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Whether you want to archive your printed photos, digitize business records, or simply want a multifunctional machine for whatever needs arise, a decent scanner is an invaluable resource.
The question is, how do you pick the best scanner? With hundreds of models on the market, from a wide range of manufacturers, how can you sort the wheat from the chaff, and figure out which ones offer the best value for your money?
Well, we at BestReviews are here to help. Our mission is to provide fair, thorough, and unbiased reviews so that you, the consumer, can make informed purchasing decisions. To do so, we test items in our labs, gather information from existing customers, consult experts, and do extensive product research.
Above you'll find our product matrix, featuring our top five scanners. But first, read on for our full guide to scanners and how to select the perfect model to fit your requirements.
First, let's examine the three main types of scanner: flatbed, sheet-fed, and portable.
Flatbed scanners have a fixed glass bed with a hinged lid. To scan an item, you place the item on the bed and close the lid.
Pros: Tend to have a higher resolution than sheet-fed scanners, so they’re better for photos. Even the most basic models still reproduce images at a decent quality.
Cons: Large, not suitable for high-volume users as it takes a while to scan each item.
Price: Around $50 to $70 for basic models, up to $400 and more for the most high-end options.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Fujitsu iX500 ScanSnap Scanner
Fujitsu ScanSnap owners told us they really like the software that comes with this product. The scanner comes bundled with Adobe Acrobat X standard, although potential buyers should note that the software is only compatible with Windows operating systems. This software lets users create searchable PDFs and edit scanned PDF files. The software also offers extra privacy and security by generating password-enabled and digital ID-attached PDF files.
Sheet-fed scanner look a bit like a printer or the sheet-feeder on a copy machine. You put documents in at the top, and the machine spits them out the other end, after they've been scanned.
Pros: You can put in a whole stack of paperwork and leave a sheetfed scanner to do its thing. Excellent for office use and high-volume users who need to scan large piles of documents.
Cons: Have a low resolution, so more suited to scanning text documents than images. They can also be quite expensive.
Price: Start around $150 for basic models. Professional models for heavy-duty office use can cost more than $1,000.
You can get color restoring scanners that will automatically correct the color in old photos, even if they have yellowed over time.
Portable scanners are great for people who have to scan to a laptop on the go ⸺ a niche market, perhaps, but useful nonetheless.
Pros: Compact and simple to use, some models are battery-operated, so you can even use them in places where you don't have access to a power outlet.
Cons: Not as high-res as full-size models; only really appeals to a niche market.
Price: Basic models can cost as little as $50, but expect to pay $250 to $300 for high-end options with automatic document feeders.
If you’re trying to “go green,” a scanner can help cut down on the amount of paper you use and increase your ability to share documents virtually instead of physically.
Scanner resolution is generally measured in dots per inch (DPI). The higher the DPI, the better quality the scanned images will be. Some high-end scanners can scan images with a resolution of 9,600 DPI, but this is probably overkill, unless you want to take a small photo and blow it up to a huge poster size. Something in the 600 to 1,200 DPI range is fine for a basic flatbed scanner. For sheet-fed document scanners, there's not much need for a DPI over 300, since you'll only be scanning text.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Canon CanoScan LiDE220 Scanner
Modes and Usability
Owners of the Canon CanoScan tell us that this machine offers a great solution for both the scanning and organization of PDF files. The CanoScan features a convenient Auto Scan Mode that automatically adjusts settings depending on the item in the scanner. A single USB cable handles both data and power, and an advanced Z-lid expansion top accommodates larger/bulkier items. Some customers express concern over the permanently fixed lid, noting that it can get in the way of scanning larger objects.
Duplexing is the term given to scanning both sides of a sheet at the same time. Only sheet-fed and portable scanners are capable of duplexing, and not all of them can do so. For some people, it's an unnecessary feature, but if you routinely scan large amounts of double-sided documents, it's a real time saver.
If you are hoping to scan old photos, it's better to use the original negative of the photo rather than the printed version.
For those who keep their documents in cloud storage, the ability of a scanner to send scanned items straight to cloud can save a lot of time and effort, especially if you're working in high volumes.
Trying to digitize a box of old yearbooks? Trying to scan in tax/financial documents? Trying to scan receipts? Different scanners are specialized for different purposes, with wildly different price points. Sometimes, even your phone may work with apps like Scanbot and Evernote.
Most scanners simply connect to a computer directly via a USB cable, but some have wireless networking capabilities, which is useful in an office, or if you want to send a document wirelessly to a device without a USB port.
If you’re working in an office that deals with sensitive material, you may want a scanner that can help encrypt or password protect your documents.
Optical character recognition (OCR) is an extremely clever function that turns a scanned document into an editable text file, rather than scanning it in as an image. If you'd otherwise have to type the document by hand, this is a feature that'll save you an awful lot of time. Some scanners come with bundled OCR software included, but others don't, so be sure to select one that does if this functionality is important to you.
Q. Can my scanner only scan images or documents into a computer?
A. Some scanners can only scan images into a computer, however, others can connect to
Android and Apple devices via WiFi and deliver documents directly to a tablet or smartphone.
Q. Can I scan negatives with a scanner?
A. Yes, you can scan negatives using a scanner, but with a couple of provisos: it must be a flatbed scanner with a resolution of at least 1,200 DPI, and you need to have a transparency adaptor.
Q. What kind of software should my scanner come with?
A. Different scanners come with different kinds of software that can enhance your scanning experience, and make your life that little bit easier. We've already talked about OCR software that transforms a written document into editable text, but other programs that may come with your scanner include photo editing software with color restoration, software for compiling tax or business reports, and PDF converters. Some software simply lets you manage your scanned documents so you can email them directly to people, or send them to various online locations.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.