Giving you affordable scanning options for going paperless.
Whether you need to scan a simple receipt, a multi-page opus, or digitize your family photo album, it's not necessary to raid your savings for an adequate scanner.
The cheapest option is using the camera on your smartphone with a free scanning app, and for most everyday needs this will be good enough. For anything else, you're better off getting a proper scanner. Here are a few inexpensive options to get you started.
Scanning apps for your phone
For most everyday scanning, such as scanning receipts and a few documents, you can get away with pairing the camera on your smartphone with a free scanning app.
Scanning apps accomplish most tasks that scanners do, and we've narrowed it down to the two best to save you a bit of dough.
CamScanner is a popular scanning app because it's fast, easy to use, and gets the job done. Just point your phone's camera at whatever you want to scan and take a picture. Pretty easy, right?
CamScanner lets you easily share your scans via email, fax, or by saving to the cloud, and like hardware scanners, features image correction so that your scans are crisp and readable. It also lets you search your scans for particular words, as well as tag them for better organization. You can even scan whole whiteboards or blackboards to create an image that is easy to read and is searchable to boot.
CamScanner even packs some features exclusive to Windows Phone users, like unlimited annotations and the ability to export recognized text to Word a Word document.
Two versions are offered — one for a single up-front payment, the other as a subscription — both offer additional functionalities over the free version, but aren't necessary. If you think these features are worth it for you, the cost to upgrade is negligible in relation to the costs of a physical scanner.
Also easy to use, Office Lens has the benefit of integrating with several popular Microsoft programs.
Like CamScanner, you can scan whiteboards or blackboards, the results of which it will automatically crop and turn into a searchable image that you can share with others. Likewise, you can scan documents and receipts by simply pointing your smartphone camera at them and snapping a picture.
It lets you save your scans to PDF and upload them to your Microsoft Account or import them into OneNote, Word, or PowerPoint. If you frequently use these programs, give Office Lens a try.
Cheap desktop scanners
Scanning apps are great for simple, everyday scanning on the go, but fall short for scanning high resolution images and multiple-page documents. They just don't have the resolution, the lighting, or the capability. Luckily, there are some relatively inexpensive scanners for you to choose from and we've rounded up three of them that we think are worth your money.
Best all-around scanner: Canon CanoScan LiDE220
The Canon CanoScan LiDE220 has received accolades from reviewers and consumers alike for its speed, ease of use, and its quality output.
Its scanning light is LED, which means there's no warm-up time needed — it can scan a letter-sized page in roughly 10 seconds.
When scanning documents, its Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is capable of returning searchable and editable text documents. And the expandable lid makes it easy to accommodate thicker books for scanning.
With a resolution of 4800x4800 dpi, it will preserve the quality and detail of your old family photographs — and apply a little bit of software magic to sharpen those pictures have faded with age.
Additionally, you can save your scans to the cloud and easily share them with others at the touch of a button.
For most scanning uses, you can't go wrong with the LiDE220. However, there is one area where it falls short: it can't scan negatives or slides.
Best for documents: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i
The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i is more on the expensive side than our other picks, but we believe the price increase is totally worth it.
It has a 10-page Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) that some users claim can actually handle as many as 20 pages at a time. It also scans double-sided pages at the same time, so all you have to do is drop your multi-page document into the feeder and press a button.
It's fast, too. It can scan color, grayscale, and monochrome documents at a rate of 12 double-sided pages, per minute.
Another important feature for document scanners is accuracy in terms of their Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capabilities. The S1300i is capable of reproducing editable text that is 99 percent accurate when compared to the original.
If you primarily need a scanner for documents, take a look at the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i.
Best for photos, slides, and negatives: Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII
The Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII is a highly rated scanner that comes with everything you need to scan photographs, slides, or negatives.
Because the 9000F uses LED lights, there's no waiting for it to warm up. From start to finish it can scan a 35mm film negative at 1200dpi in just 18 seconds.
It comes with a film adapter unit for handling negatives and slides and has a top resolution for film of 9600x9600 dpi, which is more than you'll ever need for high quality scans. For regular photos, its maximum resolution is 4800x4800 dpi, which is enough for sharp, crystal clear images.
If your source material, whether it's a negative or a photograph, is faded with age or full of film grain, the 9000F will automatically correct for these problems. If your scans need further editing, you can do it with the included software.
The bottom line
If your scanning needs are simple, your cheapest option is to use your smartphone with a scanning app; however, if you want to scan photos, negatives, or slides, or you regularly scan multi-page documents, a scanner will serve you best.
We've given you our picks, what about yours? Let us know in the comments below.