How to Choose a Scanner?

Digital scanners may not be as popular as they were ten years ago. Modern smartphones have high-quality cameras that can easily replace a cheap old scanner. Still, if you need the best scanner for a PC, we can share some tips on how to choose a scanner. Those will help you to spend your money wisely and choose a solid option that will serve for many years and without issues.

What is a Scanner?

A scanner is a digital device that uses light and optics to convert “analog” images on paper into digital pictures for further photo editing, image or text recognition, storing, and many other purposes. Usually, a user needs to put a source document on a glass surface, close the lid, and initiate the scanning process. A scanner illuminates the document and moves the lamp from one side to another to convert a piece of paper into a digital image in a scanning software.

how to choose a scanner

What to look for when buying a scanner? Here are 10 tips you need to know if you want to buy a high-quality and inexpensive scanner.

What to Look for in a Scanner?

1. Do you Actually Need It?

You do not need to buy the best scanner for home use to scan a random document, table, picture, or any other piece of paper. If you have a modern Android smartphone or an iPhone with a decent camera, then everything you need is already with you.

You can use a standard photo app or third-party programs for document scanning. One of the best apps for such tasks is Microsoft Lens. You can also utilize any other free or premium app from the Google Play Store or App Store to scan documents, whiteboards, business cards, and other data with an impressive amount of detail, lens correction, OCR, and others. These will work even better than a regular scanner for home use.

There are three great things about this method. The first is the image quality (the better camera you have, the better result you get) and the second is the fact that many high-quality apps are completely free. Microsoft Lens is our top pic. No ads, no in-app payments. Just download and go. The third is that it takes much less time and effort than a regular scanner. Just point your phone and take a picture. It will automatically save an image, recognize text, correct lens distortion, etc.

If using a phone to scan documents does not sound like your cup of tea, keep reading this article so you know how to choose the best scanner for your buck. You might also need the best scanner for a PC if you need maximum resolution possible, or you want to get the best image quality to digitalize old photos.

2. Scanner Type

You can find three types of scanners:

  • Flatbed scanner. Flatbed scanners have a glass surface on which user places a sheet of paper, book, magazine, photo, etc. A lamp moves underneath the scanning surface and digitalizes a document above. This type of scanners is the most popular. Dozens of different models with different features make this the best scanner for home use or small office. What is good about the flatbed scanner is that you can scan any paper size. Canon 4508B002 CanoScan LiDE210 is our top pick in this category. If the price is too high, Epson Perfection V39 will do the job for you for much less. Epson DS-1630 is for those who want to get more premium features for less price.
  • Sheet-fed scanner. These are designed to scan individual sheets of paper and can’t scan something like a regular book, journal or other thick publications or documents. A sheet-fed scanner looks like a regular printer in which you put a piece of paper. It goes inside from one side, gets scanned, and then goes out from the other side. The good thing about these scanners is that they eat much less space on your desk than regular flatbed scanners.

    Important. Do not use sheet-fed scanners to scan fragile old documents. Rollers inside a sheet-fed scanner can easily damage old paper. For scanning fragile and old photo or documents, use traditional flat-bed scanners.

    Brother Mobile Color Page Scanner DS-620 is one of the most portable sheet-fed scanners. Also, it does not require additional AC power. All you need to do is plug it into your PC, install the required software and start scanning. This scanner gets the power from a USB port, so make sure you have a spare port in your PC. Note that portable scanners might require a slightly more powerful USB ports with higher power output. Epson WorkForce ES-50 is another inexpensive sheet-fed scanner. What we like about this scanner is that it is very fast. It takes only 5 seconds to scan a sheet of paper. The only downside is that it requires external power.

  • Slide scanner. The main purpose of slide scanners is in the name: they will scan slides (film) and transfer them to your PC. By the way, many flatbed scanners can also work with slides using dedicated slide adapters. Slide scanners are not that popular, but you can find a few nice pics, like KODAK SCANZA. Cheap and effective.
what to look for in a scanner
WorkForce ES-50

3. Image Sensor

There are 2 different types of image sensors you can find in modern scanners:

CIS (Contact Image Sensor). The main advantage of CIS-equipped scanners is their size. A simple mechanism allows making these scanners relatively compact. Another important thing is that prices are lower comparing to CCD-based scanners.

