Scanner apps for your smart phone

Why Use a Scanner App

  • Scan many documents directly to multi-page pdf, which can be simpler to manage than the single images that cameras produce.
  • Upload instantly to Dropbox/ Evernote/ Box etc (which makes for easy linking from Zotero) rather than transferring from a memory card


If you use a camera rather than a phone, you will want to know about Tropy. Tropy is a photo management tool for archival research. You take photos on your camera (JPEGs) and Tropy can help you to organize and take notes on them. Tropy is excellent for quick research trips in which you amass huge numbers of photos, but you don't have a plan on how you will be using them. It is especially useful for manuscript materials that are handwritten and will require some transcription. (PDFs/ scanner app might be better if you are mostly photographing typewritten materials). See the tab on Tropy for more information. 

Create your backup plan (literally)

Cornell students get free unlimited storage on Box. 


General Camera Information

A digital camera, whether it is a high-end DSLR, palm-sized point & shoot, or iPhone, can be used as a scanner. And it can save you a lot of time and expense, especially if you do research in rare book collections and archives. This guide covers the issues that camera-wielding researchers might encounter in using cameras as research tools in libraries and archives. 

Sample policies on photography

Policies developed for camera use in special collections facilties generally provide safeguards for issues as:

  • care and preservation of materials (e.g., no flash or additional forms of lighting, no placing of photographic apparatus on materials, no folding, bending, etc.)
  • consideration of other researchers (e.g., turn off shutter sounds)
  • copyright clearance (e.g., it is the researcher's responsibility to investigate copyright, images are for personal use and study only, images will not be distributed on the open web)
  • publication (e.g., researcher will not publish images)

The Desktop Profession

Keeping Track of Your Images

No matter what you use, find a system for keeping track of your images.

  • Use a nested folder system in the cloud and immediately upload to the specified folder
  • Take a photo of the folder where the item came from at the beginning of the scan or with every image
  • Take notes in a Word document on the images you have taken

Phone or Camera?

Weigh your options based on source type

When the phone is an easier option:

If you are mostly taking images to quickly acquire text documents for research at a later time, your scanner app is probably the easiest way.

Remember that cameras (including your phone camera) take single images and they are stored as large files (JPEGs). You will have to take time to convert them to usable form, and then recombine them into single files. Try to weigh that against the time it would take to just take the time to read and take good notes.

Scanner apps will create multi-page PDFs. You could create an organization scheme where every archival folder or document can be in a single document which you can then instantly upload to the cloud. Your PDFs don't have to go through another application to be edited or resized. Some scanner apps will automatically run OCR (Optical Character Recognition) as well so that typed text will be searchable. 

When a camera is a better option:

If you are taking images of photographs, blueprints, maps, or other illustrations and you want the highest resolution possible, a good camera image is probably better. And if you truly want publication-quality images, you might just want to pay for the on-site services of bigger institutions who have professionally-trained staff, overhead cameras, flatbed scanners, and other far superior tools for the best images.

What to Look for in a Scanner App

Look for:

  • Multi-page scanning
  • Cloud sync to your preferred service
  • Cropping
  • Fast optimization or option to delay
  • OCR if dealing with printed text

Lots of options:

My top choice: Dropbox has a built-in scanner in its phone app. This is the perfect tool for archival research and makes it easy to link your materials directly online.

  • For the best built-in text recognition in English and other languages
  • Built-in OCR
    • CamScanner. Available for Android and iOS. EDU accounts get a free Pro version.

    • Other positives: Automatically backs up to the cloud on their server, so you don't have to do anything extra to move to the cloud.

    • Downsides: Once you have completed a document, it isn't as easy to add a new page as it in JotNot.

  • Other options

File Naming

Renaming Files: