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Our Printer Design Tests
Scanner Features

Updated
What it is: The features the scanner provide.
Score distribution

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're not 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.

Test results

Our tests

We first look at whether the printer has a scanner. If it does, we check whether there's a flatbed scanner, sheetfed scanner, or both. If there's a flatbed scanner, we determine the largest media format it can scan. If there's a sheetfed scanner, we check whether it has an automatic document feeder (ADF) and if it does duplex scanning. Lastly, we check whether the printer has fax or copy features and if there's built-in or compatible OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software.

 HP DeskJet 3755 sheetfed scanner
Brother MFC-L3770CDW flatbed scanner

Scan Flatbed

What it is: Scanning the document using the flatbed glass.
When it matters: When wanting to scan books or thick bound documents.

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, as pictured in the Brother HL-L2395DW here to the right. 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.

However, having a flatbed usually makes the printer fairly wide since it needs to be large enough to accommodate at least an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper. That said, it usually provides higher quality scan options than a sheetfed scanner.

Flatbed Extendable Hinges

What it is: Whether the flatbed cover has extendable hinges and how much you can extend them.
When it matters: When you want to scan thick books or bound documents and want to close the flatbed scanning lid correctly.

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. Extendable 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 over 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 extendable hinges, this means you can raise the lid to cover over the item you want to scan to give you those white edges. We measure the maximum height of the hinge in inches and millimeters.

Automatic Document Feeder

What it is: The possibility to scan a whole document automatically.
When it matters: When scanning documents with multiple pages often. The printer will automatically select the next page to scan.

If you want to quickly scan sheets of plain paper, a sheetfed scanner is a good feature to have, especially if it also has an automatic document feeder (ADF).​

This type of scanner scans sheets fed through a dedicated input tray as they pass through the feeder. The document is ejected once it's done scanning. An ADF automatically feeds through multiple sheets of paper into the sheetfed scanner. This means that instead of having to feed each page of a document to the scanner yourself, you just set them all in the input tray, hit start, and the ADF handles the rest.

An ADF needs a sheetfed scanner, so if the printer only has a flatbed scanner, it gets automatically gets a "No" for the automatic document feeder test. While most sheetfed scanners have an ADF built-in, not all do. To confirm, we try and scan a multi-page document with the sheetfed scanner. If it processes all the pages automatically in one single operation, it gets a "Yes" in this test.

ADF Capacity

What it is: The amount of letter-size plain paper pages the automatic document feeder allows.
When it matters: When you plan on scanning large documents with lots of pages.
Score distribution

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 that the feeder can hold without issue.

Scan Speed

What it is: The number of pages scanned per minute when using the automatic document feeder when available or, otherwise, the flatbed.
When it matters: When multiple people use the same printer to scan documents, or when you expect to scan large documents often.
Good value: >12 PPM
Score distribution

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 at once. In this case, we measure how many pages are scanned in one minute. This includes the speed to place the sheet in the feeder, hit scan, and start scanning the next sheet.

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. This includes placing the sheet on the flatbed glass, scanning the sheet, opening the scanner lid to retrieve the sheet, and restarting the process.

Duplex Scanning

What it is: The ability to scan two-sided documents.

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."

Flatbed Scan Size

What it is: The largest format the flatbed can accommodate for a scan.
When it matters: If you plan on scanning something larger than the typical letter format (8.5" x 11").

If you need to scan larger legal documents or small posters, then you'll want a scanner with a larger flatbed. Most integrated flatbed scanners in a printer are limited to letter-sized documents (8.5" x 11"). However, some can scan larger sizes, such as legal (8.5" x 14") or tabloid (11" x 17"), like the Brother MFC-J6945DW. This test gets a perfect score if the flatbed glass is 11" x 17" or larger. 

Fax

What it is: Whether there's a fax feature or not.

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 an integrated fax is very helpful.

Although it might seem like a thing of the past, many businesses and even individuals 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 the phone line. The receiving fax machine decodes and reassembles the scanned document onto a sheet of paper.

We check each printer we test for a fax feature. While there are different fax technologies available, such as 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 the printer has a fax feature or not.

Copy

What it is: Whether there's a copy feature or not.

If you often need to photocopy book chapters for class, or business documents to bring with you to the boardroom, 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 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.

OCR Included

What it is: Whether the printer comes with a recommended optical character recognition software or not. Third-party software can be used when a first-party option isn't included.
When it matters: When you want to scan and convert your documents into machine-readable text files and search for words in your scanned documents, for example.

Some printers come with a recommended optical character recognition (OCR) software. This technology recognizes letters, numbers, and symbols in an image or document. This lets you search, highlight, and copy the text in 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 itself to get a searchable document, it gets "Yes (Built-in)" for this test. If the printer doesn't convert your document automatically, but the manufacturer offers OCR software, then it gets "Yes (Software)." If the manufacturer doesn't have software, but the printer is compatible with third-party software, we set "No (Third Party Only)." We use FreeOCR, using the Tesseract Open Source OCR Engine, to test compatibility with third-party software.

What's Missing?

There are a few things we don't yet test, like:

  • Flatbed scanner type (CIS vs. CCD)
  • Software (receipt categorization, barcode recognition, image enhancement, etc.)
  • Driver support (WIA, TWAIN, ISIS, etc.)
  • Different fax transmission options (FoIP, online fax service, etc.)

Conclusion

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 kind 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 resolution and color depth, you can read more about it here.

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