Scanners come in many shapes and sizes, but flatbed scanners, in which you place the objects on a flat "scanbed" and close the lid before scanning, are the most common type. This design works for a wide variety of media types: loose documents and photos, bound material such as books and magazines, and even three-dimensional objects if they're not too bulky. Since you don't have to put anything through a document feeder, flatbed scanners are the best for protecting easily damaged materials, such as stamps or irreplaceable family photos.
If you need to archive lots of unbound pages and documents, it gets very time-consuming to constantly lift a flatbed lid and scan one page at a time. For jobs like these, a sheet-fed document scanner is a better option. A sheet-fed scanner lets you insert pages one by one, without the extra step of lifting and lowering the lid. Many have the convenience of a built in automatic document feeder (ADF), which can churn through an entire stack of paper without user intervention. Many sheet-fed scanners also have duplexing capabilities, which means that they can scan both sides of a page that's been fed through once.
These scanners typically weigh no more than a couple of pounds and are small enough to fit inside a backpack, making them easy to tote around. Most portable scanners are also sheet-fed, but unlike full-sized document scanners, they can be slow and tedious to use. Still, they are ideal for scanning in a few paper documents or business cards while on the road. A scanner app for your smartphone is another option for digitally capturing documents on the go.
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 higher optical resolution – measured in either pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi) – than typical multipurpose or document scanners. (The two terms are often used interchangeably, but dpi technically refers to the fidelity of an image printed on paper, while ppi is for images displayed on a screen.) Many also include premium features to help improve scan quality, such as automatically editing out dust and scratches. However, unless you're a photographer or graphics professional, a dedicated photo scanner might be overkill for your needs.
In recent years, standalone scanners have taken a back seat to multifunction printers (MFPs), also known as all-in-ones. These devices combine the functions of a scanner, printer, copier, and sometimes even a fax machine, in one unit.
According to PCMag.com, the choice between a scanner and an MFP comes down to your personal scanning needs. If all you ever need to scan is letter-sized, single-page documents – with perhaps the occasional longer document or book page thrown in – then an MFP is probably the better choice, and we cover some great alternatives in our report on multifunction printers. However, those who frequently scan multi-page documents, or need a high-resolution scanner for photos, artwork and, especially, transparencies such as negatives or slides, will find a stand-alone scanner to be a better option.
Scanners range in price from as little as $60 to $1,000 or more. 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 speed, ease of use, and overall reliability.
Flatbed scanners are the most common type of desktop scanner. They're also the most versatile and are ideal for multipurpose use. The combination of a scanbed and a top-opening lid can accommodate bulky objects that won't go through a document feeder. Flatbed scanners can handle both documents and photo prints, but you'll have to pay a bit more for one that can scan photographic slides and negatives. As long as your scanning needs are modest, experts say there's no need to spend more than $200 on a general-purpose flatbed model.
The best flatbed scanners combine great performance, ease of use, and a wide range of features, along with a useful software package. Overall, the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II (Est. $170) is the best value we've found in a multipurpose scanner. It's recommended by TheWirecutter.com as the best low-cost scanner that can handle printed photos, negatives, and film.
Despite its relatively low price tag, the CanoScan 9000F Mark II can scan photos and artwork at resolutions of up to 4,800 dots per inch (dpi). For film, its maximum resolution is an even more impressive 9,600 dpi. Reviewer Lizz Schumer of TheWirecutter.com describes images produced by the CanoScan as clean and beautiful. She notes that the scanner automatically sharpens images and corrects colors, and with a little more work, it's possible to edit out dust, scratches, and "gutter shadows" (the dark areas that appear between pages when scanning a book).
The CanoScan 9000F Mark II is also the fastest printer in TheWirecutter.com's tests. It takes about 5 seconds to scan a black-and-white page at 300 dpi, 11 seconds for a full-color page, and only 6 seconds for a small color photo. The scanner offers the choice of an auto Scan mode, which recognizes, crops, scans, and saves an image with a single click, or advanced mode, which lets users make additional adjustments to brightness and contrast before scanning.
