How to Scan Just About Anything
Everything you need to know about scanning documents, photos, receipts, and more on Windows, Mac, and mobile.
Everything you need to know about scanning documents, photos, receipts, and more on Windows, Mac, and mobile.
Tax forms, receipts, bills, childhood photographs — important documents and physical memories inundate our lives. But the average person goes through nearly 700 pounds of paper every year, and saving and filing the essentials grows increasingly difficult as these documents accumulate.
Families are turning to digital scanners, which enable them to reduce clutter while preserving digitized copies of necessary documents and family photos for quick and easy recall. If you’ve never used a scanner before, don’t worry. Read on to learn how to scan nearly any document on various platforms and devices.
There are more options than ever for scanning important documents, family photos, and other media. While you might get by with an all-in-one printer or even a mobile phone for scanning the occasional document, these options take far longer and produce inferior quality images compared to dedicated scanning devices.
The following are a few reasons why you should opt for a purpose-built scanner for your digitization needs.
All-in-one devices may seem practical, but dedicated scanners take advantage of high-quality image-processing equipment to ensure you’re getting the best possible image the first time.
Dedicated scanners can handle hundreds of pages every day, and many include anti-jamming functionality to prevent paper damage.
Many dedicated scanners feature one-button implementation — simply stack your papers into the tray, hit the button, and save your results. Integrated software even handles automated file naming conventions and image processing.
Scanners are often equipped with automatic document feeders, which enable rapid processing of piles of documents at a time.
When using a dedicated scanner, initiating a scan with default settings is a snap. Windows 10 and Mac OS come loaded with their own scanning software, and your scanner may come included with proprietary software to use additional features and provide extra functionality. Whatever the case, the process is relatively straightforward — simply follow the steps below:
Ensure your scanner is turned on and connected to your computer via a wired USB or wireless connection.
Open your scanning software. On Windows 10, this is called Windows Fax and Scan. On Mac OS, you’ll want to open the Image Capture application. Your scanner may also come with software — use that if it’s available.
Place the documents into the bed or tray of the scanner.
Press the scan button in your chosen software (or the physical button on your scanner, if available) to initiate the scan.
Save the scanned document file to your hard drive.
Macintosh computers have an elegant design, snappy hardware, and easy-to-use interface. Scanning documents on a Mac is slightly different than on Windows. Below are some simple instructions to get you scanning on your Mac computer in no time:
Open the Image Capture application and find your scanner. This program may be under the Devices section if connected directly to your Mac; if it’s connected to your network, you will find it under the Shared section.
Once selected, click Show Details to reveal the full settings. Here, you can set options like scan mode (Flatbed or Document Feeder) and choose color, resolution, and sizing options.
Select your scanning destination folder and name the image. Choose the image/file type to suit your needs. JPEG is good for most purposes, though you may want to create a PDF file for document scans.
Click the Scan button to begin scanning your documents.
If you don’t have a scanner nearby and need to digitize a document in a pinch, your iPhone can help. It’s no replacement for a dedicated scanner, but you can get a surprisingly decent scan on your smartphone with only a few steps:
Open up the Notes app and create a new note. There are several formatting options below the text field; choose Scan Documents.
Position your document or photo within the frame of the iPhone camera window. Once the iPhone detects your document, it will initiate the scan.
The Notes app will now provide a handful of editing features, like cropping, photo filters, or image rotation. If you need to make any adjustments, you can do so now. Tap Save to create a new note with your scanned documents.
Once saved, users can share documents in a variety of ways. If you have a Mac with automated sync enabled, your scan should appear within your computer’s Notes app. Otherwise, tap the Share icon in the upper-right of the Notes app. Here, you can send the scan via text or email, share it to social media, or even AirDrop to another nearby iOS device or Mac.
Did You Know? PCMagazine described the ScanSnap iX1300 as “a snappy, accurate portable document scanner that's excellent for digitizing documents on the road or wherever space is limited.” Click here to read full review and learn why it earned a 4 out of 5 rating.
Android phones offer similar capabilities to their Apple-based counterparts, though the process is a bit different depending on the model of the phone.
Newer phones like Samsung’s Galaxy series of Android phones include embedded scanning features within the Camera app. Simply open the Camera app, position your document within the frame, and your phone will automatically detect it. Tap the scan prompt, and the phone will save the file.
If your phone doesn’t include native scanning options, that’s okay — Google Drive can help. Open the Google Drive app, tap the Add button in the bottom right corner, and then choose the Scan option. Now you can frame your document and scan once ready. The feature set is more limited than native scanning features on newer phones, but it can handle simple scans.
