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How to Scan Documents (Scanner Optional)

Sometimes, older technologies that we once relied on fade away, rarely seen again. If you have a standalone fax machine that isn’t gathering dust, for example, you’re in the minority.

You might believe that scanner hardware is a similar type of technology. A scanner creates an image of a paper document that you can save digitally. Although people may not use scanners as often as they once did, having the ability to scan paper documents remains an important tool for occasional use.

If you’re wondering how to scan documents, we have a number of ideas you can use, whether you have a Windows computer, a Mac, or no computer at all … and regardless of whether you own a piece of scanner hardware.

How to Scan Documents in Windows

To scan a document in Windows, the easiest way is to have a physical scanner attached to the Windows computer. However, you also may be able to use the webcam that’s built into your laptop or that’s attached to your Windows desktop computer to create a scanned document.

Scanning Documents With a Scanner on a Windows PC

Here are the steps to follow to use a scanner with your Windows computer with the Windows Scan app.

1. Attach the scanner: Connect the scanner device to your computer, plug it into a wall outlet, and power up the device.
2. Place the document: Place your printed document face down on the glass flatbed of the scanner. Or, for an older device, run the paper through the scanner’s document feeder.
3. Open the Windows Scan app: Click the Start menu in the lower left corner of the screen and look for the Scan app. If you don’t have it, you’ll need to download it from the Windows store. (It’s free.) Once installed and up and running, the app should find your attached scanner.
4. Adjust the settings: Within the Scan app, you can adjust certain settings, including the saved file type, color mode, and resolution. Then pick a folder in which you want to save the scanned file.
5. Click the Preview button: When you click on Preview, the Scan app will create a quick image of the document. Make sure the preview of the scan looks right. If it doesn’t, adjust the positioning of the document on the flatbed or change the settings for the hardware.
6. Click the Scan button: If everything looks right, click the Scan button. Once the scanning process finishes, you can click the View button to see the results of the scan.

You also have the option of installing software that shipped with the scanner to create the scan, but the Windows Scan app works fast and will do the job successfully the majority of the time. For more complex scanning needs, though, the scanner’s software probably will work better.

Scanning Documents Without a Scanner on a Windows PC

If you don’t have a scanner, you can use the webcam that’s built into your laptop or plugged into your desktop Windows computer to make a quick scan. After all, a scanned document is simply a picture of the document.

Click the Camera app from the Windows Start menu. Hold the document in front of the camera and click the Camera button along the right side to record an image. You then can open the photo in Paint or another image editing software package of your choice, adjusting the image quality to try to create a usable scanned document.

Understand that using this method almost certainly will not deliver the same image quality as a scanned document using an actual scanner. But it works nicely when you have no option of using scanner hardware.

How to Scan Documents on a Mac

When trying to learn how to scan documents on a Macintosh computer, it will work in a similar manner to a Windows computer. Just use the app Apple has included as part of its operating system for the Mac.

1. Attach the scanner: Connect the scanner to the Mac computer, plug it into a wall outlet, and power up the device.
2. Lay down the document: Place your printed document face down on the glass flatbed of the scanner.
3. Open the Apple scanning function: Click the Apple menu in the upper left corner of the screen. In the drop down menu, click System Preferences followed by Printers and Scanners. Select the name of your scanner on the left side of the screen.
4. Click the Scan button: Click on the Scan button in the upper middle of the screen followed by Open Scanner.
5. Adjust the settings: In the popup window, you’ll be able to set things like resolution, file format, color format, and the folder in which to save the scanned file.
6. Start the scan: Once the settings are set to your liking, click the Scan button in the lower right corner. Once the scanning hardware completes the scan, you can find the scanned document in the folder where you chose to save it.

Scanning Documents Without a Scanner on a Macintosh Computer

Desktop and laptop Macintosh computers nearly always have built-in cameras that you can use to create an image of a printed document as a scan. (Ending up with a good image quality can be a hit and miss prospect using this method, however.)

