The Different Types of Book Scanners and Their Pros & Cons

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If you’re in the market for buying a book scanner, it makes sense to first learn about the different types and their pros and cons. In this article we’ll discuss all the different kinds of scanners you can use to digitize books and the aspects to consider before making a purchase. 

1. Flatbed book scanner

A Flatbed book scanner looks like the basic document scanner we all know from our home or office, only flatbed scanners for books typically have a bigger surface and have OCR reading

Flatbed Book Scanner

These scanners have an open platform on top of which your books are placed face down. The image sensor (usually CCD) is located underneath the platform and scans the text as well as the images on the pages.

They tend to have a good camera resolution and frame rate, produce good quality scanned images of at least 300 dots per inch and have excellent lighting. Almost all flatbed scanners have an adjustable lid that can be raised to allow thicker materials to be scanned.

You can use these book scanners to scan any kind of book, but they tend to be more expensive than other types of book scanners. They also have some limitations, such as having difficulty scanning small items like receipts and tickets.

Moreover, they are not designed for portability and would be heavy to carry. But their biggest drawback is that they do not usually offer OCR technology to make the digitized text searchable.

To know more about book scanners and how they work read our article: How do book scanners work?

Advantages:

  • Very easy to configure and set up
  • Can scan two pages simultaneously
  • Excellent lighting and resolution

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive
  • Difficult to read and interpret small items
  • Manual intervention to flip pages is time-consuming

2. Overhead book scanner

An overhead book scanner has an overhanging scanning camera and a flat surface to place the book on. 

A Shaped Book Scanner

These scanners are the most typical and common for scanning books at home or at the library. They are capable of reading almost any size book, including hardcover books. However, they don’t always come with a built-in lamp and sometimes require external sources of illumination.

Overhead book scanners can vary somewhat in both their camera resolution and in their image quality. And they can also vary in what page sizes they can cover. But they do usually offer zoom capability, when required.

Overhead Book Scanner

These scanners often feature a choice of connectivity options, including USB connection and Bluetooth. Most new models typically offer OCR scanning technology to make digitized text readable.

Some overhead scanners will have a ‘V-shaped stand surface for placing the book. These scanners are sometimes referred to as V-shaped book scanners.

The downside of using an overhead scanner is that it might require some manual intervention during the scanning process. After manually flipping the pages you might need to adjust the zoom or the resolution. This may take longer than using a flatbed scanner where the zoom and positions remain the same.

Handheld Scanner

On the other hand, flipping pages is easier than flipping pages with a flatbed scanner.

Overhead scanners are the most commonly used for book scanning for a good reason: They are best suited for the scanning of old books, fragile books or valuable books, because there’s less chance of damaging the books with these types of scanners and they are very easy to operate. 

Advantages

  • Most common type
  • Easy to operate
  • New models offer OCR scanning technology
  • Some models are relatively portable and lightweight
  • Some offer excellent camera and image resolution
  • Great for books and documents of all sizes
  • Easier to flip pages
  • Great for gentle or old book

Disadvantages:

  • Needs external source of illumination
  • Might require adjustments when turning pages or changing books

3. A-Shaped book scanner

‘A’ shaped book scanner is basically one where the shape of the scanner is like a rectangle pointing up and you place the book on top of it

The A shape allows it to fit inside a specific shape of a book. And to do this, they feature both a camera and a lighting source inside the scanner. These scanners can be used to scan either bound volumes or books.

A-shaped book scanners are generally not very versatile and can’t handle a wide range of different shapes and sizes of books. 

They are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of book scanners, and it’s easy to place the book on top of them without too much adjustment. 

However, they are not always able to capture images at high resolutions. And they can sometimes struggle to get good results from particularly thick or large books, and they don’t tend to offer zooming capabilities.

Advantages

  • They are relatively cheap
  • Easy to adjust
  • Easy to use

Disadvantages

  • Limited resolution
  • Slower speed

4. Handheld book scanner

A handheld scanner, as the name suggests, is a scanner you hold in position while it scans each page of the book or document.

What is OCR?

With most of these scanners, you simply slide the scanner across the book (top to bottom or side to side) and it automatically transforms it to a PDF.

These scanners require more active actions on your side which makes them a bit more technical to use than the other types of scanners.

This might be fine for scanning just a handful of pages from a book, but it’s not so great for scanning a whole book, even if it’s a relatively small one.

But they are still widely used because of their low cost and the fact that they are portable and you can carry them everywhere. They are super easy to transport and store.

They are also very useful if you’re working somewhere where there isn’t much space available.

You can get handheld scanners that feature OCR scanning technology (more on that a little later), but notice handheld scanners don’t always have OCR.

Advantages:

  • Cheap to buy
  • Very lightweight and portable
  • Easy to store and transfer

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to use for long periods of time
  • Requires some level of technical skills
  • Not ideal for scanning many pages

5. Phone and Document Scanning Stand and Phone App

If you’re thinking of acquiring a book scanner for one or two books, it may be worth considering just scanning the books with your smartphone combined with the right phone app. After all, if you’ve already paid hundreds of dollars for a state-of-the-art smartphone, it would be a shame not to use it for a little book scanning.

