“where cheap is chic” — wisebread
In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Scanners
  2. Scanner Resolution and Features
  3. Scanner Reviews
  4. Discount Scanners Features Comparison Table

Cheap Scanners Buying Guide

If you're a serious amateur photographer (or a professional, for that matter), it may be worth spending more for a higher-end scanner. But the point-and-shoot camera crowd will be more than satisfied with a cheap scanner.

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.

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Here, the two most important features are resolution and color depth. 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. 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.

Review continues below

One question you might ask yourself: Are you missing out by going downscale rather than upscale? Not really. Expensive scanners offer higher optical resolutions, such as 6400dpi, but most users rarely, if ever, scan at such high resolutions. Higher-priced scanners often have more features, like additional one-touch buttons for tasks such as scanning several pages of a document, and can usually handle more strips of film at once than cheaper scanners. The main benefit of costly models is the quality of photo scans, which tends to be superior to what you get with inexpensive scanners. But the difference in quality generally isn't significant enough for casual or frugal users to worry about.

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.

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.

Review continues below

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Scanners

Epson Perfection V300
Gold Medal

Epson Perfection V300

Loaded with features at a reasonable price, the Epson Perfection V300 includes everything you could want in a budget scanner, like an LED light source, high optical resolution, and support for slides and negatives scanning. This may not be the perfect scanner, but it's fast, delivers very high quality scans, and is definitely the best cheap scanner.

Canon CanoScan 5600F
Gold Medal

Canon CanoScan 5600F

The CanoScan 5600f's image quality is hard to beat. Users and experts alike rave about how impressive scans look when using this machine. It's a bit slow and more expensive than others, but the price and your patience are worth it.

Good Cheap Scanners

Canon CanoScan LiDE 200
Gold Medal

Canon CanoScan LiDE 200

The newer of Canon's LiDE models, the LiDE 200 does a decent job scanning images, and users like that it's powered through a USB cable. If this scanner could scan slides and film at this price, it would earn a top spot on our list.

Visioneer OneTouch 9520
Gold Medal

Visioneer OneTouch 9520

Users looking for a scanner at the cheaper end of the market should look no further than the OneTouch 9520, which sports most of the features you want in a scanner but costs only $60. Some users say software installation is tricky.


Don't Bother

HP ScanJet G3110

Painfully slow scans with occasional "artifacts" keep this scanner at the bottom of our list. Most photo scans turn out well, but scanning film produces iffy results.

Canon CanoScan LiDE 100

Cheap but past its prime, the LiDE 100 is a good scanner in a pinch, but we'd spend a few more bucks for a more full-featured product that delivers excellent, not just good, scans.

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