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Updated Oct 26, 2023

Document Scanners: A Buying Guide

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Bennett Conlin, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer

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The widespread use of technology among small businesses has made storing paper documents irrelevant. Transferring paper documents into online files is the first step toward a paperless office. Digital files are more secure and they ensure you won’t lose valuable paperwork. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to protect your documents by changing physical paperwork into a digital format going forward. Keeping documents in a digital format is considered best practice, but it takes the right equipment. Document scanners are a critical hardware component when choosing a document management system. 

We’ll look at document scanning technology, types of document scanners, and how to choose the right document scanner for your company.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right document management system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What is a document scanner?

Document scanners are devices that convert documents into digital information. These scanners are frequently used in business settings to convert important documents into digital data. 

Document scanners are helpful for small organizations and enterprises alike. Many document scanner types exist, allowing the tools to be helpful for a wide range of businesses.

As companies and individuals move files into digital formats for safekeeping, document scanners play an essential role. But you need to do your research to determine which scanner is best for your company.

Before purchasing a scanner, consider implementing the best document management software for your business to organize digital records and allow team members to make edits on the fly.

Why businesses need document scanners

If you still rely heavily on filing paper documents, you may not understand why you need a document scanner. Here are a few benefits of converting your paper documents into digital files:

  • It saves time. A digital filing system can save your business time and create a more productive workplace, as employees can access documents almost immediately rather than searching drawers or folders for them.
  • It keeps your documents secure. Storing documents electronically will help you keep sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Paper documents can be easily altered or removed, whereas digital documents are signed with an encrypted digital signature. 
  • It prevents physical damage to documents. Paper documents can easily be lost in a fire or natural disaster. Digital documents can be backed up using a cloud backup service and easily accessed in an emergency.
  • You can share documents easily. If you regularly send contracts or share documents with other people, a scanner will simplify this process. With digital documents, you can send and quickly receive important paperwork. 
  • Your team can collaborate on documents. Storing your documents online makes it easier to connect with other people. An entire team can edit a document remotely, and there’s no need for back-and-forth emails. 
FYIDid you know
Some of the best apps for remote business collaboration are Slack, Zoom, Trello and Google Docs.

Types of document scanners

The two main document scanner categories are portable and desktop. 

Portable document scanners

Portable document scanners tend to be smaller and cheaper than desktop scanners. You can find portable handheld scanners for $60 to $100. Larger scanners cost between $150 and $300, while high-end portable scanners could cost $300 to $500.

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 is more efficient than whipping out your phone and snapping a few photos to save the documents.

Different portable scanner types include handheld, wireless and foldable. 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 your company’s needs. If you’re scanning hundreds or thousands of documents weekly, a small portable handheld scanner probably isn’t the most efficient choice. The decision depends on your needs and a cost-benefit analysis.

Here are some of advantages of a portable document scanner:

  • The small size can be perfect for a small business with limited space.
  • It’s less expensive than a desktop scanner.
  • It’s easy to transport.

These are some of the downfalls of a portable document scanner: 

  • It’s a poor option for a large enterprise, as it’s not ideal for scanning large quantities of documents.
  • The image quality may be worse than with desktop scanners.
Did You Know?Did you know
Other digital document management tools include receipt-tracking apps and expense trackers, which digitize documentation and simplify reimbursement and taxation.

Desktop document scanners

Desktop scanners differ from portable scanners in that they’re 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.

Desktop scanner features include high printing speeds and automation; some desktop scanners can automatically correct mistakes too. 

For example, if you place a document in one way and put the following page 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 just some of the perks of buying a desktop document scanner. While these scanners tend to be pricier – many advanced models go for well over $500 – the benefits can be tremendous for larger operations.

Here are some pros of desktop document scanners:

  • Fast scanning
  • Variety of features
  • Ideal solution for larger firms

These are some of the cons of desktop scanners:

  • Bulky
  • Pricier than portable document scanners
  • Complex for smaller firms

Different desktop document scanner types include flatbed, sheet-fed and enterprise scanners. 

