Scanning the scanner market

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q: I’ve finally decided to break down, buy an inexpensive scanner, and go paperless; what type of scanner should I get?

A: I applaud your decision to go paperless, but according to Pricegrabber.com, there are more than 2,100 scanners on the market, and the type of scanner you need depends on many factors. For example, if you plan to scan hundreds of audit workpapers, you will need a scanner with a sheet feeder that handles 11-by-17-inch paper and a document management system that makes it possible for multiple users on a network to access those paperless files. If you plan to scan business receipts into your accounting system, then you will need a scanner that supports that function. If you plan to scan hundreds of photos, then you will need a color scanner that supports a variety of photo formats and photo editing tools. Unfortunately, the confines of this Q&A format prevent a full analysis of various scanner features you should consider; however, presented below is a brief checklist of scanner feature options you should consider, along with my specific recommendation.

  1. Type: Flatbed, sheet-fed, handheld, or business card. I recommend multipage sheet feed.
  2. Size: 15 inches or larger; 10 inches to 14.9 inches, or smaller. I recommend 11 inches.
  3. Scanning: One-sided or two-sided. I recommend two-sided.
  4. Optical resolution: 75 to 600 dots per inch (DPI). I recommend 600 DPI.
  5. Color: 48-bit, 42-bit, 36-bit, and 24-bit. I recommend 48-bit.
  6. File types: PDF, JPG, GIF, TIFF, PNG, RAW, and vCard. The more, the better.
  7. Connection: USB, Firewire, or SCSI. I recommend USB 3.0 because most devices support USB.
  8. Optical character recognition (OCR): I recommend OCR.
  9. Auto-entered receipt details: To reduce data entry. I recommend auto-entered receipts.
  10. Printing: Ability to print a scanned document. I recommend printing.
  11. Wireless: No cable connections required. I recommend wireless.
  12. Scan securely to the cloud: For easier image sharing. This is a decent option.
  13. Built-in sharing: Ability to email a scanned document. While this feature saves the steps of creating an email and attaching an image, I consider this feature less necessary, because it’s fairly easy to attach the scanned images to a standard email message.

I find that it takes three scanners to meet my paperless needs, as follows:

1. NeatConnect Cloud Scanner ($438.88). My NeatConnect scanner automatically recognizes and distinguishes between receipts, contacts, and documents. When a receipt is scanned into the system, the scanner automatically extracts the vendor, date, payment type, sales tax, and total amount, and then records the receipt as a transaction record, as pictured below.

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From there, I can then add a comment, assign categories, and export all such transactions to QuickBooks using the NeatConnect’s built-in Export tool, or as of November 2014, Neat offers seamless integration to QuickBooks. (For example, scanned vendor invoices and employee expense reports can be set to flow directly into QuickBooks automatically.)

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When the NeatConnect recognizes a scanned business card, it automatically extracts and records the contact’s name, address, company, email address, phone number, etc., as pictured below.

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These data can then be exported as a vCard and imported directly into Outlook (by double-clicking the vCard to open it in Outlook, and then clicking Save & Close).

2. Epson GT-S50 Scanner ($371.20). My older Epson GT-S50 scanner is a workgroup/departmental class scanner that is built for speed. This device scans up to 75 pages at a time at the rate of 25 pages per minute, scanning both sides of a page with just one pass. I use it primarily to archive important documents (such as contracts, letters, user manuals, photographs, and my mission-critical daily mail). The Epson GT-S50 manages business cards in a way similar to the NeatConnect process, and it does a great job with photographs, too. I can feed in a handful of photos, and each image is automatically saved to a separate file image using a naming convention and location I specify. The Epson WorkForce Pro GT-S80 Color Document Scanner ($658.09) is the latest version of this device, scanning documents at a rate of up to 40 pages per minute.

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3. Epson WorkForce 835 color printer (no longer available). It is not widely known, but almost every color printer contains a built-in scanner, and I use my older Epson Workforce 835 color printer’s flatbed surface when I need to scan thicker documents that won’t feed into my regular scanners (such as a credit card, driver’s license, or thick cardboard photograph). The Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4640 ($249.99) is one of Epson’s newer versions in the WorkForce line of color printers that also include scanning capabilities.

This topic by no means fully addresses the many features offered by the thousands of scanners available today, but hopefully it will help jump-start your efforts to go paperless. (All prices referenced in this topic are based on the best available pricing at Amazon.com as of Feb. 19, 2015.)

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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