Using DocScanner to Scan on the Go

Pile of paper

[This post is by Lincoln Mullen, a PhD student at Brandeis University and a historian of religion and early America. Lincoln is ProfHacker's newest contributor; follow him on Twitter at @lincolnmullen.--@jbj]

If you’re an academic, a lot of paper goes through your hands: books, journals, notes, committee reports, tests, papers. Previous ProfHacker posts have suggested ways you can reduce the amount of paper documents that you or your students create. Mark told us how he went paperless at a conference and how he runs a paperless classroom. Natalie explained how she does paperless grading. Heather wrote about digitizing lab submissions. And Jason even pointed out how going paperless can limit the spread of disease.

But a lot of the paper that passes through my hands I don’t create. It’s given to me by other people, usually with some obligation attached. Whatever I can, I recycle as soon as possible. If I need to keep a larger document, I try to scan it, either with the not-so-great scanner at home, or with the speedy document scanners at my university library. But small documents aren’t worth the trouble of firing up the scanner. There are also times in the library or archive when I want to scan just a page or two from a book but don’t want to go through the bother of finding a useable scanner. For those kinds of jobs, I use DocScanner.

DocScanner is an app for both Android and iOS phones. It uses the phone’s built-in camera to take a photo of the document. Unlike a regular photo, however, DocScanner optimizes the image that it captures.

First, the app lets you pick which kind of document you’re scanning: text, text and images, business card, receipt, or whiteboard. It also lets you chose whether to create a PDF or JPEG, or to OCR the document into plain text. And most important, the app lets you pick where the finished document will go. You can e-mail it to someone, or the app can automatically upload the document to several places, including all of the perennial ProfHacker favorites: Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Docs.

Picking options for a document

Second, while you’re taking the scan, the app constantly draws a purple quadrilateral around what it thinks is the document. This guides you in moving the camera so that you get an optimal image. The app can also automatically take the image when you have the camera properly oriented. After taking each image, the app gives you the option of adding additional pages.

Scanning the document

And third, once you’ve photographed the document, the app processes it. From what I can tell, it adjusts the white balance and contrast, sharpens the text, de-skews the image, and crops to the page. The result is a PDF or JPEG that looks like it was scanned on a flatbed scanner rather than snapped with a smartphone.

The resulting document

DocScanner is $5 for the iPhone version, which is a bit pricey for an app. (I might have gotten it for free during a promotion.) Some of the functionality you could get just by using your phone’s camera app, or by using the image features in note-taking apps like Evernote. But for DocScanner’s ease of use and high quality scans, it’s hard to beat.

Just remember: if you’re going to scan a document someone gives to you, you might want to wait till he or she is out of sight before you immediately recycle it.

What about you? What do you use to scan the endless flow of paper?

Photo by Flickr user jepoirrier / Creative Commons licensed

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