Document scanner pricing

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

  • Portable vs. desktop
  • Printing speed
  • Scanner size
  • Usage amount
  • Company selling the scanner

Portable document scanners are generally smaller and less expensive compared to desktop scanners. They’re good for small businesses on the go, such as realtors. You can spend as little as $60 on a functional and effective portable handheld document scanner. Consequently, larger, portable scanners sell for closer to $200.

Desktop document scanners are larger and more expensive, and tend to provide value to employees scanning massive quantities of documents within an office space. Larger companies should prepare to spend $1,000 to $5,000 on desktop document scanners. 

The decision ultimately depends on what your business needs from a document scanner. Businesses scanning many documents and images will likely consider 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.

FYIDid you know
Online fax services remove the need for paper documents in the faxing process.

How to determine the type of scanner your business needs

If you’re trying to decide what type of scanner your business needs, think about the types of documents you’ll be scanning. For instance, if you plan to scan a high volume of paperwork, you’ll probably want a more robust desktop scanner. If you only need to occasionally scan a document at meetings, an inexpensive portable scanner may suffice. 

You also want to ensure the scanner will integrate with your current system. Before buying a scanner, find out what types of technology it integrates with. That way, your digital documents will be easily accessible after scanning them.

Figure out how fast you need the digital scanner to be available. If you’re a small business that only needs to scan documents occasionally, speed may not be that important. But if you’re a larger firm that needs to scan dozens of documents daily, you need something fast to avoid a large paperwork backlog. 

Why you may not need a document scanner

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

  • Not necessary: If you don’t need to scan documents regularly, a scanner might be an unnecessary business expense.
  • High price: Some smaller companies might shy away from spending a few hundred – or thousand – dollars on a document scanner.
  • Small space: A business operating out of a coworking space or small office might not have the room to easily add a document scanner, especially the larger versions.

Purchasing a document scanner takes some planning. Consider asking yourself: Do you need a portable document scanner or a desktop document scanner? Should you buy something even larger that’s designed for enterprises? 

There’s no perfect approach to buying a document scanner, but the starting point is understanding your business wants and needs. From there, the purchasing process is straightforward.  

Did You Know?Did you know
Another way to reduce paperwork is by converting your payroll process to paperless pay. You won't have to print out payroll reports, pay employees with paper checks, or record time and attendance on printed timesheets.

Document scanner FAQs

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

Can small businesses benefit from purchasing a document scanner?

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

What can I expect to pay for a document scanner?

This depends on the type of scanner you purchase. Portable document scanners range from  $60 to $300, while desktop document scanners can be anywhere from $300 to $500 for an inexpensive model to several thousand dollars for a heavy-duty one.

Are document scanners easy to use?

Generally, document scanners are easy to use, and you should get the hang of the process quickly. The complexity varies by scanner, though. 

Where should I look to buy document scanners?

Brother, Fujitsu, Kodak, Canon and Epson are all respected companies that sell good document scanners. But there’s no need to rely solely on those five; you can find many options from credible companies online. If you want a scanner that also functions as a printer and copier, you can start with our buying guide for multifunction printers.

Does my business need an in-house document scanner?

Not necessarily. If you don’t have significant document scanning needs, there’s an argument to be made for visiting a FedEx, Staples, UPS Store 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. 

Jamie Johnson contributed to the writing and research in this article.

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Bennett Conlin, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
Bennett Conlin's passion for business and entrepreneurship is evident everywhere, from his bachelor's degree in business administration and management from James Madison University to his work with small business development centers to the founding of his own small multimedia company. Conlin has provided consultative services for small businesses looking for social media and website assistance, studied the cybersecurity landscape and expertly guided entrepreneurs toward the wide range of products and services needed for everyday operations. In recent years, Conlin has focused on the intersection of business, finance and sports with insights on the casino industry and coverage of sports betting news and legislation.
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