There are many book scanning apps for smartphones out there, including both Android and iOS models. Some of which are free to use, and some of which also offer OCR scanning technology, which is a big plus (more on that a little later).

Phone and Document Scanning Stand and Phone App

And another big plus is that you don’t necessarily have to hold the book in position to scan it, as you’d have to with a handheld scanner. You can invest in a special document scanning stand to hold the book’s pages and the phone in perfect position for you, making it much easier to scan, especially if you want to scan a lot of pages or an entire book.

What you get with a document scanning stand and a phone app is basically the same result as an overhead book scanner.

And, there are a wide range of document scanning stands on the market. Some even come with their own lighting.

Of course, with this method of book scanning, the quality of the image is limited according to your smartphone’s camera resolution. However, most new model smartphones these days offer excellent camera resolution, and lighting to boot.

Connectivity options can include USB cables and Bluetooth. The document stand itself doesn’t need to be connected to either your phone or your laptop. And the system can easily work offline.

This setup is your cheapest option if you already own a smartphone with a good quality camera. The only real downside is that you may have to pay a subscription fee for a good app with OCR scanning built in.

Advantages

  • Cheapest option available
  • Can be used anywhere
  • Little additional equipment required

Disadvantages

  • Requires the use of a smartphone
  • You may have to pay an app subscription fee
  • Quality might not be as good

6. Automatic book scanner

An automatic book scanner is basically a scanner that is 100% hands free. You just put the book in its place and the machine does the rest of the work. Including turning the pages and adjusting the resolution. 

These scanners are big, expensive and can usually be found in industrial scanning services or in state of the art libraries who scan a lot of books.

It does this by automatically identifying each page of the book, then positioning itself at the right spot on the page to scan it.

Automatic Scanner

It usually works by detecting the edges of the pages when placed flat on the scanner bed. Then it will move along the edge until it reaches the next page. Once it has scanned the first page, it flips the page and starts again.

The advantage of this type of scanner is that it allows you to scan multiple pages without having to manually do anything. And, most models offer OCR scanning (more on that a little later).

They typically offer an image resolution of between 300 and 400 dots per inch, but you can get some that offer a whopping 600 dots per inch. And they scan books and documents of various sizes, from 2 A4 up to A0 books.

So if you have a lot of books to scan or you’re opening a book scanning business. You should definitely consider an automatic book scanner that will get you high quality scanning fast and without too much effort.

But if you’re a small business or a private individual looking to scan just a handful of books, the hardware and digitizing software needed for automatic book scanning might be too expensive for your needs.

There are several different manufacturers who make automatic book scanners and you can read about them here: Automatic book scanners

Advantages:

  • Hands-free
  • Fast scanning
  • High-quality
  • Automatic page turning
  • Best for massive amounts
  • Best choice for businesses
  • suitable for libraries who digitize a lot of books
  • OCR scanning technology available
  • Scans books and documents of various sizes

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive
  • Big machine
  • May require extra software to run alongside the scanner
  • Requires some technical knowledge to operate

What is OCR?

Now, this is hands down one of the most important features to look for in a book or document scanner and you can read more about it in our article: What is OCR Scanning? What is it Useful For?

Software

OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, and it describes the ability of a scanner to identify letters, numbers and words within the text being scanned. And it is this capability that allows the digitized version of the book or document to be made searchable once produced.

OCR scanning technology can be used for multiple languages, but if you’re scanning a language that is not very common make sure to verify the software can recognize it.

The benefits of OCR scanning are many fold for those wishing to use the digitized books for study, because it allows for specific words and phrases to be found within a text immediately, without having to check on just about every page, which you may have had to do with the original hardback or paperback.

What’s more, it can be used to bring up every instance of the word or phrase, which can be particularly handy for compiling information and knowledge on a subcategory or a theme within a text. Making the relevant information much quicker to gather than with a traditional hard copy.

Almost all new scanners made by known book scanning brands offer OCR scanning regardless of the type of scanner

Book scanners that can sometimes offer OCR scanning technology include the likes of overhead book scanners, flatbed , automatic scanners, and A-shaped book scanners. And even certain apps for smartphones can offer OCR scanning, too. It’s usually just flatbed scanners that don’t have this capability.

If you are looking for a scanner with OCR, which is strongly recommended, then you will need your chosen scanner to have a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch.

Advantages

  • Makes digitized texts easily searchable
  • Works for multiple languages
  • Brings up all relevant data instantly

Disadvantages

  • OCR makes the time it takes to process each image a bit longer

Conclusion

So, there are several different types of scanner out there, and it’s about choosing the right one for your particular needs and budget.

An automatic book scanner is best for library or commercial use, because it can scan entire books with little to none manual intervention. And a smartphone scanning app and document stand is the best option for personal use, especially if you’re not on a tight budget. If you’re going to be scanning books regularly at home or in your library, consider getting the overhead scanner. For scanning on the go and spontaneously your choice should be a handheld scanner.

If you have never scanned a book before you might want to read our guide on best practices for scanning books. and how book scanners work. 

There are a few other aspects to consider before scanning books like legality and copyrights. But without a doubt, the most important feature to look for is OCR scanning technology to make your digitized texts searchable and translatable.

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