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Grow Your Business Technology

Document Scanners: A Buying Guide

Document Scanners: A Buying Guide
Credit: A_stockphoto/Shutterstock

With the widespread use of technology among small businesses, document management is a valuable tool for businesses in 2019. Moving paper documents into online files gives your paperwork and important documents another level of security and protection. If your business hasn't already, it's a good idea to move physical paperwork into a digital format to better protect your documents moving forward.

Keeping documents safe by moving them into digital form is considered a best practice, but it takes the right equipment. Document scanners are one of the critical hardware components of good document management. 

Document scanners are devices that convert documents into digital information. Most frequently, these scanners are used in business settings to convert important documents into digital data. Document scanners can be used in small settings or massive enterprises. Many types of document scanners exist, which allows the tools to be useful for a wide range of businesses.

Editor's note: Looking for a document management system for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

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As companies and individuals attempt to move files into digital formats for safekeeping, document scanners play an essential part in that process. They might not be the most glamorous purchase, but your business should do the research before deciding which scanner is best for your document management strategy.

Before purchasing a scanner, it's a good idea to figure out how you're going to manage your documents. Our document management systems buying guide is a good resource to review prior to detailed research of document scanners.

Portable document scanners tend to run smaller and cheaper than desktop scanners. You can find portable scanners as low as $50 for handheld models and closer to $100 for those that aren't small enough to be handheld. The more expensive portable scanners inch closer to the $300 range.

As the name suggests, portable scanners are easy to transport. If you're out at an impromptu business meeting, you can quickly take the scanner out of your bag and digitally save documents you're viewing. A portable scanner acts as an efficient alternative to whipping out your phone and snapping a few photos to save the documents.

Different types of portable scanners include handheld, wireless and foldable scanners. It's worth noting that the quality of the scan can vary depending on the scanner you use. More expensive wireless models may create higher-resolution images than a handheld scanner that costs less than $100. As with most business decisions, the best purchase depends on the needs of your business. If you're scanning hundreds or thousands of documents weekly, a small portable handheld scanner probably isn't the most efficient choice. It may also work perfectly for smaller firms. The decision depends on your needs and a cost-benefit analysis.

Pros:

  • Small size can be perfect for smaller businesses
  • Less expensive than desktop scanners
  • Easy to transport

Cons:

  • Not ideal for scanning large quantities of documents
  • Resolution/image quality can be worse than on desktop scanners
  • Not a good option for some large enterprises

Desktop scanners differ from portable scanners in that they're much larger and stationary. You won't want to lug a massive desktop printer across town to scan documents at a meeting. While this might not be ideal for some firms, large desktop document scanners offer plenty of perks as well.

The features of desktop scanners can include high printing speeds and automation. Some desktop scanners can automatically correct mistakes as well. For example, if you place a document in one way and put the following page in upside down, the machine can recognize the error and still spit everything out correctly by rotating the page or images. This can save a lot of headaches for large firms.

Scanning speed and the ability to scan both sides of double-sided images are two other perks of many desktop document scanners. While these scanners tend to be pricier – many advanced models go for well over $400 – the benefits can be tremendous for larger operations.

Pros:

  • Fast scanning
  • A wide variety of features
  • Ideal for larger firms

Cons:

  • Bulky
  • Pricier than portable document scanners
  • May be too complicated for smaller firms

Different types of desktop document scanners include flatbed, sheet-fed and enterprise scanners. Some document scanner models designed for enterprises can exceed $5,000.

Document scanner pricing varies tremendously based on a few factors. Consider the following areas when trying to estimate your realistic price for a document scanner:

  • Portable vs. desktop
  • Printing speed
  • Size of the scanner
  • Usage
  • Company selling the scanner

Portable document scanners are generally smaller and cheaper. They're good for those on the go. Desktop document scanners are larger and more expensive. They tend to provide value to people scanning mass quantities of documents within their own office space.

Larger firms should prepare to spend close to $1,000 or more on desktop document scanners. The final price depends on the scanner's features, overall size and complexity. If you're looking for a document scanner for an enterprise operation, pricing may exceed $5,000 per scanner. It's also manageable to find desktop document scanners that sell for closer to $400, though those models are designed for businesses smaller than major companies.

Smaller firms can spend as little as $50 on a functional and effective portable handheld document scanner. Midsize businesses without major scanning needs may opt for larger portable scanners that sell for closer to $200. The decision ultimately depends on what your business needs from a document scanner. Businesses scanning lots of documents and images will likely want to look to the desktop document scanners. Smaller operations reliant on images and scanning, like a small photography business, may also decide it's worth investing in a desktop document scanner.

Document management and document scanning can be a confusing concept for someone unfamiliar with the process or industry. If you're looking for additional guidance, consider these questions when starting your search for document scanners.

Q: Can small businesses benefit from purchasing a document scanner?

A: Document scanners aren't necessary for every business, but small businesses can benefit from the tool, especially if the business scans documents frequently.  

Q: What can I expect to pay for a document scanner?

A: This depends on the type of scanner you purchase. Portable document scanners can range from $50 to $300, while desktop document scanners can be anywhere from $300 to $400 for a cheap model to several thousand dollars for a heavy-duty model.

Q: Are document scanners easy to use?

A: The complexity varies depending on the scanner. Generally, document scanners are easy to use, and you should get the hang of the process after the first few uses.

Q: Where should I look to buy document scanners?

A: Brother, Fujitsu, Kodak, Canon and Epson are all respected companies that sell serviceable document scanners. Other companies offer good options as well; there's no need to rely solely on those five. A quick Google search of document scanners can yield many options from a variety of credible companies.

Q: Does my business need an in-house document scanner?

A: Not necessarily. If you don't have major document scanning needs, there's an argument to be made for visiting a FedEx, Staples, UPS or similar location to scan documents. On the other hand, if you can afford a document scanner, the added convenience and future savings may be worth the initial cost. 

There are a few compelling reasons to avoid purchasing a document scanner for your business.

  • No need: If you don't need to scan documents regularly, a scanner might be an unnecessary business expense.
  • High price: Some smaller businesses might shy away from spending a few hundred (or thousand) dollars on a document scanner.
  • Space constraints: A business operating out of a coworking space or small office might not have the space to easily add a document scanner, especially the larger versions.

Purchasing a document scanner takes a good bit of planning. You need to understand your business's scanning needs and budget. Once you understand the basics of what you need, it's important to take the time to sift through the different options. Do you need a portable document scanner or a desktop document scanner? Should you buy something even larger that's designed for enterprises? It depends on your business. There's no perfect approach to buying a document scanner, but the starting point is understanding what your business wants and needs from its scanner. From there, the purchasing process is manageable.  

Bennett Conlin

Bennett is a B2B editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU’s student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing.