What You Need to Know about Flatbed Scanners - dummies

What You Need to Know about Flatbed Scanners

By Mark L. Chambers

The first thing you need to know about flatbed scanners is that if you’re in the market for a scanner, a flatbed is the one to buy. On a flatbed scanner the top lifts up, just like a copy machine. The sensor head moves in a flatbed scanner while the material you’re scanning remains motionless on top of the scanning glass.


Comparatively, with a sheet-fed scanner, the material you’re scanning moves through a system of rollers while the sensor remains stationary. Printer manufacturers often use sheet-fed scanning hardware in all-in-one, or multifunction, devices, which combine the functionality of a printer, a scanner, a fax machine, and a copy machine in one svelte case.

(Some multifunction devices even sport both a flatbed scanner and a sheet-feed option, so you get the best of both worlds.) The single major advantage to sheet-fed scanners is that they take up far less space.


Here are the top three reasons why you should pick a flatbed:

  • They deliver a better-quality scan. Because the original material remains fixed in a flatbed (compared with the moving original in a sheet-fed), you have less chance of shifting, which allows a flatbed to deliver a better scan with more detail.

  • They’re versatile. If an original can fit on top of the flatbed’s glass, you can scan it — pages from a book, small items such as business cards, or even items such as clothing. With a sheet-fed scanner, you’re limited to paper documents, and you have to use a clear plastic sleeve to hold those business cards. (Many sheet-fed scanners don’t even accept small items.)

    Sheet-fed owners: Keep those documents as pristine as possible, meaning no torn edges, no staples, and no brittle or fragile antique documents that could suddenly decompose inside the hard-to-reach areas of your machine.

  • They have fewer moving parts. Sheet-fed scanners can easily jam if the original document doesn’t feed correctly, and I’ve found them less reliable over the long run than flatbed models because sheet-fed scanners require more cleaning and adjustment.

If you already invested in a sheet-fed model, don’t despair; there’s no reason to scrap your hardware. However, you have to limit yourself somewhat in your material — unless, of course, you don’t mind cutting pages from books and magazines to scan them.

Other specialized types of scanners are lurking in the shadows these days:

  • Negative scanners: These expensive models are especially designed to produce the best possible scans from film negatives. They do nothing else, so versatility isn’t their claim to fame.

  • Business card scanners: Again, the name says it all. These portable scanners capture images and information from standard-size business cards. They’re often used in conjunction with laptop or netbook computers.

  • Pen scanners: A pen scanner captures only a single line of text at once, but it’s easy to carry around and can be used with a laptop computer and OCR software to read text from documents into a word processing application. (The wand scanner, a close relative to the pen scanner, works in a similar fashion — however, it can capture an entire page as you sweep it across the sheet.)