A Small Business Guide to Document Scanners

Pundits have written about the paperless office for years, but it has yet to appear. And, because paper just won’t go away, document-management applications are increasingly popular.

The ability to create documents in a digital format lies at the heart of document management. While many documents already exist in digital form—think word processing, spreadsheets, and emails—plenty of paper documents, photos, and forms need to be converted so that they can be manipulated or stored digitally. That’s where document scanners come in.

How to Buy a Small Business Scanner

No one scanner can address all scanning needs. Setting aside business-card scanners and specialty scanners for slides and photographic negatives, you’re left with two basic types of scanners: flatbed and sheet-fed.

Flatbed scanners feature a glass scan platen, generally letter-sized or legal-sized, upon which you place the document to be scanned. These scanners can be either stand-alone units or, more commonly, part of an MFP or All-in-One printer that provides printing, copying, and sometime fax capability in addition to scanning.

Some flatbed scanners include an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF), which lets you place a stack of same-size documents into the feeder. The scanner automatically moves the pages onto the glass platen one-by-one for scanning. All flatbed scanners, whether they have an ADF or not, have a hinged cover that you lift to place an original onto the glass platen.

Documents or photos remain stationary during the scanning process while a scan element moves down the page. Some flatbed scanners can perform duplex scanning, which scans the first side of the page, retracts the page back into the ADF feeder, turns it over, and scans the second side.

Sheet-fed document scanner: Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000e

The Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000e sheet-fed document scanner.

Sheet-fed scanners aren’t all that different. They have an input tray where you stack documents, and an output tray. The scan head sits between the two trays, usually with two scan heads fixed in place. The sheet-fed scanner scans both sides of a document as it moves through the machine. This scan-on-the-fly capability means that sheet-fed scanners can generally scan more documents in a given time.

Each type of scanner has its pros and cons. Flatbed scanners provide higher resolution—generally an optical resolution of either 1,200 x 600 dpi (dots per inch) or 2,400 x 1,200 dpi. Some scanner specifications state resolutions as high as 9,600 dpi. This is an interpolated resolution, computed from the best optical resolution the scanner can produce.

Most of the time, you won’t scan at resolutions greater than the scanner can sense, unless you’re scanning a small document with the intent of printing it considerably larger. The higher the resolution, the larger the resulting files, and scanning at high resolutions produces huge files.

Sheet-fed document scanners typically provide a maximum resolution of 600 dpi. If you scan photos or images with very fine detail, a flatbed scanner’s better resolution may make a difference. When scanning documents, you almost never scan at resolutions greater than 300 or 400 dpi, so the 600 dpi maximum resolution should suffice.

The Scoop on Small Business Scanner Software

If you already have a document management software, like Microsoft SharePoint, all you need to worry about is whether the document scanner you select has a compatible driver. All of the five scanners we reviewed include drivers that work with various applications.

The most common of these drivers is TWAIN, which stands for “Technology Without An Important Name”, a somewhat factious acronym. Still, almost all document-oriented applications work with TWAIN as do most graphics applications such as Photoshop or Google Picasa. Other popular scanner drivers include ISIS, Microsoft Windows Image Acquisition (WIA), and ICA for the Mac OS.

Many document scanners come with additional software, which may or may not add value—depending on your business needs. We’ll discuss that in the individual reviews. We’ll also discuss each scanner’s physical layout, but most sheet-fed scanners share similar construction: the input hopper at the top-rear of the unit and the output tray at the bottom-front.

5 Affordable Small Business Scanners

Brother ImageCenter ADS-2000e

The Brother ADS-2000e ($300, street) is the second least expensive scanner we reviewed for this Buyer’s Guide, but it goes toe-to-toe with the more expensive units.

Similar to the other scanners, the ImageCenter measures 11.8- x 8.7- x 7.-inches. A flip-up lid covers the front panel when closed, and a pull-out output tray sits at the bottom of the unit (see image above). The ADF holds 50 sheets, and Brother quotes the scan speed at 25 ppm maximum, but it does not quote speeds at specific resolutions.

Like all the scanners we reviewed, the ADS-2000e’s optical resolution is 600dpi, but the scanner also offers interpolated resolution of up to 1,200 x 1,200 dpi, something the other scanners do not. The small business scanner also offers the most driver choices, including TWAIN, WIA, ICA, ISIS and SANE (which supports the Linux operating system). Brother also states that the ADS-2000e works with the Android operating system, if you have an optional Android cable.

Most of the scanners include a bundle of software, and the Brother is no exception. The ADS-2000e comes with Nuance PaperPort 12SE (which is an older, limited version), Nuance PDF Converter Professional 8, Presto BizCard 6, and Control Center 4. The package includes similar programs for the Mac OS.

One feature that’s worth noting: you can scan to a USB flash drive via the USB port located on the right side of the scanner. None of the other four offer this feature, even the higher-priced models. The only feature missing from the ADS-2000e is Wi-Fi, and at this price, that’s easily forgivable.

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