User reviews at Amazon.com and B&H Photo back up Schumer's findings. Owners say the CanoScan 9000F Mark II is fast, delivers clear images with accurate color, and warms up almost instantly. However, not all users are happy with the Canon software package. Some say the ScanGear program, used for adjusting pictures in manual mode, does a poor job of making fine adjustments such as color balance and exposure, and others found the My Image Garden program for organizing and storing photos very awkward to use. Schumer considers the Canon software "serviceable" but says it's no substitute for the Adobe Photoshop Elements software that comes bundled with some competing models – a $100 value.
Although the CanoScan 9000F Mark II produces very good images, its didn't have the best image quality in TheWirecutter.com's tests. That honor belongs to the Epson Perfection V550 Photo (Est. $165). This Epson scanner's features are fairly similar to the Canon's; it can scan film, slides, and negatives as well as prints, and it has digital image correction and enhancement (ICE) for editing out dust and scratches. Also, like the Canon, it has an LED bulb for instantaneous warm-up. However, its optical resolution of 6,400 dpi makes it capable of reproducing photo prints even more faithfully. Also, unlike the Canon, the Epson Perfection V550 can upload scans directly to Facebook and other cloud-based services.
Unlike the CanoScan, the V550 doesn't automatically touch up images to make them clearer. This means its images are incredibly accurate, but the downside is that any necessary adjustments have to be made by hand. Moreover, Schumer found the V550 harder to use. The first unit she tried never worked at all, despite hours of fiddling and a call to customer service. Once she got a working replacement, she began to have problems with the software, which she said was "very confusing" and "required a lot of trial and error," even when she followed the instructions in the manual. In addition, the V550 is significantly slower than the CanoScan, taking about 15 seconds for a black-and-white page, 20 for a full-color page, and 25 for a photo.
Users at Amazon.com and B&H Photo have similar complaints, and several say Epson's quality control isn't the best. Moreover, owners find Epson's technical support incredibly unhelpful. However, they admit that the scanner's image quality is great, particularly for negatives, and that setup is usually easy. Both the Epson and the Canon are backed by a one-year limited warranty.
If all you ever need to scan is text documents and the occasional batch of photos, then you can probably find a scanner that meets your needs without spending a lot. Cheap flatbed scanners, priced at $100 or less, can handle these basic scanning jobs, but they typically can't scan film or negatives. Resolution on budget scanners is often lower than on their pricier cousins, but some can reproduce images at 4,800 dots per inch (dpi) – the same as our top-rated flatbed scanner. Also, these budget-priced scanners don't always come with as complete a bundle of software.
In this price range, the scanner that earns the most recommendations is the Canon CanoScan LiDE 220 (Est. $75). It can do just about everything the highly rated Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II (Est. $170) can do, with the exception of scanning film and negatives. It produces high-quality photo scans, with a maximum optical resolution of 4,800 dpi. It also provides basic image-enhancement options, such as color correction and dust removal. Reviewers at TheWirecutter.com and PCMag.com say it consistently produces clear, sharp images for all types of materials, although purists may be displeased with its tendency to automatically sharpen photographs. It's also not as fast as the pricier Canon scanner, taking about 10 seconds for a black-and-white page, 14 seconds for a color page, and 20 seconds for a photo.
The LiDE 220 offers you a good range of options for formatting and storing your scans. It can convert documents to searchable PDF and editable text formats, and reviewer Lizz Schumer at TheWirecutter.com says its optical character recognition (OCR) is fairly accurate. It sometimes runs into trouble with unusual or extra-small fonts at first, but they usually come through correctly on a second pass. The LiDE 220 is also capable of sending scanned documents to the cloud, but you have to install the appropriate software on your computer to do that. Both Schumer and M. David Stone of PCMag.com note that the My Image Garden software that comes with this scanner is extremely limited, with very few options for editing your photos.
The CanoScan LiDE 220 is lightweight (just 3.4 pounds) and fairly compact. One nice feature is that you can store and use it in an upright position, so it takes up less room on your desk. It's powered via USB from a host computer or laptop. Some users like this feature, since it eliminates the need for a power cord, but others dislike having the scanner tethered to their PC. We didn't find enough user feedback on this scanner to evaluate its long-term durability. However, it's covered by a standard one-year warranty.
Another strong performer in this price range is the Epson Perfection V39 (Est. $70). It matches the CanoScan LiDE 220 in terms of optical resolution, and it's roughly on par in terms of speed – slightly slower for black-and-white documents, but slightly faster for photos. Like the Canon, it's lightweight, can be used in a vertical position, and requires only a USB cord for power. It also comes with the same limited one-year warranty.
