Scanner or multifunction printer?
Scanners let you create digital versions of hard-copy material, loose paper documents and photos being the most common. But there are other uses too. Some scanners handle business cards, magazines, 3D objects as well as transparent material such as slides, negatives and film.
In recent years, standalone scanners have taken a back seat to multifunction printers (MFPs), which combine a scanner, printer, copier and sometimes even a fax machine (see our related report on multifunction printers. An MFP might be ideal if your scanning needs are very light – i.e., just making a few scans here and there. But when factors like capacity, media compatibility, speed, image quality and portability become important, a standalone scanner might be a better choice.
Scanners come in many shapes and sizes, and many are designed to serve a specific need. Flatbed scanners are the most common. Because you literally place the objects into a "scanbed," most flatbed scanners are considered multipurpose, as they accept a wide variety of media types. Aside from loose documents and photos, most can scan bound material such as books and magazines, and some can scan 3D objects. Since you don't have to put anything through a document feeder, flatbed scanners are the best for protecting easily damaged source material, such as stamps or irreplaceable family photos.
If you'll be archiving lots of unbound pages and documents, a sheed-fed document scanner is a better option, as constantly having to lift a flatbed lid and scan one page at a time can be very time-consuming. A sheet-fed scanner with an automatic document feeder (ADF) can churn through an entire stack of documents much quicker. If you'll want to scan both sides of a page, look out for duplexing capabilities – these come in both manual and automatic varieties.
Most portable scanners are also sheet-fed. Unlike document scanners, these can be slow and tedious to use, but they are deal for scanning in a few paper documents or business cards while on the road. These are easy to tote around, typically weighing less than a pound, and are small enough to fit inside a backpack.
If image quality is the absolute chief concern, you'll need to shell out significantly more cash for a professional-grade photo scanner. Photo scanners offer much higher optic resolution (measured in dots per inch, or dpi) than typical multipurpose or document scanners, and many include premium features to help improve scan quality, such as automatically removing dust and scratches. Unless you're a photographer or graphics professional, a dedicated photo scanner may be overkill, however.
Scanners range in price from just under $100 to well into the thousands of dollars. To help you find the best scanner for your needs without breaking the bank, ConsumerSearch digs through expert and user reviews to find the best picks for different uses and users. Scanners are evaluated on the quality of the scans they produce, of course, but also on their ease of use and how well they stand up over time.