Print this article

What should I look for in a scanner?

Photograph of a scanner

Scanners are great for saving old photos or important documents onto your computer for posterity. They are very handy, affordable and need not take up much space. Here are some tips for choosing the right scanner for you.

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

Just as a printer takes computer files and puts them on paper, a scanner does the opposite - it scans physical documents and images and converts them into digital files.

Of course, scanning isn’t limited to things on paper. You can also scan artwork and photographic prints, negatives and slides, or even bits of fabric and flowers. There are also specialised scanners to handle books, cheques and business cards.

Most home users looking for a scanner pick one of the common ‘all-in-one’ devices, which have a printer, scanner and sometimes a fax machine combined. Lift the lid, plonk your document on the glass and the device will scan it. Look out for the scanning resolution, which might be 600 or 1,200dpi (dots per inch). The higher the number, the better quality the file you end up with, but documents only need 600dpi.

All-in-one devices appeal to people who don’t have room for lots of office equipment and want something affordable. However, big, fast, floor-standing versions are bought by all sorts of businesses.

Scanners come in two varieties: ones with inkjet printers and ones with laser printers. The inkjet versions are often too slow for serious use, but can be handy around the house. If you plan to use it a lot, a more expensive colour laser version is a better long-term choice.

Specialist scanners

If you want to make high-quality scans of artwork and photos, you should consider a stand-alone, flat-bed scanner. These also have lids, but don’t include a printer. They should offer a scanning resolution of 4,800dpi or more for photos.

If you mainly have 35mm negatives and slides to scan, you should consider a dedicated film scanner instead. Usually, film scanners can’t scan documents - they’re designed for scanning small pieces of film (at a resolution of 7,200dpi or more).

High-quality film scanners are relatively expensive so you should read some serious reviews before making your choice. However, cheaper film scanners are also available.

Connecting it up

Whichever type of scanner you buy, you will need to connect it to your computer and install suitable software, so check for compatibility.

Scanners can use a variety of connections, including USB and network connections. The scanned image can be turned into a variety of formats, including PDF, TIFF and JPG. Also, character recognition software can be used to convert scanned documents into editable text.

Photo scanners often come with software to edit and manage your images once they are on the computer. Bundled software can be somewhat variable so it may be worth buying scanning software.

Scanning things is a time-consuming business, so it’s often worth paying for a faster machine.

The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.