Stone, in his review for PCMag.com, actually prefers the Epson Perfection V39 to the Canon, saying it does slightly better on text recognition. However, Schumer, who tested both machines on both Windows and Mac systems, could not get the OCR to work with a Mac. She also said the Epson's scans "weren't as eye-pleasing" as the Canon's, and she found its unlabeled buttons confusing and "finicky" to use.
Users who review the Epson Perfection V39 at Amazon.com like its compact size; many users even describe it as "portable," although it's not designed for travel. They also say it's versatile – capable of scanning photos, documents, and books, and exporting them to multiple file formats – and it produces good images. However, we found numerous complaints that the scanner isn't very user-friendly. Some users describe the software as finicky, and many Mac users couldn't get it to work at all. Even those who had no problems using the software describe it as limited, offering few options for fine-tuning images. However, Stone points out that this is true only in the scanner's fully automatic mode. In its advanced mode, he claims, the V39 actually has the opposite problem: it gives a degree of control that "can be overwhelming" for newbies.
If you have lots of loose pages to scan, but you don't need to scan film, photo prints, slides, books, magazines, or other media, a sheet-fed document scanner is the best way to get the job done. Document scanners are designed to process large batches of unbound paper, and to do so quickly. Most come bundled with optical character recognition (OCR) software, which can turn an electronic image into searchable text in a document.
Most document scanners come equipped with an automatic document feeder (ADF), which will automatically load page after page in a stack. Many ADFs on document scanners have a duplexing feature, which enables them to scan one side of a page, flip it, and immediately scan the reverse side. These are less expensive than duplexing document scanners with two scanning components, which can scan both sides simultaneously. High-volume document scanners can cost into the thousands of dollars, but we found some less expensive models that are very suitable for small to mid-size business use.
Experts rave over the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 (Est. $420). This sheet-fed scanner is an excellent value, producing highly detailed scans of text documents at speeds of up to 30 pages per minute (ppm) in professional tests. Experts say turning countless pages into searchable PDF files is quick and painless. The scanner has a top-quality ADF, which can hold up to 50 sheets and scan pages in simplex or duplex mode. It can also scan business cards, post cards, and legal-size sheets, automatically detecting the document size. It has a USB 3.0 port for speedy connection speeds, and you can also scan wirelessly to PCs, Macs, and Android or iOS devices via Wi-Fi. The scanner comes with a one-year manufacturer warranty.
Both professionals and users describe the ScanSnap iX500 as fast and reliable, churning through paper with no jams or misfeeds. They also agree that the OCR software is also highly accurate. Owners find the scanner easy to set up and use, and they say it's remarkably quiet and compact for such a powerhouse. The main complaint we saw from users is that Fujitsu doesn't update its software often enough. This caused the scanner to stop working or become unreliable when they upgraded the operating systems on their computers.
One quirk of the ScanSnap iX500 is that, like other Fujitsu scanners, it doesn't have a TWAIN driver. This driver, used with most scanners, allows you to launch the scanning process from within an application, and the scanner "pulls" the scanned document into the program. This Fujitsu scanner, by contrast, uses a "push" system: first you scan the document, and then you open it in the program of your choice. The scanner gives you a menu of recommended programs, and you can add other programs to the menu if you prefer. Although this system appears to work fine for most users, it adds extra steps to the scanning process for those who rely on specific image software.
For users who find the lack of TWAIN support a deal-breaker, reviewers recommend the Canon imageFORMULA DR-C225 (Est. $380). A top pick at PCMag.com, this Canon scanner is a match for the Fujitsu in speed and accuracy; reviewer Tony Hoffman says it performed one-sided scans at just over 24 ppm and two-sided scans at 48.4 images per minute (ipm). Unlike the Fujitsu, the Canon doesn't offer Wi-Fi connectivity, and Hoffman reports that it's not as good at scanning business cards. However, its OCR is even more accurate than the Canon's, and he finds its bundled software to be "more capable" for document management. Not all users agree with this assessment, though; although the scanner gets good overall reviews at Amazon.com, most of the complaints we saw focus on the software, which users say is cumbersome and not very intuitive.
