Buying a Scanner vs. Using a Scanning Service

Consider your time, money, and security when weighing the pros and cons.

Scanning papers instead of filing them can be a huge space saver, and it also increases the searchability of your documents. The next question, then, is how to go about scanning your documents? This of course depends on how many you have, and how frequently you’ll need to scan documents in the future. Your options are to purchase a scanner and do it yourself, or send your documents out to a scanning service. There are pros and cons to each method.

Purchasing a Scanner
A scanner is a great tool if you are willing to do the scanning yourself. If you have a scanner on your desk the benefit is that you can scan something immediately, as soon as you come back from a meeting or finish paying a bill. If you’re on the go a lot, you can purchase a portable scanner and scan things even if you’re not in the office.

If you are concerned about the security of your paper or your data, then scanning things yourself means you never lose control. You are able to maintain the security of your data since no one is touching your files but you.

Doing the scanning yourself can be extremely time-consuming, especially if you don’t have a high-quality scanner. Multi-function printer-scanner-photocopiers are typically very slow, and the process won’t be enjoyable for you. The software that comes with these machines is just not very good for scanning in high volumes. You’ll be able to scan things to PDF, but if you’re looking to search within that PDF or get things into some sort of organized system, typically the software that comes with a multifunction scanner won’t do the trick. You’ll need a high-quality scanner, which will range between $300 and $500. This is definitely a worthwhile investment if you are interested in doing the scanning yourself.

Using a Scanning Service
Scanning services allow you to send your documents out and have someone else do the scanning for you. They would scan things either into a database that you would access over the internet, or they would email you PDF files. You typically have the options of having your documents returned to you or have them destroyed once the scanning is complete. These services vary in cost and quality.

The benefit to using a service is that you don’t have to spend the time doing it yourself. If you have a large quantity of documents to be scanned, or you are the type of person who knows that you are never going to get around to scanning, this could be a great option. You also don’t have to buy a scanner, which is one less thing to take up space in your office.

The downside is that you don’t maintain control of your documents because you are outsourcing the work. If you are concerned about the security of your documents while they are in transit, while they are being scanned, or once the scanning service provides your documents online, then a scanning service may not be for you.

The other concern is that you are never done paying for a scanning service. Payment for a scanning service is usually on an ongoing or subscription-based fee, or on an as-needed basis. This can quickly outpace the cost of simply buying a scanner, even a high-quality machine. There is also often a delay between sending out your documents and receiving the scanned versions—which could be problematic if you need access to the information in the meantime.

If you’re wondering how to implement these strategies, we’d be happy to chat with you. Contact us for a complimentary strategy session by going to

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2 Responses to “Buying a Scanner vs. Using a Scanning Service”

  1. Julie

    Whichever option you use, storing your PDFs in Evernote will
    a) make the documents searchable
    b) allow you to tag, annotate, group and otherwise makes notes about the scanned items to make them easier to search.
    c) automatically give you a cloud backup of your documents – although for sensitive documents it is also possible to create offline notebooks, i.e. those that won’t be synched. However, since the processing to make scanned PDFs searchable happens on Evernote’s servers, you lose the searchability option, so have to rely on the naming, tagging and annotating of your notes for searching.

    Of course, for maximum searchability, wherever possible, get the documents in PDF format in the first place (e.g. downloaded from a website, etc.), rather than scanning paper versions.

  2. Joshua Zerkel

    Julie, great tips. As you probably know, I’m the Evernote Productivity Ambassador. Head on over to the Evernote forums – you may find more ideas you like there too!

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