[IMGCAP(1)]Document management applications are rapidly gaining traction. And many accounting and even tax preparation systems now have the capability to attach documents to transactions. But before that can happen, those documents need to be in electronic format. Some documents are already there. Word processing, spreadsheets, PDFs and emails are already in a format that’s compatible with document management requirements.

But paper has far from disappeared from the scene. If you want to take advantage of the ability to manage documents and/or use them in another application, a scanner is the way to go.

If you have an MFP or all-in-one that can print, copy and scan, it may be sufficient for your needs, especially if it contains an ADF (automatic document feeder). This type of scanner is essentially a flatbed model, with a glass scan platen where the document to be scanned is moved or placed, and a scan head containing sensor elements is moved down the page in very small steps to capture an image of what’s on the document. Some MFP scanners can perform duplex scans, scanning both sides of a document. This is accomplished by either mechanically turning the document over in the feeder (the same way duplex printing works), or with the addition of a second scan element in the ADF.

But if you have a lot of documents that need to be scanned, and they are of mixed sizes, a sheet-fed document scanner may be the way to go. Sheet-fed scanners work just a little differently. The documents are stacked in the input tray and move past a scan head that contains scan elements on both sides of the paper path. Pretty much all document scanners are duplex and most are single pass, scanning both sides of the document as it feeds through the scanner. In general, document scanners have lower resolution than flatbed scanners, topping out at about 600dpi (dots per inch). Some flatbed scanners have resolutions of up to 2,400dpi. But that 600dpi is just fine for document scanning purposes, since most document scanning is performed at 200-300dpi.

Another difference between the two types of scanners is the way the output is presented in terms of speed. Flatbed scanners often give output in terms of pages per minute (ppm), while document scanners use the term images per minute (ipm) and present the output in simplex (one-sided) and duplex (front-and-back) modes. So an output of 25/50ipm means that the rated speed (usually at 300 dpi) is 25ipm if you are just scanning the front of the page, and 50 imp if you’re scanning both sides. Scanning at higher resolutions such as 600dpi, slows down the output speed. But if what you’re scanning has very small print or fine detail, you’ll want to adjust the scan resolution to capture these.

More than just hardware

I’ve been testing a number of document scanners recently, and one thing that stood out in my evaluations was that almost all of them came with significant bundles of software. Four of the five models I looked at came with one or more scanner drivers, with TWAIN included with all. TWAIN, which is an acronym for Technology Without An Important Name, allows compatible applications to directly control the scanner. Other software bundles often included Nuance’s PaperPort for document storage and retrieval, OmniPage or ABBYY for OCR, some sort of PFD creating and reading software, and sometimes a business card reader application.

The sole exception among the group I looked at was the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, which does not come with a TWAIN driver, so it can’t feed directly into a compatible application. But it shouldn’t be counted out of the running if you’re looking for a document scanner, since it comes with its own software bundle which can scan to a PDF document, or perform OCR to convert a document into a Word or text file. These functions create electronic documents that can be used in any application that requires a document to be in electronic format.

If you can make use of it, a document scanner doesn’t have to break the bank. One of the scanners I looked at, the Xerox DocuMate 152i, has a street price of $250 and a huge bundle of software including the latest versions of PaperPort, OmniPage, and Power PDF, a utility to create and read PDF files.

More expensive document scanners may add additional features such as Wi-Fi connectivity, scan to the Cloud, and the ability to mix different size documents in the input tray. If these features are desirable, prepare to dig deeper into your pockets.

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