I Need to Scan a Document – Which File Format Do I Use?


What file format should you be scanning to?

Many of our customers use their copiers to scan paper documents (to email, into a document management repository – like Laserfiche, to a cloud service, or to their drive). Regardless of the document's final destination, you need to choose a file format to scan the document to. 

The different file formats (the most common are JPG, XPS, OOXML, PDF, and TIFF) all have different uses. Let's take a quick look at some of the most common ways these formats are used. First though, some general scanning tips.

Scanning File Type Tips

Here are a few quick tips for document scanning. As a general rule of thumb, if in doubt (or a hurry), use PDF since anyone can open a PDF document; and you can always rescan if needed.

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Search. Scanning without an OCR (optical character recognition) option only takes a picture of the document. To find that document again, you'll have to rely on the document's metadata (file name, customer name, invoice number, etc.). To allow the document itself to be searched, choose XPS (OCR) or PDF (OCR).

Digital signatures. Many digital copiers, such as imageRUNNER Advance devices, support digital signatures for PDF and XPS. In industries that rely on many signatures, such as financial services, digital signatures can allow documents in a digital workflow to remain electronic – no need to print, sign, and scan the document again.

Image resolution. You can't upgrade a low-resolution file. Maximize image quality by choosing high resolution when scanning images.

Scan-to-email. Email servers will often block large attachments. If you have a document over 10 pages, consider scanning at a lower resolution and/or use a “Divide Into Pages” feature that some copiers have to send a long document across multiple emails.

Format, Format, Which Is the Right Format?

I can't go over every possible option, so I'll stick to three of the most common groups that use scanned documents:

  • Group 1: Web developer, graphic designer, or architect
  • Group 2: Accountant or content creator
  • Group 3: Sales, admin, or marketing pro

Group 1. These professionals often scan documents for one of these three reasons:

  1. Scan an image or drawing to use on the Web or within another document
  2. Insert an image into a text document or into a presentation
  3. Digitizing architectural drawings and schematics

These needs are best met with JPG (for color) or TIFF (for black and white) file formats. 

Group 2. This group needs to be able to reuse and find their documents more easily:

  1. After scanning, repurpose and/or edit the information (text or images) in the scanned document in a new text document or presentation (such as PowerPoint)
  2. The scanned document is going to be stored in a document management system, like Laserfiche, so the document needs to be able to be found 

These needs are best met with searchable formats – OOXML, PDF, or XPS.

Group 3. This group primarily scans documents for one of four reasons:

  1. Multiple-page documents that others are likely to read on a screen or print
  2. The document needs to be used across multiple different platforms
  3. The document needs to be encrypted
  4. Need to be able to track who made edits to the document 

For these four needs, the best options are XPS or PDF.

Scanning documents, while easy to do, can quickly become complicated. However, most of you reading this and scanning for simple business reasons will fall into one of these three groups. I hope you'll remember this post so that the next time you're standing at your copier, you'll know which file-format is your best scanning option.

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About The Author

Dave Quint, president and CEO of Advanced Systems Inc. and past president of BTA Mid-America. Dave has worked with copiers, MFPs, scanners, and document workflow software since joining Advanced Systems as a sales associate in 1989. His favorite part of the job -- “there is no greater joy than to see the positive impact these solutions have in our client’s businesses.’ You press print, we take care of the rest. Contact us for more information >>