I have a flatbed scanner which I would like to supplement with a document scanner given the latter's small desktop footprint and USB power. This will give me the ability to quickly input genealogical media I am getting from relatives and other sources.

I'd like to be able to scan at least full color, 8.5"x11" at 300dpi. As for media I'd like to be able to scan images easily as well.

What are other considerations I should be aware of when making a buying decision about such a document scanner?

Edit: Updated the question to be more palatable.

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    A flat bed scanner is the type that the book/document is placed on a glass and a cover closed. A document scanner would be one that feeds through rollers, similar to a laminator. – Charles Dec 13 '12 at 0:29
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    @RustyErpenbeck - I would think if a model is suggested, full reasons for same are given. – Very Big Kid Dec 13 '12 at 0:41
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    I voted to close for two reasons. I think the overall question is less about genealogy and more about general purpose technology, and more importantly it is soliciting a subjective opinion and is not answerable in a definitive time invariant way (ie next months answer might be different than this month's). 'What is best to buy' is the classic example stack exchange uses as a great question, but just not appropriate for stack exchange based on their experience. – Duncan Dec 13 '12 at 12:52
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    Will the scanning be done in one location or will it be while visiting relatives etc. – Those Legs Dec 14 '12 at 7:48
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    This isn't a so-called general purpose "shopping question." Look at the answers. This question raises some serious concerns specific to the world of genealogy. Edit to reflect the concerns of document preservation. It's the crux of the question, whether the author realized it or not. It can and and should be answered in that context. Don't be too quick to assume all so-called shopping questions are inherently out of scope. – Robert Cartaino Dec 14 '12 at 16:03

You say you want to supplement your flatbed scanner with a document scanner to allow you to quickly input the genealogical media you get from relatives and other sources.

I say don't use a document scanner. Instead use a digital camera. If you have a reasonably new one, it has a macro mode and should have the resolution you want. 300 dpi for 8.5 x 11 paper is 2550 x 3300 pixels and needs about an 8 MP (megapixel) camera.

The newer smartphones such as the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920 have incredible digital cameras that will serve the purpose just as well. How much more portable can you get than the camera or phone in your pocket or purse? These also can do face detection, image editing, can upload your images to your cloud drive, and even have scanning apps. And you can also use your smartphone for all your other genealogical needs as well, e.g.: to record video interviews, take down all your notes, provide translations, display your genealogy, access archive information, take pictures of 3-D artifacts that can't be scanned, and take pictures of the home towns, residences, schools, workplaces and burial places of your ancestors. All your photos will have embedded GPS coordinates, so you'll be able to plot their locations on a map. No scanner can do all this.

A digital camera will do no damage to a fragile document, other than what you must do to hold the item open for the picture. A scanner always requires some extra form of restraint on the item, and that always adds a possibility that some damage may occur.

I still use my flatbed 1-or-2 sided scanner/copier with auto sheet feeder for standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper and photographs, but never for anything else, and especially not for fragile documents.

But I have used a digital camera, and more recently my smartphone as my personal portable always-with-me document scanner with great success. To me it is perfect way to quickly and sufficiently record the genealogical media I get from relatives and other sources.


I would caution against using a scanner that moves the document along with rollers, because this has greater potential for damaging the document than a flatbed scanner or portable scanner would. That being said, if you don't have room on your desk for your flatbed, then you just need to weigh the risks against the ease and utility you would gain with a document scanner (I am of the opinion that people undervalue their time, so if this helps you to gain time in your life then this is no small thing). You should make up your own policy on what you will or won't copy before it becomes an issue and before you become tempted to run something through the machine that really shouldn't be. Also, you could put a file folder on your desktop that is designated for "Items that shouldn't be run through the document scanner", so that you can plunk them there until you have the time to get out the flatbed scanner to scan them properly.

Some pros and cons of the portable scanner I've recently bought (FlipPal) are

  • that it is super light and can be easily carried along with me on research trips.
  • that it is welcome in a number of archives, because it doesn't damage the documents.
  • that it can scan very large documents (that may be much larger than your flatbed scanner).
  • that it takes good scans and I can vary the quality, dpi, etc.

  • that it saves files to a USB memory stick, not directly to my main computer (need to transfer).
  • that it has a smallish screen. So it's great for scanning old photos, recipe cards, etc. but wouldn't be good for scanning lots of 8.5"x11" pages fast (in that case, you'd have to knit the pics together to make the larger image).
  • that it only runs on batteries (but then I also don't need to worry about cords, finding plugins, etc. and I think that this might have affected the weight and kept the price low).

Consideration should be made to battery life.

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    And possibly battery exchange. – Garry Dec 13 '12 at 0:43
  • While this is a valid consideration, I'm hoping I can find one that runs on power supplied by the USB cable to the computer. Or are you thinking of a portable document scanner? What would be the advantages of that type? – fbrereto Dec 13 '12 at 1:21
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    I was thinking on times when the battery life of the lap top may be reduced due to use, and the availability of power was not available. – George Dec 14 '12 at 1:49

I normally use an integral scanner/printer for making my copies. This works well for uneven or creased originals of up to A4 or US-letter size.

However, I had a problem with oversized originals such as diplomas, some certificates, and rolled maps. I purchased a small hand-held scanner and that worked very well. It is about 10" x 1" and runs on batteries. It does black-and-white or colour, and has two dpi settings (300 & 600).

This also proved handy when visiting relatives in case they got their family photographs out. One problem here was if they couldn't be popped out of the album (e.g. too fragile) since the presence of photo-corners could cause it to snag.

  • Apologies for copying this response I'd provided to a different question. It turned out to be more appropriate to this question but I'd already used it by then. – ACProctor Dec 17 '12 at 9:12

I noticed a while back that the local library had a large format flat-bed scanner which I happily used to retrieve a copy of a very rare family history book. While it was a bit of a PIA to use, the scans were all excellent, accurately cropped and de-skewed. The conversion to text was oddly enough done by using Microsoft Word. I liked it so much that I bought another from the same company--Plustek. Good quality at a reasonable price. Bear in mind that this is higher quality than your typical 'all-in-one' that you see and a great deal faster with higher capacity. It does take a little baby sitting, but it can scan both sides of 50 sheets in about the same time that I've taken to write this. I'm in the middle of working on a document with 450 pages, so capacity and speed were quite important and the SmartOffice PS286 Plus meet my needs quite well. In many cases the equipment available in a good library is sufficient unto the day, but I seem to do much of my work involving books. Having this as a backup to my existing scanners seems to nicely fill my hand so to speak. The Plustek web site is here.

Amazon carries most of Plustek's line at a fair discount. Think of it this way. We are all researchers--this is just something else to study up on. On the other hand remember the old Curtis-Mathis slogan misquoted, "Free and darn well worth it!" when it comes to advice like this. And likewise the internet jargon YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). At any rate, Good Luck!

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    Welcome to Genealogy and Family History SE! Per the FAQ, I've removed your signature. Because your posts are always pre-signed, no use resigning them. Again, welcome to GFH.SE! – American Luke Dec 19 '12 at 22:16

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