As for disadvantages, CIS scanners have extremely shallow depth-of-field. This makes much more difficult to scan a crumpled document or something like an open book (the final image becomes blurred in the areas with larger space between a document and a scanning surface). If you scan mostly single-page documents, then CIS scanners are your best choice.

CCD (Charge-Coupled Device). Much better depth-of-field and significantly better colors. Do you want to buy the best scanner with the best image quality possible? Well, prepare not only to spend more money but also accommodate much more space in your office or room. These bad boys are big, heavy, noisy and expensive. Check out Plustek OpticPro A320L or Epson Perfection V850 Pro

4. Document Feeder

A scanner with an automatic document feeder is the best option for those who regularly scan lots of documents. This saves tons of time and eliminates the need to manually insert and pull out every document you need to scan. If you got 20 sheets of documents to scan, the process will take a while. This is where scanners with automatic document feeders come in handy.

The main disadvantage is the fact that you can’t scan something thicker than a regular piece of paper, so forget about digitizing books or magazines. For such a task, shop for the best flatbed scanner. Brother High-Speed Desktop Document Scanner ADS-2200 automatically feeds up to 50 sheets of paper, plus it can scan a document from both sides simultaneously. Canon imageFORMULA DR-C225 II is a bit more expensive but it can offer a smaller size and fast scanning (up to 25 pages per minute).

5. Maximum Scanning Area

If you shop for the best scanner for home use or small office, you probably do not need a scanner capable of digitizing giant sheets of papers such as A2 or A1. For these scenarios, a regular A4 scanner fits the best. And yes, if you buy a flatbed scanner, it is backward-compatible in terms of size. For example, a scanner with a maximum scanning surface of an A3 document size can scan everything smaller than A3.

For large-sized documents (A2 or higher), you need a separate device called Duplex, such as Ambir ImageScan Pro 490i.

6. Resolution

Optimal scanning resolution depends on why you want to buy a scanner for a PC or Mac. Most scanners have a scanning resolution from 600 to 1200 DPI, which is more than enough to make a high-quality document copy.

The thing is that the resolution of those scanners is usually not enough to provide you with high-quality digital photocopies. If you need a scanner to digitize old photos on a regular basis, go for models with a resolution higher than 2000 DPI. Obviously, this will hit your wallet harder than regular models. Epson Perfection V600 is a nice option with high DPI and compact size. Also, it comes with film adapters for slide scanning. Epson Perfection V39 is for those on tight budget.

7. Color Depth

This is a very important aspect if you wonder how to choose the best photo scanner. If you want your photo to look the best, invest in a scanner that offers better color depth.

TLDR: A higher color depth gives you more colors, smoother gradients and more vivid, vibrant output. Skip this step if you need a scanner for black and white document copying. Go for a model with the lesser color depth (24-bit or 8 bits for every color) to get other more useful features or just save some money on buying the best scanner. If you need a scanner for photos, buy a model with a higher color depth (up to 48-bit). For example, Epson FastFoto FF-680W.

8. USB is What You Need

Some shops may try to sell you ancient stuff with proprietary and outdated connectors. Do not buy these. Make sure the scanner of your choice connects to a PC via regular USB cable. Remember, though, that you may need a USB-A to USB-C dongle if you use a modern MacBook or your Windows laptop has no other ports.

The best option is to buy a scanner that connects to your computer wirelessly. There are dozens of scanners that use Wi-Fi to send the output to your PC. This option will be more expensive, but the convenience of wireless connection is worth extra. Doxie Go SE Wi-Fi belongs to portable sheet-fed scanners that work wirelessly. You don’t need any cable. The scanner sends the final image over Wi-Fi and it does not even need a cable for power. A built-in battery provides enough juice to work in fully wireless mode. We can also recommend Brother ADS-1700W – it is a good wireless scanner for home and office use.

9. Software Compatibility

Scanners are not like smartphones. There’s no need to ship a new model every year. This means you can find a 5-years old or even older models that remain relevant and in active production. It is better to check manufacturers’ websites and make sure the software is compatible with your Windows or macOS version. It would be a shame to buy a scanner, unbox it, connect it to a PC and find out that it can’t work with Windows 10, Windows 11, or the latest versions of macOS.

10. Customers Review

Always pay attention to what other people say about products you consider buying. Often the review section can provide you more useful information than articles like the one you are currently reading. Still, we gathered here some general info that you need to consider when buying a scanner. We hope you will find it useful, and it will help you to find the best scanner.

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