To record a photo using the Mac’s built-in camera, you’ll need to open Apple’s Photo Booth app. Click the Go menu followed by Applications. Search through the list of apps until you find Photo Booth and click on it.

Inside the Photo Booth window, click on the Camera menu followed by the camera you want to use. Once you select a camera, you should see the image it would record on display in the Photo Booth window.

Hold the document you want to photograph in front of the camera. When it looks right, click the Single Photo button in the lower left corner (marked with a single rectangle). Then click the red camera button along the center of the bottom of the screen to record the image.

How to Scan Documents Without a Scanner

If you don’t have a computer or a scanner, you still could create a digital scan of a printed document using the camera on your smartphone or tablet and a scanning app. A scanning app will adjust the copy of the image of the document, straightening its orientation and cleaning up the clarity of the text.

Scan Documents on an Android Device

With your Android smartphone or tablet, you can scan a document by recording a photograph of it through the Google Drive app.

Open the Google Drive app on your Android device. Tap on the plus icon with a circle around it. Then tap the Scan button (marked with a camera).

Lay out the paper document and take a photo of it. You can adjust the section of the document that’s in the photo by touching the Crop button. If you need to shoot another photo (or scan) of the document, touch the Rescan button.

Scan another page by tapping the Add button (marked with a plus sign). All of your scans will collect in a single document. Tap the Done button (marked with a check mark) after scanning all of the items you want in the document.

Scan Documents on an iOS Device

Apple iOS devices make use of the Notes app to scan documents. To make Notes work properly for the scanning function, you will need to have installed the latest iOS version and to have made your iCloud account the primary account for the Notes app. Without these settings in place, Notes may not work for scanning documents.

Open the Notes app and tap the Compose button (marked with a pen and paper) to make a new note. Tap the Camera button (which is just above the keyboard at the bottom of the screen. Then tap the Scan Documents button (marked with a piece of paper icon with brackets around it).

Move the document you want to scan in front of the lens of the iPhone or iPad’s camera. If you have automatic mode enabled, the Notes app will create a scan automatically. Otherwise, you’ll need to touch the round Shutter button at the bottom of the screen or one of the volume buttons on the side of the smartphone to manually record the image.

After recording the image, you’ll see it on the screen. You can drag the borders to adjust its orientation. If it looks good, tap the Keep Scan button. Scan another document to add it to this file, or tap Save to stop scanning documents into this file.

3 Best Scanning Apps to Create PDFs

Both the Google Drive and Notes apps have limits in terms of the number of features they offer to help you create the clearest possible scan. If you need more features, you can try a document scanning app for your mobile device. Here are the three best apps for scanning a document with your mobile device, each of which have both iOS and Android versions.

  • Adobe Scan: This app is more powerful than the Google Drive and Notes apps, but it isn’t as powerful as some others. However, it’s free and does an excellent job of creating sharp and clear scans of documents. It’s very easy to use, as it only can export the scanned documents as PDFs, so you don’t have a lot of choices to make. The Adobe Scan app immediately saves all scanned documents to the cloud, allowing you to access them from anywhere.
  • Microsoft Office Lens: This free app’s biggest advantage is that you can export your scans as PDFs or Word documents. It even has some features that work directly with PowerPoint and OneNote. If you frequently use Microsoft 365 apps, this will be an invaluable tool to help you work more efficiently with your scans. Its output isn’t quite as clear as with the Adobe Scan app, but it will be adequate for most users.
  • ABBYY FineScanner: This app has a subscription fee associated with it, but its ability to create extremely sharp and clear scans is among the best in the market. FineScanner is incredibly accurate, ensuring that you have a usable document on hand nearly every time, so you won’t waste a lot of time having to rescan your documents. It corrects perspective issues and removes any noise automatically. You can try the app for free, but its full feature set isn’t available until you pay for it.
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