What Are the Differences Between Scanners?

Different scanners are used for different applications

There are several types of scanners, and, as with printers, the one that's right for you depends on how you intend to use it. The most common types are flatbed scanners, sheetfed scanners, photo scanners, and portable scanners.

Flatbed Scanners

Flatbed scanners take up some desktop space but provide a lot of features for the price. These scanners look like miniature printers with a flip-up cover protecting the glass platen.

Depending on its size, a flatbed scanner can fit standard or legal-size documents. The flexible cover allows you to scan large items such as books. These scanners are great for converting newspaper articles, book chapters, and photographs. Flatbed scanners are often built into multifunction printers. You can find a decent flatbed scanner for $100 or less.

Epson Perfection V39 Color Scanner

Photo Scanners

Scanning documents doesn't require high resolution or color depth, but scanning photos does. Many all-purpose scanners scan photos, meaning that you don't need a separate device to handle your photographs. If you only use a scanner to digitize film negatives or slides, a photo scanner is a better deal. However, it may be more expensive than an all-purpose scanner.

Photo scanners include specialized technology that deals with slides and negatives. These scanners also offer built-in software to clean up old photos. The Epson FastFoto FF-640 scanner, for example, is a great photo scanner. It costs a bit more than an average scanner or printer. Photo scanners like these come with adapters for scanning slides and negatives and scan at higher resolutions than other types of scanners.​

Epson FastFoto FF-640 High-Speed Photo Scanner

Sheetfed Scanners

Sheetfed scanners are smaller than flatbed scanners. A document or photo is fed into the scanner's automatic document feeder (ADF), rather than placed on top of the platen one photo or document at a time. You'll win back some desktop space with a sheetfed scanner but may lose some resolution. If you only scan documents, it may be a worthwhile trade, especially if you have several documents because you can feed pages in bunches.

With a flatbed scanner, you'll scan one page at a time (unless it comes with an automatic document feeder). Sheetfed scanners start around $300 and get more expensive, depending on speed and features. Most sheetfed scanners are fast and loaded with features for capturing and processing data.

HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow 5000 s2 Sheet-fed Scanner

Portable Scanners

Portable scanners are small enough to bring on the road. Some are small enough to put in a pocket. Pen scanners are a bit larger than a fountain pen and scan the text of a document line by line. Some are as wide as a page and roll easily down the page. These scanners don't give high-resolution scans and aren't as suitable for scanning photographs or other applications where you need a high-quality result.


These aren't cheaper than flatbed scanners and are most useful if you are a student, a researcher, or travel for work. Also, quality and accuracy are based on how steady and accurate you hold the device while implementing a scan.

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