How to Choose a Scanner

For the most part, scanners aren’t at the top of our tech shopping lists. They’re certainly useful when you need them, but you don’t really put much thought into them when you don’t. The problem is that if you’ve never shopped for a scanner before, you’ll find yourself a bit confused when you “run in to pick one up” at your local office supply or tech retailer. Why the confusion? Because there are several types of scanners on the market and knowing what you’ll need yours for today and in the future is crucial. Let’s take a look at the most common types of scanners and their uses.


Flatbed Scanners

Flatbed scanners feature a flip-up cover that protects the horizontal glass plate where you lay your documents down for scanning. These scanners are great for scanning items such as photos or book pages that either risk being damaged when going through a sheet feeder or simply cannot go through.


Flatbed scanners are great if you’re scanning items one at a time, but aren’t very efficient if you’re scanning stacks of documents. They also tend to take up a bit of desk space, so keep that in mind.


Sheetfed Scanners

Sheetfeed scanners don’t offer the same gentle handling for your precious photos as their flatbed cousin but they’re a fantastic option if your goal is to go paperless and scan in all your old documents. These scanners often offer lower resolutions as well, so your photos might not be as crisp as you’d like. On the upside, they do save you a bit of desk space with their upright design.


When you’re shopping for one of these, look for one with an automatic document feeder ADF. That will allow you to set a stack of documents in the feeder and let your scanner do the rest! Another great feature some sheetfed scanners offer is duplex scanning. This means that you can feed a double-sided page through and scan both sides.


Many of these scanners also scan items such as receipts and business cards, which makes it simple to digitize all your important pieces of paper. Again, it’s important to know what you need before going to purchase your scanner so you can get all the features you need.


Portable Scanners

If you travel a fair amount and find that you need a scanner on the go, a portable scanner is a great solution. These scanners are small and lightweight enough to fit into your laptop bag with the rest of your travel gadgets. They are also powered by USB, so you don’t need to plug them into an outlet to get them going. Depending on the make and model you choose, many of these scanners can file your scans directly to the cloud, smartphone, or computer.


While they offer a great deal of bells and whistles for the business traveler, these scanners won’t blow you away with high resolution, so they’re not a great option for photos.


What About Resolution?

I’ve mentioned resolution a few times in this post and you’re probably wondering what resolution you should be looking for in your scanner. Again, that depends on what you’re planning to scan. If you’re just scanning documents, 300 dots per inch (dpi), will do the trick. If you’re going to be scanning photos, look for something with at least 600 dpi.


MFP vs. Scanner

Multifunction printers are common in homes and offices and they often have a flatbed scanner with a built-in sheet feeder. If it’s time for a new printer as well, consider killing two birds with one stone and going with an MFP instead.


If you’d like to go this route, just remember to ask yourself what you’ll be using it to scan and check the specs. Some MFP scanners, especially those meant for small offices, often scan at lower resolutions—not great for photo scanning. Others may sport ADF’s but can’t scan both sides of a page simultaneously.


With all these scanner options at your fingertips, the best thing you can do is to sit down and make a quick list of the tasks you’ll need your scanner to perform. Head into Staples with this information in hand and one of the tech associates will help you find the right scanner in not time!

By Mike Agerbo

July 22, 2014