Copier Or Scanner: Which Should I Use?


using a copier or scanner

Using a copier to scan is great when used for the appropriate reasons – employees needing to scan small jobs to themselves or people in or outside of the office. Connectors are available that will allow you to choose network folders and have standardized naming conventions.

However, there’s always a chance that a large document may use up the copier’s available memory and will cancel the scan job. This is frustrating if you have been scanning a large job for an hour or more and all is lost.

I’m going to share a few thoughts on when you need to think about adding additional scanning capabilities – either dedicated scanners or smaller multifunction copiers – into your office. I’m also going to explain what different types of scanners are available. First though, a quick rundown of features scanners have that copiers often don’t.

Scanners Process Paper Better

Copiers are designed to do a bunch of things well. Scanners are designed to do one thing very well – take a physical document and turn it into a digital document. So while a copier will easily meet basic scanning needs, when you need to scan more, or more often, scanners have handy features that copiers typically won’t have.

  • Blank page detection and dual-sided scanning. The device scans both sides of the document with one pass and detects if writing exists, if there is no writing, it will omit the blank page. You can also scan both sides of a document in a single pass – meaning you don’t have to flip a document over to capture its other side.
  • Auto size detection, the scanner software will detect the size of the page and match that to the output image. This is an image with no black space, the image is cropped to the whitespace typically. This is also important considering the amount of hard drive space a document takes up on a system. This will also allow jobs with different sized pages to be scanned together. Accounts Payable departments often will see different sized documents from smaller sized printed receipts to hand-written receipts or invoices on odd-sized paper.
  • Color Drop out. Scanner software can drop out a color, so a red document will be scanned and appear white. This frees up disk space for a scanned image, and the image can easier to read then on the red paper. A great example is packing slips included with shipped items are often pink. At Advanced Systems we use yellow paper to quickly identify a hardware order form.

Some copiers also have single-pass scanning and blank page detection too.

Scanner costs are dependent on speeds and feeds and rated for maximum amount of daily scans. Scanners speeds are images per minute. Some Scanners are able scan both sides of a page at once so it doubles the speed of for images. Example: a scanner can scan 50 pages per minute or 100 images per minute. Feeds is how many pages the scanners feeder can hold. Scanners will list how many daily scans they are rated for. Smaller workgroup and personal scanners will be able to hold 50 or 100 pages at a time. Production-level scanners will hold hundreds in their ADF (automatic document feeder).

What Do I Need?

There are scanners for every need – from portable scanners for capturing documents one by one in the field to production scanners that can scan thousands of pages an hour. You can even download apps to your phone to scan documents and receipts.

To keep things simple, I’m going to talk about two types of scanners and briefly mention two others:

  • Sheet fed
  • Network
  • Flatbed
  • Wide-format

Sheet fed and Desktop Scanners

If you have an employee (or small group of employees) who scans as part of their daily work process, a smaller scanner is perfect (for example, a receptionist at a doctor’s office could have a desktop scanner to quickly capture HIPAA forms, insurance cards, etc.). These scanners are connected to a PC or MAC, typically through a USB connection. They will scan directly to a network folder and/or a document management system. Because they are designed to digitize documents, scanners will handle much larger scan jobs because they use the available memory of the PC the scanner is connected to.

Network Scanners

These scanners have the same features as sheet fed scanners, but are connected to the network, not a PC. These are great if you don’t want to tie up a copier with employees scanning preventing other employees from printing and copying. Network scanners with equal speeds will be more expensive than the sheet fed scanner. Network scanner will have a touch screen, memory, and a processor which increases the cost.


Open the lid and place your document on the flat glass. All copiers can also serve as flatbed scanners. You can scan anything that fits on the glass of a flatbed scanner as long as speed isn’t important. Flatbed scanners generally will scan at a higher resolution than sheet fed scanners, which is great for photos and graphics. Also, fragile documents can tear when going through the paper-path within a sheet fed scanner. Flatbed scanners (and copiers) are a better alternative for documents that could tear – such as an old birth certificate.


When you need to scan or copy something larger than a normal sized or legal sized piece of paper, you need a wide-format scanner.

Which Is Right for You?

I hate to give the consultant’s standard answer, but it really does depend. To get you started, these questions will help identify your needs and narrow your choices:

  • How many employees need to scan?
  • How many pages per document are scanned on average?
  • How many total pages scanned per day per work process?
  • What are the physical characteristics of the documents being scanned?
  • What programs are you scanning into or what program are you using to scan?
  • Who needs to access the images post scanning or what actions need to be taken on the images post scan?
  • How long do the images need to be saved?

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About The Author

Lane focuses on fixing businesses broken business processes. He is Advanced Systems Document Management Director. What does document management actually look like? Watch this free demo to find  out.