An image scanner is a gadget used to optically scan images, handwriting, objects, and printed text and convert them into digital images. It was unveiled in 1957 in the US and has found various domestic and industrial applications including gaming, testing, reverse engineering, and design.
In this guide to buying the best photo & image scanner we will discuss:
- The short answer to the best home photo and document scanner
- How do you narrow down the best choices of photo & document scanner?
- What can they be used for?
- How do they work?
- How do you scan old photos?
- Why digitize your photos?
- What is the best resolution for scanning photos?
- What features do you need?
- Can I use a multi-functional printer?
- Key factors to consider when buying
- Round up of the best photo & document scanners for 2019
Even with today’s digitized methods and online storage facilities, you still can’t quite beat holding a physical set of photographs, negatives and/or a drawing in your hand. However it is very likely that in order to safely store and preserve them, they will eventually need to be scanned and saved onto a computer (we have a computer buying guide here.
When digitizing photos, films and documents, most scanners will scan at various high and low resolutions along with the ability to also scan transparencies such as photo negatives and slides.
Aside from this, they also double up as excellent general photocopiers.
The short answer to the best home scanner…
We’ve searched through all of the “best of’s” and “top 10’s”, “tops 6’s” and even the “top 8’s”! and can conclude that the below photo and document scanners are currently the best on the market for 2019…
Best budget scanner
Item dimensions – 9.9 x 14.4 x 1.6 in | Computer platform – Windows/Mac | Maximum resolution – 4800 pixels | Maximum scan area – 8.5 inches x 11.7 inches | Automatic document feeder – No
Best scanner overall
Item dimensions – 19 x 11 x 4.6 in | Computer platform – Windows/Mac | Maximum resolution – 6400 pixels | Maximum scan area – 8.5 inches x 11.7 inches | Automatic document feeder – No
Life is a journey, and photography offers an excellent means of preserving memories. It is therefore disappointing to realize that those photos you have safely tucked away are starting to fade. Negatives and photo prints are, unfortunately, not permanent.
The most reliable storage means cannot effectively safeguard photo prints from aging and fading. You will ultimately rely on photo scanners to digitize your prints and preserve all those memories. The scanners in the market feature many user-friendly features and will even remove dust and scratches from your prints.
The same can be said for documents; certificates, passports, and even utility bills all need to be kept safe. Particularly with house hold bills, scanning them in and keeping a digital record will free up space and remove all those annoying bits of paper we all have in various draws and files.
But how do you narrow down the best choices of photo & document scanner?
There are multiple image and document scanner types such as drum, flatbed, film, 3D scanner, and portable scanners. The best scanners typically rank well in resolution and color depth. The flatbed scanner (Xerox machine) is popularly used in homes and offices. Its design borrows from early fax input machines and telegraphy gadgets.
A photo scanner is specifically designed to scan photographs optically. Although the models are smaller than standard scanners, they provide high resolution. The best photo scanners are undoubtedly drum scanners, but their prices are very prohibitive, and they seem to be a preserve of imaging service bureaus. Flatbed scanners offer high resolutions and are quite good.
If you intend to use the prints for such applications as print layouts, you will need to use a scanner with ultra-high resolutions so that they can be enlarged without reducing the quality.
What can they be used for?
Simply, image scanners will enable you to have a digital copy of your photos and documents.
If you are a professional photographer, the digital images will help you display your latest project. You can also edit the photos once they are in a digital format and add or remove the elements you want.
Digital photography currently dominates the photography realm, but people still have hard copies prints taken with film cameras. Your relative might want to see a family photo and scanners offer the best way to send the photo on social networking platforms.
Scanners also come in handy when you need to copy documents. If you stumble upon a magazine page detailing a project that has been on your mind, you only need to scan it for future purposes.
How do they work?
Flatbed scanners are the most versatile scanners, and its anatomy could help you understand how it works. Its components include CCD array, scan head, glass plate, mirrors, filters, lens, lamps, stepper motor, and stabilizer bar.
A scanner’s primary component is the CCD, which ranks as the most popular technology used to capture images in scanners. CCD is an assembly of microscopic light-sensitive diodes called photosites, responsible for converting light into electrical charge.
The image of the object that you scan finds its way to the CCD array via a series of lenses, mirrors, and filters. The precise configuration will vary from scanner to scanner, although the fundamentals are similar.
Below are the exact steps a scanner goes through:
- The document is laid on the glass plate after which the cover is closed. The inside part of the cover is mainly white, although some are black. The cover offers a uniform background and acts as a reference point for the scanner software to determine the document’s size.
- A lamp subsequently illuminates the document. It can be a xenon lamp or a cold cathode fluorescent one. Older versions use standard fluorescent lamps.
- The scan head compromises of the mirrors, lens, CCD array, and filter. It moves gently across the document with the help of a belt linked to a stepper motor. To prevent any deviation or wobble, the scan head is connected to a stabilizer bar.
- The document’s image is reflected in a mirror by another angled mirror. Scanners can either have two or three mirrors, and each is slightly curved to reflect the image onto a smaller surface.
