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Smartphones have replaced scanners for many common tasks. But if you need to get digital copies of old photos, slides or negatives, or high-quality paper scanning, phones still can’t beat specialist equipment.
How to configure your scanner
If you haven’t already, start by connecting your scanner to your computer or network. If you don’t know how to do this, first read how to add a printer on Windows 10 or Windows 11 – even though they are different types of devices, the process is basically the same.
Most scanners can be controlled with special software from the manufacturer or using universal applications that come with Windows. Windows 11 tends to be picky with older scanners, especially if they’re part of an all-in-one printer. Try downloading and installing the manufacturer’s drivers manually if Windows Scan or Windows Fax and Scan does not detect your scanner.
To note: The user interface (UI) of Windows 11 is different from Windows 10, but the differences in this case are minimal and mostly cosmetic. Don’t worry if there are differences: The important parts are the same.
Configuring your scanner
A few important options are available to you when configuring your scan settings. Choosing the right settings can save you time and storage space.
Dots per inch (dpi)
The most important option is the Dots Per Inch, or DPI, setting. DPI determines the resolution of the image that will be created when you scan something. For example, if your scanner has an area of 8.5″x11″ and you scan a document at 200 DPI, the resulting image will have a resolution of 1700×2200. If you scan the same document at 600 DPI, it will have a resolution of 5100×6600. The higher the DPI, the larger the image. Higher DPI settings also result in slower scans.
If you’re scanning old film negatives, slides, high-quality prints, or artwork, you’ll probably want to go as far as possible to extract all available detail. Using a higher DPI means the image can be scaled up to larger sizes without becoming overtly pixelated. More is usually better, but there comes a time when you really don’t gain anything by increasing the DPI.
Here is an example using a photorealistic drawing of a pig on an 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. For context, the pig design is only about an inch long.
The first image is a scan of the pig at 200 DPI. The outline and features of the pig are clearly visible.
The image below is the exact same pig, but scanned at 1200 DPI. Outline and shape are visible, but you can also clearly see more detail of how a ballpoint pen lays down ink on a sheet of paper.
There’s no point in increasing the DPI if you’re just scanning text documents – all you’re doing is revealing details of how the ink seeps into the paper and generating unnecessarily large images .
Normal-size text will be as readable at 200 DPI as it is at 1200, and at a small fraction of the file size – The 200 DPI scan was 57.5 kilobytes in size, the 1200 DPI scan was 1.6 megabytes in size. This isn’t a big deal if you’re just archiving a lot of documents, as storage is cheaper than ever, but it might matter if you’re uploading them to the internet.
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You can choose from three basic color format options when scanning: color, grayscale, and black and white. Here’s what those terms actually mean.
- Black and white: All color and shading information is removed — all colors or all grays are converted to black.
- Shades of grey: All color information is removed, but shading information is retained. If you have light blue on the page, it will be changed to light gray. If you have dark green on your document, it will be changed to dark gray.
- Color: All color and shading information is retained.
All things being equal, black and white scans will have the smallest file sizes and color scans will have the largest file sizes. Grayscale scans are in the middle.
Black and white will be fine if you’re only scanning text documents – it can even be useful if you’re scanning faded text with poor contrast. All documents containing images should be scanned in grayscale or color, depending on your needs. Grayscale images will take up less space, so if you don’t care about color, use grayscale.
If in doubt, you should scan in color. You can always convert a scanned image to grayscale or black and white later, but adding color to grayscale images is much more difficult and requires an artistic eye to do well.
There are dozens of image formats, but Windows Scan and Windows Fax and Scan only give you a handful. What you use really depends on your needs, but here are a few things to consider.
PNG and JPEG are basically universally supported – it’s very unusual to come across an app or website that doesn’t accept either format. PNGs are losslessly compressed, which means they should maintain a higher quality than JPEGs, which are lossy. JPEGs tend to be a bit smaller than PNGs.
TIFFs are an extremely versatile image format. TIFF files can use lossless or lossy compression and support markup for easy organization. TIFF files are often stored uncompressed, so the files are usually larger than PNG or JPEG files, but the quality is as good as it gets.
PDFs are document files that can contain images, texts, etc. PDFs, like JPEGs and PNGs, are universally supported – any browser can open one, and there are a number of more specialized programs available that can open and edit them. Adobe Acrobat is the most comprehensive choice available, especially if you pay a subscription. Acrobat also includes Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which can convert a scanned document image into an editable text file.
To note: You can perform OCR on any image file you like, not just PDFs – there are a few apps available for free that can do this. Microsoft’s OneNote has the functionality built-in.
If you don’t know which format to use, choose a TIFF or PNG format. They can easily be converted to one of the other formats if you decide you need or want something else.
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How to Scan with Windows Scan
Windows Scan is the latest scanning software from Microsoft. You can download it directly from the Microsoft Store. Click “Install” and wait for it to complete, then click “Open”.
If you already have it installed but haven’t opened it, click the Start button and type “Scan” in the search bar, then click “Scan” in the results.
To note: Windows analysis might be the “best match”. If so, you can just press enter to launch it.
Windows Scan has a very minimalist user interface, common to applications designed for Windows 10 and Windows 11. The only setting immediately available is an option to change the file type. Click “Show more” to view more options.
You can change your color options, scan resolution, file type, and save location. Remember that increasing your DPI settings will slow down your scan and result in larger files.
Adjust the settings to your liking, then click “Scan”. If you want to get an idea of how the image looks without saving it, you can click “Preview”.
Windows Scan will remember your settings between scans, and even between restarts.
How to scan with Windows Fax and Scan
Windows Fax and Scan has been around for a long time. It was first released with Windows Vista and has been included in all versions of Windows since. The user interface (UI) hasn’t aged gracefully, but the program itself remains fully functional.
Click Start, type “Fax and Scan” in the search bar, then press Enter or click “Open”.
If you plan to scan a large number of items, consider setting up a custom scan profile. This will save you time because you won’t have to adjust scan settings every time you open the program. Click “Tools”, then click “Scan Settings”.
Click “Add” in the pop-up window.
The window that appears contains all the options you can change in a scan profile. Adjust it to your liking, name it descriptively, then click “Save Profile”. Also close the previous window.
You are ready to start scanning. Place the thing you want to scan on the scanner bed, then click “New Scan”.
Several options are available in this window. Edit them to your liking or select a predefined profile, then click “Scan”.
Scanning will take longer as you increase your DPI setting. Be prepared to spend time sitting next to your scanner if you scan a lot of high resolution documents. After you scan something, it appears in a list in the middle right of the Fax and Scan window.
Scanned images are saved in “C:Users(YourUserName)DocumentsScanned Documents” by default. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to change where scanned documents are saved, but you can set up a symbolic link, which is almost as good.
Although much older, Windows Fax and Scan offers more options than Windows Scan. The only real benefit of Windows Scan is the ability to change where images are saved. Windows scanning may also have issues with older scanners, even with dedicated drivers installed. If this is the case for you, try Windows Fax and Scan.