IT for Donuts: scan documents without a scanner

By: John McGarvey

Date: 9 May 2014

Use your smartphone as a scanner{{}}

IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This week, we reveal that you don’t need an expensive document scanner to create digital copies of documents. If you have a smart phone made in the last couple of years, its camera should be more than up to the job. 

Use your phone as a scanner

While dedicated scanners are fast and produce high-quality images, your smart phone’s camera provides a quick way to create passable digital versions of documents, receipts, business cards and more.

The most obvious way to scan a document with your smart phone is to open the standard camera function, point it at a document and press the take photo button.

Once you’ve taken a photo, you can check the quality by zooming in to make sure the text isn’t blurred.

You might need to experiment with the flash or other settings to get the best-quality image. However, if you’re after a copy of a receipt or need to send a key page to a colleague, this will do the job.

You can use your phone’s email function to send the scan to yourself or someone else, or connect it to cloud storage like Dropbox to save scans elsewhere.

With this approach, it’s best to make sure your phone’s camera is set to its highest-quality, so scanned documents stay legible.

Get a dedicated scanning app

If you plan to use your phone as a scanner regularly — or just want to take a slightly more efficient approach to your scanning — there are a number of scanning apps available.

These are good because they make sure your camera is set for the best-quality scans. Some apps can also convert scanned text into editable documents, which is great if you need to work on them in future.

You can try these apps:

  • CamScanner converts scans into proper text and lets you add annotations to share with colleagues or contacts.
  • Genius Scan includes tools to enhance the images you create, can export to PDF and connects to cloud storage services.
  • Google Drive has a scanning function built in. It also converts documents to PDF format and saves them in your Google Account.

If you have a lot of scanning to do, you’ll want to invest in a proper scanner instead of using your smart phone. But for occasional use, the convenience of a smart phone trumps the quality of a scanner, every time.

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