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How to scan a document

Whether you’re a digital nomad or tech-savvy parent, being able to easily get documents from your desk to desktop – or mobile is essential. Here’s a quick guide on the most common methods of high-quality document scanning.

When should I use a scanner?

With so many of our files and documents being digital these days, scanning documents is still a necessity. There are numerous items that people want to scan for preservation, including:

  • Personal printed photos

  • Handwritten notes

  • Medical & financial documents

  • Personal or work receipts

  • Contracts and invoices

  • Photos and ID

  • Magazine and newspaper clippings

  • Sketches and blueprints

All these things are still very much in demand, whether for your personal life or professional admin. Modern solutions mean that scanning documents is much quicker, sleeker and easier than the old-fashioned ways you may remember.

Using a copier to scan

Printers, so long as they aren’t ancient, typically double as scanners and modern models let you email the scan to yourself right from the machine. If you need a document scanned at work, or have access to a printer or copier at a local library, they make it simple to get high-quality scans and are usually easy to use – albeit typically expensive. Multiple scanned pages can add up fast. And even if you have one at home, they aren’t the greatest solution for document scanning because it can be a time-consuming, inefficient process.

The steps can vary from model to model: some will just complete the scan and send it to the computer it’s connected to. Other, more modern printers or copiers will let you choose the size, colour mode or file type and then allow you to select which local user or which unique email address you want it sent to. Scans are commonly delivered from copy machines as PDF files, but depending on the copier, you may even have the option of other file types like JPEG or PNG.

Using a scanner

If you have a dedicated scanner at home, scanning documents is simple. Depending on your model however, you might not have the option to scan-to-email or send as a PDF. If you’ve bought a home scanner, you might need to do some configuration from the default settings to make sure you’re scanning at the correct resolution and colour mode.

Depending on what you’re scanning, you may need to fiddle around with settings to get the perfect result. Typical letter or legal sized documents are relatively easy to scan. But if you’re scanning artwork, the size may be too large to fit the scan or the colour match might not be accurate enough.

How to scan documents on iPhone or Android

Scanning to a PC is one thing, but what if you’re working from home, out and about or just don’t want to splurge on a scanner you might not use that often? Mobile scanning is a simple and cost-efficient alternative to quickly scan physical documents into readable files. Rather than carefully collating your documents and running them through your copy machine, you can simply snap a photo using your mobile device. A document scanning application can then convert the image into a high-quality scan that can be sent as a PDF, PNG or whatever file type you need to your email. It opens up a variety of new ways to use document scanning in your everyday life that don’t involve a trip to the library or the home office.

For example, the Dropbox doc scanner app lets you automatically store any documents scan in your Dropbox account, immediately available on both your desktop and mobile device. If you’re digitising your family’s photo collection, it takes just a few taps on your phone to turn a physical photo into an original quality scan stored in your digital photo collection. If you’re worried about organising your mobile scanned documents, our doc scanner app also makes use of OCR technology. OCR converts scanned text into text data that can be searched. This means you can identify any docs you scan with a single keyword search in your Dropbox account.

Benefits of mobile scanning

Mobile scanning lets you enjoy the convenience of a scanner without having to buy any equipment. Dropbox’s scanner app uses clever technology to ensure your documents look as good on your devices as they do on paper. Plus, you never have to worry about losing or damaging documents again, just pull your phone from your pocket and scan it in seconds.

Using OCR scanning

On the Dropbox scanner app, Optical Character Recognition also turns images from your mobile device into searchable text, extracting the copy from your image. It means you can search for key terms from your scanned documents to find them in Dropbox. So, if you’ve uploaded a bank statement with the printed date in the corner, just search the date and you can find your document fast. By making paperwork easy to convert to PDF and well as effortless to locate and search, you can essentially eliminate physical docs. Or, you can replace the notes app you use for transcribing with a scan app using OCR, instantly digitising docs and notes with a one-tap scan.

How to ensure high quality scans

Whatever scanning method you go for, make sure your documents are in the best condition for crisp, clear scanning:

  • Try to ensure your documents aren’t creased or folded

  • Make sure details aren’t faded

  • Keep the backdrop uncluttered when phone scanning

If you’re going with a copy scanner without OCR, then you may also want to pay attention to the resolution, measured in DPI or dots per inch:

  • For photos, use a higher or even lossless resolution up to 600 dpi

  • For simple greyscale documents, use 300 dpi to ensure they’re legible and their file size is small

Image editing software will be able to fix any problems with your scanned document, but there’s no harm in starting off well.

Back up your scans

Sharing photos online or keeping them safe in cloud storage will ensure your scanned images won’t get lost on your hard drive or accidentally deleted. This is also ideal for your personal documents, like bank statements, which you might also want to scan and keep as a digital version.

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