I’ve covered the document scanner industry for over 20 years, and every year I find myself even more struck by the sheer number of machines. You’ll find everything from small single-sheet portables capable of scanning and processing just a few pages per minute (ppm) to high-volume workhorses capable of processing hundreds of pages per minute. These sheetfed document scanners are on the workhorse end of the spectrum. If you’ve only worked with the relatively slow scanner of all-in-one printers, you’d be surprised how quickly a dedicated sheetfed scanner can be.
Each multi-sheet scanner has a relatively compact build and an automatic document feeder (ADF) for sending page by page to the machine. Unlike a flatbed scanner, a sheetfed scanner only processes individual pages and cannot be used to scan objects such as books. Most sheetfed scanners have two sensors that simultaneously scan both sides of a page with content on either side. These top-notch, high-speed document scanners, among the best we’ve tested, are optimized for scanning lots of text quickly and efficiently.
This roundup primarily focuses on desktop document scanners, but to keep it comprehensive, we’ve also included PCMag’s favorite multi-sheetfeed portable document scanners and our top picks for flatbed scanners with ADF attachments. We aim to help you choose the best possible scanner for your needs, and there are a lot of factors to consider. Let’s start from the beginning.
How much scanning do you do?
Document scanners are classified and priced according to capacity, volume and speed ratings, followed by connectivity and functionality (including the ability to scan to smartphones and tablets) and their software bundle. Size, weight and special features can also be taken into account, but the main things that drive up the price of a document scanner are (1) how much work the scanner can do and (2) how quickly it can do it.
To avoid spending an arm and a leg on functionality you don’t need, start by figuring out how many pages you need to scan each day. A multi-sheetfed portable scanner, such as Epson’s WorkForce DS-300W, can be rated for a daily duty cycle of 500 pages or more. At the high end, the Visioneer Patriot H80 has a daily duty cycle of 10,000 pages.
Another question is how many pages you need to scan at a time. If you’re dealing with long documents, you don’t want to break them. A relatively inexpensive desktop model, such as the Epson DS-410 document scanner, may come with a 50-sheet ADF; For serious batch scanning a heavy duty can hold up to 250 sheets.
One speed factor is whether the scanner has one or two sensors for scanning double-sided documents. The second is the size of the page you want to scan. All Sheetfed document scanners can accept letter and legal-sized pages, but if you’re working with larger sheets, make sure the scanner is large enough to handle them. Some high-end models can feed through sheets up to 20 feet long! On the smaller side, some scanners have special features for receipts and business cards, with software to help manage expense reports and contact databases.
No one wants to stand around waiting for a scan job to finish, and in the real world, this doesn’t just mean the physical process of scanning. When we test the scanner, our speed rating also affects the time it takes for the scanner’s bundled software to process the scan and save it to an image or searchable PDF. (We’ll look more closely at the bundled software below.) In general, the more scans you do, the faster your scanner should be.
How will you operate the scanner?
The most basic scanner interface is a Scan or Start button; This is fine if you just want to do basic scanning directly on your PC. Touch-screen panels with limited or expanded menus will give you more walking options. Sometimes scanning software lets you set predefined profiles for the file type, resolution, and destination that you can select and run from the scanner’s control panel.
In some cases, the scanner’s own operating system handles profile management and other features. One of the better implementations of this shared functionality is on Fujitsu’s consumer and small office ScanSnap machines. Whether you’re using the ScanSnap software on your computer or operating a touch screen, the functions are nearly identical, saving you learning two different ways to do the same thing.
If you already have a document management system, you may not even need most of the software included with your new scanner. However, scanning a software package can do a lot. Various apps and plug-ins enhance and manipulate photos, convert scanned pages to editable text with optical character recognition (OCR), organize and store business cards, and even That extracts financial data from receipts and invoices and sends it to your tax prep software. Scanning apps for mobile devices are also becoming increasingly feature-rich.
Software varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer and product to product. This is one of the places where our reviews and roundups come in handy: We don’t dwell on the specific features that make a document scanner a good fit for particular tasks and needs.
Which devices will connect to the scanner?
Each scanner comes with a different mix of wired and wireless connectivity options. These control which computers and mobile devices the scanner can work with. They also affect how quickly the scanner can send scans to your device, as data transfer over Wi-Fi is likely to be slower than over an Ethernet or USB 3.0 connection.
USB will suffice to connect a computer. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Direct and near-field communication (NFC) will let a scanner talk to a smartphone or tablet. If you’re looking for a scanner that can be used by multiple people, make sure it has Ethernet or Wi-Fi for connecting to an office network, or Bluetooth LE to handle multiple mobile devices. Some models, such as the Epson DS-970 Color Duplex Workgroup Document Scanner, do not have Ethernet preinstalled, but this can be expanded with an optional network interface unit.
Your computer’s or phone’s operating system matters far less than it used to be. All the major scanner manufacturers offer drivers and software for both Windows and macOS, and apps for both iOS and Android. Some devices can even scan directly to a USB flash drive.
Which Sheetfed Document Scanner Should You Get?
Before you buy a scanner, make sure you know what you want it to do: how much you’ll scan, how fast the scanning process should be, what devices the scanner will connect to, and what the software should do with your scan once. They are processed. Then be prepared to make some compromises between features and budget. Multi-sheetfed scanners are often intended for commercial use and are priced accordingly. But with a little research, you should be able to find one that meets your needs and won’t break the bank.
Want to learn more about the many scanning options out there? Check out our roundup of the best scanners we’ve tested. And if you also need to print, copy and fax, an all-in-one printer may be your best option.