A Small Business Guide to Document Scanners

Monday Mar 28th 2016 by Ted Needleman
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Need to organize lots of paper? A sheet-fed document scanner is the way to go. Here’s how to choose the right one for your needs, and a look at five affordable sheet-fed 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.

More Small Business Document Scanners

Canon ImageFormula DR-C225

Out of the box, you notice that the Canon ImageFormula DR-C225 ($400, street) looks a little different than the other sheet-fed scanners we reviewed. It’s more vertically wedge-shaped, and instead of fold-out input and output trays, it has a small fold-up door on the top of the scanner with pop-up paper supports that look a bit like rabbit-ear antennas.

You won’t find a formal output tray; the paper feeds into the scanner and exits through the bottom of the device—the backward slope of the front panel supports the output. This gives the 8.7- x 11.8- x 6.1-inch scanner a rather svelte desktop footprint. Unlike many document scanners, the DS-C225 has only a 30-sheet ADF, and at the full 30 sheets, paper threatened to drop (but didn’t) from the output stack onto the desk.

Canon ImageFormula offers the same 600 dpi optical resolution as the other scanners tested, but the company doesn’t give the scan speeds at the different (lower) resolutions, it simply states scan speeds up to 25 ppm.

Small business document scanner: Canon ImageFormula DR-C225

Small business document scanner: the Canon ImageFormula DR-C225.

Setting up this scanner takes a while, largely because Canon includes a nice selection of software beyond the TWAIN and ISIS drivers. For Windows, Canon includes Capture OnTouch—a utility that lets you scan directly to various applications and Cloud-based services—Nuance eCopyPDF Pro Office, Nuance Paper Port 14, Nuance OmniPage OCR, Evernote, and Newsoft Presto BizCard. The package includes similar programs for the Mac OS.

We very much like the attractive and functional on-screen control panel. Touch a button to launch the selected application’s scan-to locations. That sort of makes up for the fact that USB 2.0 is the only interface. At this price, we would like to see Wi-Fi as well.

Epson Workforce DS-560

With a flip-up front cover and a pull-out bottom output tray, the 6.1- x 11.7- x 6-inch Epson WorkForce DS-560 ($320, street) is about the same size as the other units we tested. It’s also one of two document scanners we tested that offer connectivity via USB 2.0 or Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi capability lets you scan to mobile devices including smartphones and tablets (Android and iOS). You can also scan directly to cloud services including Evernote, Google Drive, and others.

The 50-sheet document feeder features an ultrasonic double-feed detector, so if two pages inadvertently feed into the machine, the scanner stops and generates an error message. You can also mix different sized documents in the ADF stack. The DS-560 also lets you scan oversize documents in a single pass by folding them over. No need for those clear plastic envelopes typically used with delicate or unusually sized documents.

small business document scanner: Epson Workforce DS-560

Small business document scanner: Epson Workforce DS-560

Unlike some of the other document scanners we tested, Epson doesn’t include much software with the DS-560. You get software to convert the scanned image to a PDF, and TWAIN and ISIS drivers (you need to download the ISIS driver). Also included: Abbyy FineReader OCR, and NewSoft BizCard OCR (the Windows version is on the CD, you have to download the Mac version).

Epson claims a scan speed of up to 26 ppm when scanning at 200 or 300 dpi. That speed drops to 5 ppm when scanning at 400 or 600 dpi (optical resolution).

If you need TWAIN compatibility and Wi-Fi, the DS-560 is a good choice. Epson even offers a network adapter, which lets multiple computers access the scanner over a network.

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 ($420, street) sits at the top of our price range, though you can find much more expensive document scanners on the market from both this vendor and others.

At a compact 11.5- x 6.2- x 6.6-inches, the iX500 won’t take up much room on your desk. The hinged input tray doubles the scanner’s front cover and opens at the top of the unit to expose the fold-down output tray. The 50-sheet capacity ADF duplexes, and scan speed varies from 25ppm at resolutions from 75 dpi to 300 dpi, and then drops to 7 ppm at the 600 dpi resolution. The scanner also uses an ultrasonic double-feed detector.

small business document scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

Small business document scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

The iX500 comes with a nice assortment of software including OCR, scan to PDF, Scan to Cloud, CardMinder business card scanning application, and ScanSnap Receipt for extracting and organizing data from your receipts. With the proper app installed on a mobile device (iOS or Android), the ScanSnap can scan directly to a smartphone or tablet. A Deluxe Bundle adds Rack2-Filer, a document store and retrieve application, and you can download ScanSnap Sync, an application that uses the Cloud to synchronize scanned files between a PC/Mac and your mobile devices.

The iX500 has one serious downside; it does not support TWAIN or ISIS, so if you need a scanner to work with an existing application, you’re better off looking at another vendor’s offering. On the plus side, the ScanSnap offers two interfaces—USB 2.0 and Wi-Fi, and Fujitsu includes a USB cable in the box.

Xerox DocuMate 152i

While Visioneer manufactures the DocuMate 152i ($250, street), the small business document sells under both the Visioneer and Xerox names. Regardless of the vendor name on the scanner, it’s the same unit.

The DocuMate 152i may be the least expensive of the five document scanners we tested, but it certainly not a budget model. It features many of the same specifications of the more expensive models reviewed here, and it throws in a terrific assortment of software applications to boot.

A bit larger than the other scanners in this round up, the 152i measures 12- x 17.6- x 12.9-inches. A pull-up support at the rear of the unit acts as the input tray, and a plastic piece that snaps onto the front of the scanner is the output tray. Setup takes just a few minutes, and USB 2.0 is the scanner’s only interface.

Installing the software takes another 10 minutes or more. That’s because the 152i comes with a lot of software, most of it from Nuance. Visioneer One Touch 4.6 for Windows (up to Windows 10), lets you scan directly to various applications including PaperPort, a default printer (which is great for copying), Outlook and Outlook Express, Word, and directly to storage on a PC or Mac in different image formats.

small business document scanner: Xerox DocuMate 152i

Small business document scanner: Xerox DocuMate 152i

You also get PaperPort Pro 14, the latest version of Nuance’s entry-level document storage and retrieval system. Other Nuance applications include OmniPage Ultimate Version 19 and Power PDF, which lets you create and edit PDF files.

As with the other scanners reviewed, the DocuMate 152i provides an optical resolution of up to 600 dpi. It’s rated at a maximum scan speed of 25 ppm in duplex mode at 200 dpi and normal color settings. Scanning at higher resolutions will, of course, slow down the scan speed.

The DocuMate 152i feels just a bit flimsier than the other scanners we tested. But if you want a good, basic document scanner with a great software bundle, it’s going to be hard to find a better value.

Ted Needleman published his first review in 1978. Since then, he has written several thousand hardware and software reviews, columns, articles on using technology, and two books. He has no intention of stopping any time soon.

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