts. For small items, flatbed is a better choice. Flatbed scanners are also best for fragile items that are not bendable or could be easily damaged ( e.g. rare stamps or dried flowers) – as well as multidimensional objects, books and other bound papers.
- Do you need an automatic document feeder? If you’re only scanning a few pages at a time, a lower-priced manual feeder is your best bet. However, if your project requires longer documents, an automatic document feeder (ADF) is worth the extra few bucks.
- Are you scanning two-sided pages? If so, you should consider a scanner with duplexing capabilities. Duplexing scanners – the most expensive option – are equipped to scan two pages at the same time – and quickly. Depending on the size and frequency of your duplexing scanning projects, the cost may be well worth it. If you don’t scan two-sided objects often – or if your budget is tight – you can pick a scanner with a manual duplex feature. Duplexing automatic document feeders are higher-priced, but they automatically scan one side, turn the page over, and scan the other side.
- How much resolution do you need? Most scanners offer a minimum resolution of 600 ppi – that’s high enough resolution for most paper and photo scanning. However, you may require much higher optical resolution – 4,800 ppi or more – for negatives or 35 mm slides, especially if you’re planning to make prints at a much larger size than your film original. Likewise, such resolution is required for capturing very fine detail from small original images or objects like flowers, coins and stamps.
- Letter or legal? Flatbed scanners are typically designed for letter-sized paper and won’t work well for legal sheets. Flatbeds with automatic document feeders usually can scan legal pages with the ADF, but it’s important to double-check before you make your purchase.
- Do you need a special-purpose scanner? While general-purpose scanners suit most project needs, you may consider special-purpose scanners for books, slides and business cards. Other options include portable scanners, designed to fit in a laptop bag, and scanners the size of a pen. Choose your scanner according to the type and scale of your scanning projects.
- Is software free? Most, if not all scanners, are sold with the software you need to get started. Depending on your scanning project, you may want to seek out specialized scanning software that may have more features than the one bundled with the scanner. Features – such as photo editing, business card filing, the ability to create searchable PDFs, OCR , etc. – are excellent complements to existing scanning software.