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Cheap Scanners Buying Guide

According to our research, most cheap scanners do a fine job with scanning text documents, so the features and performance that frugal shoppers should pay most attention to are those concerning images. The two most important features are resolution and color depth.

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A scanner's resolution determines how much detail it can capture from a photo, and the higher the number, the better; the best and good cheap scanners on our list all feature a maximum resolution of 4800dpi, although 2400dpi is more than adequate. Expensive scanners offer higher optical resolutions, such as 6400dpi, but most users rarely, if ever, scan at such high resolutions. A scanner's color depth refers to how many colors a scanner can capture, and again, a higher number is better; the cheap scanners we feature all boast 48-bit, but 24-bit is the minimum you should accept. You'll also want a scanner with one-touch buttons for scanning, sending a scan to email, or converting a scanned item into a PDF file. Finally, if you have photo slides or negatives, look for a cheap scanner that can scan these items; not all scanners do, but we found several low-price scanners that can copy these media.

When it comes to performance, cheap scanners should meet your expectations. The best cheap scanners scan quickly while still churning out very high-quality images. These two attributes are a bit at odds, though. It's hard for a cheap scanner to scan an item fast while still capturing a lot of detail in the photo while a slow scan will capture a higher quality image. Having said that, most cheap scanners today deliver images nearly identical to the original in less than 60 seconds. Most also let you adjust the settings, so you have some control over the speed vs. quality issue.

Most companies that make printers also make scanners. We found only a few companies, however, that make good cheap flatbed scanners; Epson, Canon, HP, and Visioneer are the names to look for. Many producers combine scanners and printers into one machine, called a multifunction device (MFD) scanner, which often includes a fax in the mix, giving you three products in one. (See our Cheap Multifunction Printers Buying Guide.) Some home office/small office users prefer an ADF (Automatic Document Feeder) scanner to a flatbed scanner. ADF scanners are designed to scan lots of pages of documents quickly, so ADF scanners aren't ideal for scanning photos. They tend to have less color depth and resolution than budget flatbed scanners because scanned pages of text simply don't require high resolution or color depth. ADF scanners tend to be expensive, however, usually costing $300 or more. You can also find an array of specialty scanners, like those designed for business cards or small photos, or others that are portable and can be used without a computer.

Review continues below

Our focus here is on cheap flatbed scanners. Flatbed scanners tend to be less costly than ADF and MFD scanners, and if you already have a printer, you may not want to buy a second printer just because it has a scanner built into it. The cheap scanners we like, because they sport the all-important features and perform at high levels, include the Epson Perfection V300 (starting at $80), Canon CanoScan 5600f (starting at $105), Canon CanoScan Lide 200 (starting at $60), and Visioneer OneTouch 9520 (starting at $60); two models that fall short in one or more critical dimensions are the HP ScanJet G3110 (starting at $87) and Canon CanoScan Lide 100 (starting at $53). Please continue reading for more detail.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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