Types of Scanners
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.
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 than typical multipurpose or document scanners. 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.
Scanner or multifunction printer?
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, 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.
Finding The Best Scanners
"The Best Cheap Scanner"
"The Best Portable Document Scanner"
Scanners range in price from as
little as $60 to more than $1,000. To help you find the scanner that best fits your
needs and budget, ConsumerSearch digs through expert reviews at sites such as
PCMag, Wirecutter, TechRadar and others. These reviewers have broad expertise
when it comes to scanners, and are able to identify top performers and top
values for any use.
User reviews, however, are just
as important. We look at sites like Amazon, B&H Photo, Staples and others
to see how well scanners perform in the real world -- where issues that don't
come up in short-term expert testing may become apparent, and usability
concerns that experts may overlook, but that can plague users, may surface.
Based on all of that feedback, scanners are evaluated on the quality of the
scans they produce, of course, but also on their speed, ease of use, and
For flatbed scanners, a tradeoff between speed
and image quality
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 (Est. $170) is
the best value we've found in a multipurpose scanner. Wirecutter recommends it
as the best low-cost scanner that can handle printed photos, negatives, and
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 Wirecutter describes images
produced by the CanoScan as clear 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 Wirecutter'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 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, it didn't have the best image quality in Wirecutter's
tests. That honor belongs to the (Est. $170). 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 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. Reviews on the setup process are mixed; some owners found it
incredibly easy, while others couldn't figure it out at all. Both the Epson and
the Canon are backed by a one-year limited warranty.
For basic scanning needs, the Canon CanoScan
LiDE 220 fits the bill
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, the (Est. $170). 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 (Est. $80). It can do just about everything
the CanoScan 9000F 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 Wirecutter and PCMag 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 Wirecutter 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 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. Also, like the more expensive Canon,
the LiDE 220 gets many complaints about its software, which some owners find
complicated and clunky. We also saw reports from both Windows and Mac users that
say they couldn't get it to work with the latest versions of their operating
systems, though others report no problems in that regard. Most users praise the
scanner's easy setup and great image quality. It's covered by a standard
Another strong performer in this
price range is the (Est. $80). 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, 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 and other retail sites like its compact size; many
users even describe it as "portable," although it's not designed for
travel. They also say it's easy to set up and produces good images. However, several
users complain that the scanner is too slow and doesn't offer good options for
organizing your images. We also saw a few complaints about reliability,
particularly from Mac users who couldn't get the software to work with their