If you're looking for a document scanner with even more speed and power, it might be worth ramping up to the Epson WorkForce DS-860 (Est. $800). It's roughly twice as expensive as the Canon and Fujitsu scanners, but it's more than twice as fast; in tests at PCMag.com, it achieves speeds of 73 ppm for simplex pages and 146 ipm in duplex mode. Professional reviewers and users also gives the scanner high marks for its text recognition and document management. However, they also complain that the software package is skimpy; the only bundled application is an OCR program, and only the "light" version at that.
Document scanners, with their automatic document feeders (ADFs) and workhorse builds, are great for offices where they can sit in one place and churn through paper, but they're far too clunky to even consider taking them on the road. Sometimes you need to be able to scan documents while on the go, and that's where portable sheet-fed scanners come in. These lightweight scanners are small enough to tuck into a backpack or laptop case. Most are USB-powered, so you won't need to lug around an extra power brick everywhere you go. Typically, they require users to feed one sheet through at a time, and their scan quality and capabilities are limited compared to their full-featured desktop brethren.
In this category, we found the most recommendations for the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i (Est. $250). It's a little on the large side for a portable scanner, weighing just over 3 pounds and measuring about 11 by 4 by 3 inches. It has an automatic sheet feeder (officially rated at a 10-sheet capacity, but reviewer Amadou Diallo at TheWirecutter.com says it can actually handle up to 20 sheets without jamming) that can make duplex scans. It can be powered directly off AC or via a USB connection to your computer, though you need to use two USB cables to give it all the juice it needs.
Its comprehensive ScanSnap software suite is compatible with both Macs and PCs. This software, according to Diallo, is the ScanSnap S1300i's greatest strength. It comes with special applications for reading receipts and business cards, and it can export scanned information to a variety of file formats, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and iPhoto. In Diallo's tests, the optical character recognition (OCR) is outstandingly accurate, reproducing 99 percent of all words correctly. Diallo also describes the software as logical and intuitive to use without having to consult the user's manual. On the down side, the S1300i, like other Fujitsu scanners, doesn't come with TWAIN or ICA drivers, so you can't initiate a scan from within an application. However, Diallo thinks the ScanSnap suite is good enough that this is a small loss.
The S1300i's chief weakness is speed. Although it's not the slowest portable scanner in TheWirecutter.com's tests, it isn't the fastest either. It takes just over 2 minutes to scan 20 sheets in duplex mode at 200 dpi, giving it an overall rate of 9.4 pages per minute (ppm). At its maximum resolution of 600 dpi, the rate drops to 1.5 ppm. The thousands of users who review the scanner at Amazon.com, B&H Photo, and OfficeDepot.com say the scanner process is slowed further by the software, which takes a long time to process and store each document. However, they love the ScanSnap's accuracy and ease of use. Owners rave that it can scan any document, including receipts and business cards, and it automatically corrects documents that are put in crooked. They also say it seldom jams, but if it does, it's easy to clear.
If the Fujitsu's slow speed is a deal-breaker for you, consider the Canon imageFORMULA P-215II (Est. $260). It's the fastest portable scanner in TheWirecutter.com's tests, with a rate of 16 ppm at 200 dpi and 4.5 ppm at 600 dpi – faster than even some desktop models. It's also lighter than the Fujitsu, at 2.2 pounds, and slightly more compact. Another plus is that, unlike the ScanSnap S1300i, it can run at full speed off USB power alone. However, it can't match the S1300i's accuracy when it comes to OCR. According to TheWirecutter.com, it captures only 96 percent of all words correctly compared to the Fujitsu's 99 percent – a small but significant difference.
Another problem with the P-215II is its software. Diallo notes that the Canon software suite is available only on CD-ROM, which makes it impossible to install on newer Macs that don't have an optical drive. This means you're stuck with third-party software that doesn't perform as well. And even those Mac users at Amazon.com who were able to install the software say it doesn't work with Mac OS 10.12 (Sierra). Owners also complain that the scanner occasionally grabs multiple pages at once, and scans on the card reader tend to come out crooked. However, users do like the P-215II's small size, fast speed, and plug-and-play setup.
If you only need to scan an occasional document while you're on the go, you may not need a dedicated scanner at all. There are a variety of apps available for iOS and Android that can turn a photo taken with your smartphone into a PDF. They can even use OCR to create searchable text. Scanning apps aren't as fast or as versatile as a portable scanner, but they cost a lot less – and more importantly, they don't require you to pack an extra device in your suitcase.