- The final mirror illuminates the image onto a lens, which then focuses the image via a filter on the CCD array.
How do you scan old photos?
Digitizing your old photos will keep your memories a mouse click away. You can get a decent photo scanner for under $100.
- Begin by establishing an inventory of the photos you want to scan. If there are many, you can divide the endeavor into sessions.
- Your smartphone, as advanced as it is, will not give the kind of quality offered by a photo scanner. Opt for a model that has software with advanced features, including image correction.
- The scanner bed must be dry and clean to get the best quality. Refrain from using a tissue or a paper cloth and opt for a dry cloth.
- Wipe the bed frequently during scanning.
- To rid your photos of dust, you may use compressed air and not cleaning fluids. Do not flatten any creases as it may trigger more damage. Lay the image as flat as you can, and you can always edit out the creases later.
- Scanning one an image at a time is time-consuming, although you can lay several at once, provided they have a space of about a quarter inch between them. The images will be cropped subsequently into individual files.
- Mastering your scanner’s software will be challenging to begin with, but you will soon get the hang of it. The file format and resolution will depend on your intentions with the images. Go higher when uncertain.
What is the best resolution for scanning photos?
The best resolution for scanning photos is simply the highest resolution your scanner is capable of. The best photo scanners are capable of very high resolutions. The higher the resolution, obviously, the larger your photo files will be so you might need sufficient storage.
The beauty of having high-resolution images means that you can crop and recompose the photos while maintaining excellent quality to print and share.
When it comes to pixels, 300 dpi is generally fine although you can stretch it to 600 dpi.
If you require extra storage or would just prefer to keep your scans separate, then an external hardrive can offer a great and versitle storage method. We have a buying guide that discusses the various choices and what to look out for here.
Why digitize your photos and documents?
The digital world is full of possibilities, which you can take advantage of by scanning your photos and documents. The reasons to digitize may include:
Digital imagery and documents are well protected from fading, scratches and tears. They can be copied from one platform to another without losing quality or being different from the original.
Digital mediums like CDs can get lost or damaged, but the files can be moved between mediums safety without loss of quality.
Digital files can also be passed down through generations in good form. There is also no limit to the number of mediums that can store your files.
Most people keep their files in multiple locations for safekeeping.
Digital software simplifies the process of organizing photos and documents based on different criteria.
Forget about digging through your physical photo collection to find a specific photo, or a draw full of bills. You can sort digital imagery by the event and date. You can even tag people in some programs to isolate just the photos a particular person was in. You can add a keyword to attach significance to the files.
People currently connect the most on social networking sites. Gone are the days of sending parcels for miles which took too long to arrive. Your digital file will make it easy to share memories with your friends and family.
There is nothing more capable of bringing people together, like memories. You will be uncovering the past in no time with people you went to school with or with relatives who live far away.
You can use photo organizing programs to create a photo book. Maybe you want to showcase your children’s milestones in which case a photo book will let you get creative with the process.
You can make flaws disappear in digital print or even add elements for good humor. The possibilities of digital prints are endless.
What features do you need?
You can get scanners in a wide range of capabilities and prices. Low-cost models are generally limited to scanning photo prints and documents. For less than $100, you will get one that does this function well.
Scanners in the mid-range (above $200) can handle film negatives and or/slides. They come fitted with holders to secure multiple slides or negatives.
Most scanners provide basic and advanced settings, which can be accessed via their driver or scan utilities. The basic mode of scanner software will mostly identify the settings for you, while you can customize with the advanced scanners.
The best image scanners offer removal capabilities for scratches and dust. Be on the lookout for a technology called Digital ICE which is contained in some of the best photo scanners.
Can I use a multi-functional printer?
Most people who desire to only print photos and documents with a scanner will select a single-function printer. Almost all multi-functional printers, however, have a flatbed capable of scanning. The quality of the prints will vary depending on the software programs and the hardware used.
Most of the multi-functional printers cannot compare to the quality produced by single-use image scanners. Some models have additional photo-centric features in addition to their basic functions and can scan slides negatives and slides.
Key factors to consider when buying a photo and image scanner
As a general rule, we recommend that you aim for a flatbed photo scanner, as this not only provides more versatility when scanning a range of other documents, but most importantly ensures that physical photographs are kept damage free.
This is due to sheet-fed document scanners carrying a certain element of risk via their document feeds, however if you are all about speed then the Epson FastFoto FF-680W is one of the best sheet-feed photo scanners available.
What will you be scanning? Some scanners are better for scanning negatives and others are better for scanning say art work.
Will it be easy to install, and more importantly is it easy to use? This becomes more important if you will be reliant on the installed software rather than say Photoshop to process your scans.
If you will be scanning lots of photos and documents at once, then this becomes very important.
This is decided by how you want to use you scanned photos and documents. A lower resolution can be used for web and storage, however if physically printing, you will will want 3200dpi as the very minimum. The same can also be said for bit depth.