If you've ever needed to copy chapters of a book for a report, scan old family photos, or fax medical documents to your doctor, then you know how frustrating it is to not have a scanner on hand. While many printers come with an integrated scanner, they aren't all created equal. Some office printers are fully equipped with a flatbed scanner, an automatic document feeder, automatic double-sided scanning, and a fax feature. Family printers tend to be more limited, but they usually still have a flatbed scanner and/or a sheetfed scanner.
We test the different scanning abilities of each printer we review so you can find easily something with the right scanning features for your needs.
If you want to scan delicate documents like photographs or old letters, or thicker objects like ID cards, passports, or books, then you need a flatbed scanner. Just like the name suggests, a flatbed scanner has a scan head placed underneath a flatbed of glass or clear plastic. You place the document you'd like to scan on top of the flatbed, and the scan head moves beneath the glass to capture your document. Since there's usually space for only one sheet on the glass, you can only do one scan at a time.
On the other hand, an ADF automatically feeds through multiple sheets of paper into the sheetfed scanner, and the document is ejected once it's done scanning. This means that instead of having to place each page of a document on the scanner yourself, you just set them all in the input tray, hit start, and the ADF handles the rest.
The results are pretty straightforward: If the printer has a flatbed scanner only, it gets "Flatbed" as the result. If it has an ADF only, it gets ADF as the result. If it has both types, then it gets Flatbed + ADF.
If you use the ADF to scan multi-page documents often, how many pages the feeder holds is important. You'll want to know if all pages of your document can fit—or at least know how many batches you'll need to do.
We start by adding the total number of pages advertised by the manufacturer, then remove or add pages as needed to match the indicator line on the edge of the feeder. After that, we scan all the pages and make sure none get jammed. We write the total number of pages the feeder can hold without issue.
Waiting for your printer to scan a long, multi-page document can be very tedious. If you need to scan long documents frequently, you might want to know how long the process might take. If the printer has an automatic document feeder, we test how long it takes to scan 20 pages automatically.
Sometimes, the printer might have a sheetfed scanner that can't automatically process multiple sheets in a row without user intervention. In this case, we measure how many pages are scanned in one minute. It includes the speed to place the sheet in the feeder, hit scan, and start scanning the next sheet. If a printer's spec sheet doesn't mention "auto-feeder" or "automatic document feeder," it doesn't have this feature.
If the printer doesn't have a sheetfed scanner, we measure how many pages we can manually scan on the flatbed scanner in one minute. It includes placing the sheet on the flatbed glass, scanning the sheet, opening the scanner lid to retrieve the sheet, and restarting the process.
If you regularly need to scan significant quantities of double-sided documents, you'll want to make sure your printer's scanner supports duplex scanning.
Duplex scanning is the ability to scan both sides of the same document without having to flip the page over yourself. There are two types of duplex scanning. A reversing automatic document feeder (RADF) captures one side of a document, flips it over, then scans the other side. A duplexing automatic document feeder (DADF) scans both sides at once.
Duplex scanning requires an ADF. If the printer doesn't have one, it automatically gets a "No" for the Duplex Scanning test. If there's an ADF, we look for a double-sided scanning option and try to scan a two-sided document to see if it does indeed capture both sides automatically in one go. If the scanner captures both sides at once, the test is set to "Automatic (Single-Pass)," and if it needs to flip the paper over to scan the second side, it gets "Automatic (Dual-Pass)." If the printer requires you to flip over the page yourself, then it gets "Manual."
If you need to scan a long, signed form or small posters, then you'll want a scanner with a larger flatbed. Most integrated flatbed scanners are limited to letter-sized documents (8.5" x 11"). However, some can scan larger sizes like legal (8.5" x 14") or tabloid (11" x 17"), like the HP OfficeJet Pro 7740.
If you need to scan a large legal document with multiple pages, you'll need an ADF that can scan sheets bigger than your typical letter-sized sheets. Like we do for the flatbed scanner, we list the largest paper size the printer's ADF can accept. Many ADFs are limited to letter-sized documents (8.5" x 11"), but some support legal (8.5" x 14") or tabloid (11" x 17") size as well, like the Brother MFC-J6945DW.
If you've tried scanning a thicker item—like a spiral notebook, a textbook, or a manual—on a flatbed scanner, you might have noticed that the lid doesn't close over the item properly. Adjustable hinges let you close the cover over your item for a proper scan.
The lid cover has a white panel that reflects the scanner's light. So if your item is smaller than the size of the flatbed and the lid covers it perfectly, the edges of your scanned item are white. However, if you don't close the cover over your item, the light can't reflect, so you end up with black edges around the scanned item. Aesthetically, this doesn't look good on a scanned image, but it's especially a problem if you need to print your document. This black space means more ink or toner gets unnecessarily used, which costs you in the long run.
If the scanner has adjustable hinges, you can raise the lid to cover the item you want to scan to give you those white edges. We measure the maximum height of the hinge in inches and millimeters.
If you need to correspond with a medical clinic, insurance bureau, or government office, you might need to do so by fax. If so, having a printer with integrated fax is very helpful.
Although it might seem like a thing of the past, many businesses still depend on fax technology to send important communications quickly and reliably without needing the Internet. Usually, when you fax a document with an all-in-one printer, the scanner captures the data, digitizes it, and encodes it so you can send it through a phone line. The receiving fax machine decodes and reassembles the scanned document onto a sheet of paper.
We check each printer that we test for a fax feature. While there are different fax technologies available, like Fax over IP, which eliminates the need for a traditional phone line, we currently don't specify which technology is used—we only report whether or not the printer has a fax feature.
If you often need to photocopy book chapters for class or documents to bring with you to a meeting, then you'll want a printer that has a copy feature.
Copying documents with an all-in-one printer is pretty straightforward. The scanner takes a digital image of your document, and the printer reproduces it onto a sheet of paper. If there's a flatbed scanner, you can copy pages from a magazine or book. If there's a sheetfed scanner with an automatic document feeder, you can quickly copy multiple documents in a row. Some ADF scanners let you copy both sides of a document automatically, but we currently don't specify if a printer has this option.
We check each printer we test for a copy feature. More often than not, if a printer has an integrated scanner, it can produce photocopies as well.
Some printers come with a recommended optical character recognition (OCR) software. This technology recognizes letters, numbers, and symbols in an image or document. It lets you search, highlight, and copy the text on your scanned page. If there's no OCR software built-in or compatible with the scanner, you need to manually transcribe the text and can't Ctrl+F the document.
If the scanner has an OCR built-in, meaning you only need to scan your document from the printer menu to get a searchable document, it gets "Built-in" for this test. If the printer doesn't convert your document automatically, but the manufacturer offers OCR software, it gets "Software." If the manufacturer doesn't have software, but the printer is compatible with third-party software, we set "Third Party Only." We use FreeOCR, using the Tesseract Open Source OCR Engine, to test compatibility with third-party software.
There are a few things we don't yet test, like:
We're constantly considering and developing different, more effective test methods and improving our current tests to help you make a better-informed decision when buying the best printer that suits your needs. Let us know in the discussions if there's something else you want to see!
A scanner is a helpful tool for those who require more versatility from their printers. Depending on what you need to scan, you might want to look for a particular type of scanner. A flatbed scanner is ideal for preserving photos or making copies of your passport, while an automatic document feeder (ADF) is perfect for photocopying tax forms. While the average family might not need anything more than a flatbed scanner with a copy feature, offices might want to keep an eye out for printers with a fully-featured scanner, including an automatic document feeder, duplex scanning, fax capabilities, and a built-in OCR.
If you'd like to know more about scan quality, you can read more about it here.