One scanning app that comes up often in reviews is Scanner Pro (Est. $4). It's designed for use with an iPhone or iPad. Reviewers like it because it makes it easy to share your documents via e-mail or send them to cloud-based services such as Dropbox. The current release also includes OCR, a feature that was missing from earlier versions.
Jason Cipriani of Macworld likes Scanbot even better than Scanner Pro. Its main advantage is that it's so simple and intuitive to use. When you launch the app, it automatically opens your camera and converts the pictures you snap to scans – and it even helps you adjust your position for the cleanest possible image. The app is free for Android or iOS, but it costs an extra $5.99 to get access to OCR.
The app that gets best ratings for Android users is Mobile Doc Scanner. Preston Gralla of ITWorld.com says this app is great not just for scanning but for automatically cleaning up your documents to make them as clear as possible. The "lite" version of the app is free; the full version, which includes OCR, costs $4.99.
While some mainstream flatbed scanners do a great job handling photos, slides or negatives, photographers – or those who require professional image quality – need even greater fidelity. For these users, the best choice is a flatbed scanner designed specifically for scanning photos. Typically found on the high end of the price scale, these scanners offer higher resolutions than most flatbed scanners. Most of them also come with premium features and software, such as image retouching and scratch removal capabilities, to improve scan quality.
Reviewers say the Epson Perfection V800 Photo (Est. $680) is the best choice for professional photographers and advanced amateurs looking for the ultimate in photo, slide and film scanning. This scanner is the successor to the discontinued Epson Perfection V700 Photo, which also earned highly favorable reviews. Like the V700, the V800 has a dual-lens system in which one lens scans at 4,800 dots per inch (dpi) and the other scans up to 6,400 dpi for larger files. Both scanners also have a 4.0 Dmax rating, meaning that they can reproduce gradual changes in shading from white to black and fine shadow detail (details of images in dark areas) better than most scanners.
However, according to M. David Stone of PCMag.com, the V800 is even better than its predecessor. Its image quality is better by a small but noticeable margin, and it also works faster. In Stone's tests, the V800 took 38 seconds to scan a single slide at 2,400 pixels per inch (ppi), 2 minutes and 28 seconds to scan 4 slides at the same resolution, and 1 minute 25 seconds to scan a slide at 6,400 ppi. Film scans take about the same amount of time. Adding the digital ICE feature increases the scan time for a single frame to 2 minutes 51 seconds. One reason the V800 works faster than the V700 is that it now has an LED light source that makes warm-up all but instantaneous.
The Epson Perfection V800 Photo can reproduce both prints and transparencies up to 8 by 10 inches in size. It also offers a variety of scan modes, from fully automatic to fully user-controlled. Stone finds the scanner's SilverFast utility has a bit of a learning curve, but says it offers good control once you overcome that. The chief downside of the V800 Photo, he finds, is the fact that its relatively high price tag doesn't get you a bundled photo-editing program. Owners who review the scanner at Amazon.com and B&H Photo say the software is intuitive to use, and they appreciate the scanner's fast operation and high-quality images. Their main complaint is that the film holders are flimsy and awkward to use.
If you need to make high-quality photo scans but are put off by the V800's high cost, the Epson Perfection V600 Photo (Est. $210) offers a good alternative. It doesn't have the dual-lens system found on the V800, but it can scan at resolutions up to 6,400 by 9,600 dpi. It also offers a good selection of scanning modes, from fully automatic to fully manual, and options for touching up images. There's digital ICE for editing out dust and scratches, color restoration, and a bundled ArcSoft PhotoStudio program for editing images.
Despite these benefits, however, the V600 doesn't fare quite as well in reviews as the V800. Stone, in his review for PCMag.com, says it produces high-quality scans for both prints and film, and it's only slightly slower than the V800. However, its image quality isn't quite a match for the V700, which in turn isn't quite up to the standards of the V800. Also, editors at Imaging Resource found that while the V600 did a great job scanning prints, its results with color negatives were "unreliable."
The V600 has thousands of reviews from owners at Amazon.com, B&H Photo, and OfficeDepot.com. Most of them agree that the scanner is easy to set up and use and produces clear images, with good color and resolution. They also note that its OCR works very well for searchable documents. On the downside, Epson's quality control and customer service come in for some knocks from users. We also saw warnings that the digital ICE software can sometimes yield strange results.
