A Guide to Buying a Scanner for your Home or Business

A scanner can be a fantastic tool for your home or business, but with hundreds of different models to choose from it can be hard to know which is the right scanner for you. Take a look at our guide to scanners so you can choose the one that perfectly suits your needs, whether you plan to use it at home or at work.

How do scanners work?

Using a scanner is the ideal way to store photos or paperwork electronically and makes it easier to send documents and images to other people via email. Scanners work in almost the same way as photocopiers by scanning documents with special light sensors that scan images or documents and translate what they see so that it can be read by a computer.

The majority of scanners use OCR or optical character recognition software that identifies the type of thing you are scanning. For example if you scan printed text the software recognises this and converts the text into a word document. Pictures and images can be scanned and used with photo editing or graphics packages that allow the image to be manipulated. Scanners at the more expensive end of the range can also be used to scan slides and negatives which is ideal for archiving.

Types of scanner

Flatbed Scanner
  • Generally considered more versatile
  • Can scan a range of objects/documents etc regardless of thickness or size
Sheet Fed Scanner
  • Can scan sheets of paper that are fed into the machine like a portable printer or photocopier
  • Thicker objects cannot be scanned

What to look out for when choosing your scanner

Take a look at the following terms you should understand when choosing a scanner:


The resolution is the number of pixels that a scanner is able to identify within an image. The higher the resolution of the scanner, the sharper and crisper the image that it creates will be. Scanners with higher resolutions are usually more expensive but in most instances a scanner that reads 2400x4800 dpi or dots per inch will create adequate images.

Bit depth

The bit depth will tell you what level of colour and detail can be scanned by the machine. Machines with a higher bit depth are able to identify more different colours and shades, producing a higher quality scan. Most scanners are 48 bit which is ideal for home or office use.


This refers to the compatibility of a scanner with your PC or the device you plan to use it with. When choosing a scanner check if your computer has a USB that works with the scanner.


To hold the images that are scanned you need to ensure that your PC has a sufficient amount of memory. If your computer doesn’t have much memory then you can find out how to compress the files you scan so that they are easier to store.

Document feeder

If you’re planning to use your scanner a lot then a document feeder can make using your machine a lot easier, especially if you have large volumes of paperwork to scan.

Scanning area

The scanning area on the majority of domestic and office printers will scan items up to an A4 size, but it’s possible to buy much larger scanners if you need to scan larger items.


The majority of scanners come with their own software that allow you to manage and manipulate the images being scanned. This could include an OCR or optical character recognition program to convert scanned texts into word documents. You can also use more advanced software, for example that allows you to make your scanned images into greeting cards.

Scanner software is generally referred to as a TWAIN driver and can be installed on your PC allowing the scanner to be used with other applications like text editing or image processing software.

When choosing a scanner bear in mind that some manufacturers only include trial versions of their software which you will need to pay to upgrade before you can use them to their full potential.

Useful terms

When choosing a scanner for your home or office, it helps to be familiar with the following technical terms if you want to make the best possible choice.


Bit is an abbreviation of ‘binary digit’ and represents the smallest data unit within a computer. In terms of scanners, bits determine the level of detail that a scanner can process, including the colour and the sharpness of the image being reproduced. The more bits a scanner has the better quality the scan will be.


These suffixes represent the type of file that an image has been saved in. Each suffix represents a different level of compression. .TIF files are able to retain the greatest amount of detail making them the best choice for printing. JPG can be highly compressed which makes them the ideal choice for sending documents by email.


DPI stands for dots per inch, which refers to the number of pixels present in every inch of printing. The more pixels the greater the detail of the image.

Firewire/IEEE 1394

This is an extremely fast way to transfer files, around 30 times as fast as traditional USB speed. If you want to use this software to transfer files your PC and scanner will both need the correct port. USB 2 is roughly equivalent to Firewire, while USB 3 is much faster. Firewire is now on the way out and the standard to look out for is USB 3.

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