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What is a Flatbed Scanner?

By Bethany Keene
Updated: May 16, 2024

A flatbed scanner is an electronic device that allows for the conversion of paper documents or photos into a digital form. It is a large, flat device with a hinged lid that is designed to sit on a desktop. The lid is lifted and a document is placed flat against the glass underneath; functioning similarly to a copy machine, the device then scans the document using light or an image sensor.

Once the flatbed scanner has scanned the document or photo, it is transmitted to the computer and displayed on the screen. The user is then free to modify the document or image, print copies, or simply save it in a digital form as a backup. This type of flatbed scanner is a good choice for someone who wants to scan documents occasionally, but primarily works with film, photos, or other fragile images. Photo scanners at drugstores and discount stores are a type of flatbed scanner, albeit on a much larger scale.

Sometimes, a flatbed scanner is referred to as a document scanner. While this is true to an extent, a document scanner is generally a completely different device. Some document scanners are much larger, and are able to scan multi-page documents at once with an auto-feed feature. Again, this is more similar to a copy machine. Other types of scanners simply take photographs of items for display on the computer.

When selecting a flatbed scanner for home use, it is important to consider what types of images will be scanned. If photos and other high-quality images will generally be scanned, it is a good idea to select a scanner with a high resolution and color depth. This will allow the images to be scanned without loss of quality, and will allow photos to be enlarged and reprinted once they are scanned into the computer. If the scanner will primarily be used for text-based documents, it may be possible to purchase a less expensive scanner with a lower resolution.

Keep in mind that even after a scanner is able to scan a text document and transmit it to the computer, it will still be just an image. In order to convert it into text for editing purposes, it will likely be necessary to purchase additional software. Most flatbed scanners come with software to make it easier for the scanner to interface with the computer and to save documents, but they generally do not come with editing or conversion software.

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Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Aug 19, 2011

I have a Canon flatbed scanner that also works as a printer and copier. I don't use the scan option as much as I thought I would when I first bought it.

The option to make copies of documents has been the most beneficial for me. There are many times when I want to make a quick copy of something, and this has been a life saver.

If I want to make a lot of copies, I will take it to a copy shop, but for one or two copies, it works great.

I will use the scanner to scan documents that I want to fax or email to someone. You never know when this is going to come in handy and same you a trip to a copy shop.

By bagley79 — On Aug 18, 2011

I have had more than one flatbed scanner and use them most often to scan pictures. You can purchase a specific photo flatbed scanner, but I have one that will scan documents as well.

This is a pretty basic scanner, but works great for what I need. I know some of them can be quite expensive and have a lot of different options and features.

When I first began scanning, I felt good if I could find the pictures on my computer after getting them scanned. Once I got this figured out, the rest was pretty simple.

By shell4life — On Aug 17, 2011

With my flatbed scanner, I can crop images before I even open the photo editing software. I can make it scan only the parts I need.

Since the scanner can take a long time to scan a full page in color, this feature is a good time saver. Often, I have to scan photographs of people that need to be cropped down to just headshots, so I don’t need to scan the entire image.

If I only need the image to be black and white, the scanner can do its job very quickly. The scanner will make a quick run over the full color original to show me a preview, but then, I can select grayscale, and it will produce the black and white copy in a few seconds.

By StarJo — On Aug 17, 2011

I have to work with a couple of different flatbed scanners at work. The one on the newer computer gives me more options, but even on the old one, I can adjust the scale and resolution manually.

I frequently have to scan in text documents. In order to produce a good quality scan, I have to set the resolution to at least 600. Anything under that will appear fuzzy and pixelated.

On the new computer, I can choose the text option, which automatically sets the scanner to a high resolution. On the older one, I manually type in the resolution that I need.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 17, 2011

I can scan lots of things on my flatbed scanner at home. When I preview the image, a window comes up asking me what the original document is. I can choose from several options, like photograph, magazine, and text.

Next, it asks me what the purpose of my scan will be. I can choose onscreen viewing, laser printing, or fax, to name a few. The resolution automatically adjusts according to my selection.

Most often, I scan photographs to print on glossy paper. I choose the photograph option for the original and the laser printing option for purpose, and I get a high quality image every time.

By Oceana — On Aug 16, 2011

We have a pretty large flatbed scanner at work. I have to scan lots of photographs, book covers, and invoices, and I can fit two 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper on the scanner bed.

The office has photo editing software that I use to convert the images to the correct color mode. I can also lighten or darken them as needed, and I can fix small imperfections in photographs, like scratches or spots on the originals.

I clean the scanner bed with lint-free cloths whenever it gets dusty. I have to keep it clear so that the scanned images aren’t affected.

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