If your main goal is to convert all your old snapshots to digital form as quickly as possible, the Epson FastFoto FF-640 (Est. $650) could be your best bet. At just 600 ppi, it can't come close to the image quality of the other Epsons, but it's much faster. You can load up to 30 photos at a time in the scanner's feed slot – of varying sizes, if you like – and just press start to scan the lot. In tests at TheWirecutter.com, it whipped through a stack of 30 photos in just 38 seconds at 300 ppi, or 1 minute 42 seconds at 600 ppi. Reviewer Amadou Diallo says it produces clear images with excellent color detail – not as good as a flatbed scanner, but better than most document scanners – and it's "competent" for scanning documents as well.
Owners at Amazon.com, OfficeDepot.com, and B&H Photo give the Epson FastFoto high marks for its speed, file organization, and image-enhancing abilities. One feature they particularly love is the scanner's ability to automatically detect writing on the back of a photo and save it as a linked file, keeping the notes together with the photo scan. Although they find the FastFoto easy to set up, some say that its software can be confusing. Another big drawback is that it can't handle Polaroids, which limits its capabilities for converting old family photos.
The biggest problem with the FastFoto is its high price tag. At $650, it costs nearly as much as the top-rated Epson Perfection V800 Photo, and its image quality isn't nearly as high. However, if you don't have the time to scan in all your photos one by one, the FastFoto makes a good alternative to a photo-scanning service. According to Diallo, these services typically charge around 40 cents per print – so if you have more than around 1,500 photos (two full shoeboxes) to scan, buying this scanner is a cost-effective option. It doesn't do quite as good a job of restoring faded or overexposed prints as the services do, but Diallo says it "held its own in well-exposed images that had vibrant color to begin with."
What do you need to scan? What type of scanner you need largely depends on what, as well as how often, you'll need to scan. Flatbed scanners are the most practical for multipurpose use. They're generally more versatile and cheaper than scanners geared toward a specific function. They're a safe bet if you'll be scanning delicate material such as photos, film or slides, and they're essential for handling 3D objects or bound material like books and magazines. Those who need to create digital copies of lots of loose pages and documents should consider a sheet-fed scanner, which is designed specifically for this task. High-end photo scanners are relatively expensive, but they're the best for high-resolution scans of images. They're also ideal for scanning film, slides, or negatives, although some basic flatbed scanners can handle these materials also. If you need to scan unusually shaped items, such as business cards or three-dimensional objects, look for a scanner specifically designed to handle these tasks.
What resolution do you need? If you're scanning plain-text documents or documents with business graphics, resolution isn't a huge concern – experts say 200 dpi is adequate, and 300 dpi is plenty. New scanners typically have resolutions of least 600 dpi, which is sufficient for images, as long you don't enlarge them too much or zoom in too far. For the finest detail or printing scans at a larger size, you'll need a scanner with a higher resolution – at least 4,800 dpi. Reviews note that you should take claimed resolutions with a grain of salt, as these specs are often inflated or are bottlenecked by the scanner's optical hardware. However, as a rule of thumb, the higher a scanner's claimed resolution, the higher its real-world resolution is likely to be.
What about color depth? Color depth is a measurement of how many variations of colors the scanner can see. It's generally not important on document scanners, but it is very important for scanning photos and drawings. Photo scanners typically have 48-bit color depth.
Do you scan in bulk? If you plan to churn through huge stacks of paper on a regular basis, an automatic document feeder (ADF) is a must. Look for an ADF with a capacity greater than or equal to the number of pages you typically need to scan at a go. If you have to scan a longer document once in a while, you can always add more pages partway through the process.
How big are your documents? The larger the scanning area, the larger the document or photo you can reproduce (and the larger number of smaller images you can scan at a time). Most flatbed scanners can only accommodate letter-size documents, so if you need to scan legal-size pages or large pieces of artwork, look for a larger scanbed.
Do you need duplex scanning? There are several ways to scan two-sided documents. True duplexing scanners have two scanning elements, so they can scan both sides of a page at once. Other scanners have an ADF with duplexing capabilities; it scans one side of the page, flips it, and scans the other. Duplexing scanners are faster, but they're also more expensive. If cost is a concern, a cheaper alternative is a basic scanner with a manual duplexing feature in its driver. This is a good choice if you only need to scan two-sided documents once in a while.