Once you’re all set, you can access your scanned file (either in the saved files of your phone or Google Drive, depending on which option you choose). Then, tap the Share icon to send your document via email, Messenger, social media, or other options.
Legal size paper measures 8.5” wide and 14” tall — a full three inches taller than standard letter size paper. Because of the larger size, scanning these documents may require extra prep work, especially if your scanner isn’t built to process them by default.
Many scanners with automatic document feeders include a setting that allows for scanning larger legal size documents — just check your scanning software settings to ensure it’s processing the full image.
Flatbed scanners are trickier, as the scanning surface needs to be large enough to support the entire document. If you’re looking for a flatbed scanner, ensure its tray is at least 14” long so you can capture the entire document at once
Receipt paper is one of the trickiest things to scan. No two receipts are the same, often differing in size, shape, and material. And depending on how they’ve been stored, receipt conditions can range from neat and legible to crumpled and faded. Scanning receipts requires special care and a lot of patience.
Scanners with automatic document feeders can process scans much faster than flatbed scanners, but they operate at maximum efficiency when all pages are the same size and thickness — a difficult task when organizing receipts.
Some scanners provide special receipt guide attachments to help organize and process receipt scans. Hook it up to your scanner, stack your receipts into the guide as uniformly as possible, and let the scanner speed up the process of digitization for you.
Staying organized makes processing expense reports and managing taxes much easier and more efficient. If your scanner came with software, there’s a good chance it can help keep your digital files in order.
Setting a filename prefix provides a standard structure for all of your scans. For example, suppose you’re scanning dozens of receipts from a recent business trip. In that case, you can ensure each numbered scan has the month and year or other unique identifier attached to the beginning of the file to keep everything sorted and easy to find.
Scanning old photos is a great way to preserve them for future generations and make them easier to share with friends and family over the internet. See below to get the best quality scans while maintaining the condition of the original copy.
When handling old photographs, avoid touching the image and wear nitrile gloves if possible.
Use compressed air to clean the dust off photographs and the scanner.
Keep stacks small (about an inch thick) to avoid placing too much pressure on the photo.
If sharing photos online, set the scanner resolution setting to 300 dpi. If you’re planning on archiving photos for future use (including making physical prints), set the resolution to 600 dpi.
Due to their unique physical structure and film quality, properly scanning slides will take far more care and attention than any other document or media type you may come across.
Depending on the quantity or condition of slides you’re dealing with, it may be best to hire a professional slide scanning service to handle restoration and digitization.
If you opt to scan slides at home, you may need to clean them first. Always use nitrile gloves to avoid depositing further oil or dust on the slide, then gently apply a cotton swab dipped in at least 95% isopropyl alcohol to the slide. Dry the slide with compressed air.
Slides require specialized scanners which are different from document scanners due to the position of the light source and camera. Make sure to research the correct device for your needs.
You’ve got the necessary documents scanned — now it’s time to utilize them. Import scanned images to liven up plain text documents or convert text-based scans into editable text directly within Microsoft Word
Placing a JPEG or PNG image file within a Word document is as easy as clicking the Insert menu, choosing the Pictures option, then selecting your scanned image and clicking Insert.
Once inserted, move it around by dragging and dropping, and you can resize images by clicking and dragging any of the squares on the image border. Quick tip: hold the Shift key while resizing an image to maintain the current sizing ratio.
Images can also be easily aligned with your text — click on an image and select the Layout Options icon that appears. Here, you can choose options to wrap text around the image as desired.
PDF files can be converted into editable Word documents, which can be manipulated directly and saved to .docx file formats.
Conversion is as easy as clicking File, then clicking Open. Select the PDF file, then click OK on the pop-up window that asks if Word should convert the PDF into an editable Word document.
You may need to do a bit of formatting clean-up as PDF-to-text conversion isn’t always perfect. That said, the entire process from scan to conversion should take far less time than retyping a whole document from scratch.
Once you’ve scanned your documents or photos, it’s time to share them. Just attach the scanned files to an email, regardless of which email provider you use.
From your desktop, files can be dragged onto new emails to add as attachments or directly embedded into the message as an image. You can also upload files by clicking the paper clip icon. It’s important to note that Gmail will send anything smaller than 25MB as an email attachment — Google Drive can handle larger files.
Outlook provides similar functionality to Gmail, whether you want to drag and drop your files directly onto a message or attach them manually via the paper clip icon.
Attach files to Apple Mail’s desktop app via the standard paper clip icon. If you’re on mobile, you’ll need to long-press on the body of the email, tap the arrow on the pop-up menu twice, and then choose to insert a photo or document to your email.