6 min Read
How to Turn Your Smartphone Into a Scanner
October 7, 2021
6 min Read
October 7, 2021
Your smartphone, with its built-in camera, can help you take some extraordinary images—but the camera can also double as a pretty good flatbed scanner.
It’s ideal for digitizing photos in albums, within frames or on a wall. But along with that, it can convert documents you need to keep, notes on projects, receipts for expense reimbursement and even whiteboards on which you’ve been brainstorming. You then can store those images or send them to someone via email or text.
A scan really means taking a photo, but the technology goes beyond that. Along with adding colour correction to photos and magically repairing tears, some scanner apps include optical character recognition (OCR), which can translate typewritten and even handwritten words into editable and searchable text. Without OCR, when you scan a newspaper article, it saves the story as an image file on your phone, but you won’t be able to search for a keyword or copy specific sentences to text a friend.
Here’s a look at how to turn your smartphone into a scanner, either with built-in tools or free apps.
What’s built into your phone
With an iPhone, you can use the Notes app to scan documents and photos as well as add a handwritten signature just with your fingertip.
If the document needs to be signed, follow these additional steps.
If you want to see how to do this in action, I created a short video.
Android users, on the other hand, you can open the Google Drive app built into your phone. If you don’t see the icon (it’s a colourful triangle), search for the word “drive” and it will pop up.
Every Google Account starts with 15 gigabytes of free storage—shared across Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos—but you can always pay for more or choose to download and save your scans to your phone’s memory.
Other top app downloads
Many good, free scanner apps are also available for your smartphone.
Its smart software can remove shadows and odd angles, too, so your captured images are easier to read. When you’re done, you can upload document and whiteboard images to Word, OneDrive, OneNote or PowerPoint, and you can save them as PDFs or send them by email or text.
To get going, open Lens and choose your mode: Business Card, Document, Photo or Whiteboard. That way, the app can improve the kind of image you’ve photographed automatically:
Like the built-in apps, Lens also supports cropping, rotating and adding text.
Like Lens, Adobe Scan can capture, save and organize your documents in JPG or PDF files, has optical character recognition and offers the ability to sign documents. But the app excels in how it touches up photos, ideal if you’re scanning old and faded or ripped photos.
To get going, launch the app; Auto Scan will be on by default, so simply hold up the camera to analyze and capture the image, or import a photo from your phone’s gallery. For more precise scanning, you could manually select Business Card, Document, Form or Whiteboard.
When looking at a photo you’ve scanned, you can tweak its colour, rotate it or select Cleanup, which lets you drag your finger over parts of the image to remove any tears, improve lighting or colour, and more. Additional details are available on the official Adobe Scan help page.
A free Adobe account is required to use the app, or you can sign in with Facebook, Google or an Apple ID.
Also, while the Adobe Scan app is free, it has an optional Adobe Scan premium subscription for $13 a month, after a seven-day trial, that lets you combine multiple scans into one file; save scanned files into Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats, along with JPG and PDF; and store more files in Adobe’s Document Cloud with 20GB of storage, instead of 2GB. Premium also gives you extra OCR features, such as a 100-page limit (versus 25 pages for the free version), and the subscription works across Acrobat Reader mobile and Acrobat web applications.
Finally, if you’re looking to scan old paper photos, I’d recommend Google’s PhotoScan, available for both iPhone and Android devices.