What operating system are you using? Pretty much any scanner works with recent versions of Windows, but if you're using a Mac or Linux system, double-check to make sure the scanner is compatible with it. We saw many complaints from Mac users who bought scanners only to discover that they weren't compatible with the latest version of the Mac OS – or, in other cases, with older versions.
How much space can you spare? A final consideration is size. If you plan to take your scanner on the road, it's obviously important to have one that's as small and lightweight as possible. However, even for regular office use, many owners appreciate a scanner that doesn't take up too much valuable desk space. It's also handy to have trays and other extensions that fold up into a more compact form when the scanner isn't in use.
Amadou Diallo, an experienced technology writer and reviewer, spent more than 70 hours researching and testing portable document printers. Starting with 98 models, he narrowed the list down to just three that were Mac- and PC-compatible, included an ADF, and were light enough to move regularly from room to room. He tested these for text accuracy, speed, and ease of use, running through dozens of documents of all types and sizes, before naming a winner.
For this review, Lizz Schumer consulted professional and user reviews to identify the 20 most recommended scanners. She then selected the four with the strongest reviews and subjected them to 18 hours of hands-on testing to evaluate speed, image quality, and ease of use. Each machine scanned a variety of documents, including text and images, film, print, and a finger painting by a 1-year-old (with stickers).
PCMag.com is the most prolific and consistent reviewer of scanners. Product roundup articles are thorough, informative and frequently updated. Scanners are rated on a 5-point scale, and the best earn editors' choice nods. Most models receive a detailed single-page report based on thorough, hands-on testing for both hardware and software. Reviewers scan documents, business cards, photos, slides, and film, test each scanner's OCR capability, and also evaluate speed and ease of use.
Amazon.com carries thousands of scanners, including sheet-fed, flatbeds, film scanners, and business card scanners. The best-rated scanners here receive hundreds of reviews, and sometimes thousands, with overall scores of at least 4.5 stars out of 5. Owner feedback here is particularly useful for gauging a model's long-term durability and reliability.
B&H Photo is another good source for user reviews. Scanners are divided into three categories that must be searched separately, but within each section, it's easy to sort the reviews to see which scanners have the most ratings. Flatbed and document scanners have the most reviews, with several models getting 4.5-star -ratings from 50 owners or more.
Nearly 150 scanners are sold through OfficeDepot.com, but only a dozen or so have more than a handful of reviews. We found the best ratings for Epson and Fujitsu scanners, with several models receiving ratings of 4.3 stars or better from hundreds of owners. Individual reviews are fairly brief.
Preston Gralla, a contributing editor at IT World, offers his take on which iOS and Android apps make the best alternatives to a stand-alone scanner. His choices include both free apps, paid apps, and free apps with in-app purchases. They include features like converting scans to PDFs, performing OCR, and allowing you to share your files via wi-fi or cloud-based storage.
Macworld's Jason Cipriani reviews apps that can turn your iOS device into a makeshift scanner for on-the-go use. Based on his personal experiences with a variety of apps, he names Scanbot and Scanner Pro as the two that are easiest to use, comparing their features and how they work. For those who prefer a portable scanner, he recommends the NeatConnect.
Reviewer Ted Landau pits the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 against the Neat NeatDesk for Mac for the title of best document scanner. Specs are similar – both scanners can scan up to 600 dpi resolution, with similar features and speed – but Landau names the iX500 as the winner based on hardware, software and features. The iX500 earns a strong recommendation for a desktop scanner, with 4.5 "mice" out of 5.
The most recent scanner review at Laptop magazine is this roundup of five portable scanners from 2012. Each scanner gets a one-paragraph write-up summarizing its pros and cons, plus a link to a full report that evaluates design, setup, ease of use, and performance in detail. A handy chart compares how well each scanner handles black-and-white documents, color photos, and business cards. One of the covered scanners is now discontinued.
Imaging-Resource.com is one of the best online sources for camera reviews, but it hasn't published any scanner reviews since 2009, and only one covered model is still current. That's a pity, as its reviews are among the most detailed and complete we found. Each one covers the scanner's specifications, what's in the box, the setup process, and several "case studies" showing how the scanner handles different photos and documents.