How to Scan Documents With Your Phone or Tablet

Scan, create, and send PDF documents with your Android or iOS device

Woman scanning man's notebook with smartphone

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Updated features in iOS and Google Drive allow you to scan documents for free with your phone or tablet. How does it work? A program or app performs the scan using your camera and, in many cases, converts it into a PDF automatically. This guide will show you how to do it, whether you own an Apple or Android device.

This guide applies to iOS 11 and higher.

A Quick Note About Optical Character Recognition

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a process that makes text within a PDF recognizable and readable by other types of programs or apps. OCR (also sometimes referred to as Text Recognition) makes text within a PDF searchable. Many scanner apps, such as Adobe Scan, apply OCR to scanned document PDFs automatically or by selecting this option in preferences. As of the iOS 11 release, the scanning feature in Notes for iPhone doesn't apply OCR to scanned documents. The scanning option in Google Drive also doesn't automatically apply OCR to scanned PDFs. There are programs that can do it, but it can be time-consuming when you just need to quickly scan something and get it sent out. If you need OCR features, however, consider downloading a third-party app like Adobe Scan.

How to Scan Documents With iOS

The release of iOS 11 added a new scanning feature to Notes. Here's how to use it:

  1. Open the Notes app and tap the icon to create a new note.

  2. Tap the More (+) icon above the keyboard and select Scan Document.

  3. Position your phone’s camera over the document. Notes will automatically focus and capture an image or you do it manually by tapping the shutter button.

  4. After you scan a page, Notes shows you a preview and gives you the option to either Keep Scan or Retake.

  5. Repeat this process for all the pages you want to scan. When you're finished, press Save.

How to Scan Documents With Android

You need Google Drive installed to scan documents with Android. The app generally comes pre-installed on Android devices, but if you don't have it you can download it for free from the Google Play Store.

  1. Open Google Drive.and tap the + symbol.

  2. Under the Create New tab, select Scan.

  3. Position your phone's camera over the document and tap the shutter button when you're ready to capture the image.

    Screenshots depicting how to create a scan with Android
  4. Tap the check mark to keep the scan or the trash icon to delete it.

  5. Tap the + symbol to scan more images or tap the check mark to finish and upload your document to Google Drive.

  6. When you finish scanning, you can enter a file name for your new PDF and/or choose which folder to save it in.

    Screenshots depicting how to scan a document using Android

How to Scan Documents With Adobe Scan

If you prefer to use a third-party app to scan and create PDFs of documents, Adobe Scan is available for free for both Android and iOS.

Adobe Scan does offer an in-app subscription purchase to access additional features and options, however, the free version includes enough features to cover the needs of most users.

While there are quite a few scanner apps out there, such as Tiny Scanner, Genius Scan, TurboScan, Microsoft Office Lens, and CamScanner, Adobe Scan has all the basics covered in its free version and it's easy to navigate and use without much of a learning curve. If you haven’t already registered for an Adobe ID (it’s free), you’ll need to set one up to use this app.

Here’s how to scan documents with Adobe Scan:

  1. Open the app and log in with either a Google, Facebook, or Adobe ID.

  2. Tap the screen when you're ready to scan your document and the app will find the borders and take a picture for you.

  3. Drag the handles to adjust the borders if necessary, then press Continue.

  4. Tap the photo to open up editing and saving options. Here, you can rotate it, crop it, tweak the color, and more. When you're ready, hit Save as PDF in the top right of the screen to save it.

    Screenshots depicting how to use the Adobe Scan app