How to digitise your paper documents

Now that you have laid the foundations for your digital documents, you can start to think about how you will physically turn your paper into digital copies. Here you have a number of options in terms of hardware and software:

1. Multi-Functional Device (MFD)

If you already use an MFD at home or at work, the built-in scanner can be a real boon. If you just have a few documents (less than 50) to scan, a desk scanner is fine. More than this and the automatic paper feeder that is a feature of many MFDs will save you hours. All of the leading printer manufacturers including Brother, HP, Canon and Epson have a range of MFDs to choose from. You might also want to check out: How to buy the right Multi-Functional Device for your print needs.

2. Desktop scanners

Flatbed scanners come in all shapes and sizes. In most instances – unless you need to scan larger documents such as maps – a standard A4 scanner is all you need. Devices such as the CanonScan range and the Epson Perfection scanner can handle documents as well as photos.

There are also specialist scanners from companies including Neat, Fujitsu's ScanSnap range, IRIS andDoxie. These all offer a number of scanners to match your precise needs.

Scanning receipts can also be fast and efficient with applications like Receipt Bank. Most scanners will come with OCR software, but if you need this application, ABBYY FineReader and OmniPage are the perfect complement to a desktop scanner.

3. Apps

Small quantities of documents can be effectively scanned with nothing more than a phone or tablet app. The Google Drive app for instance includes powerful OCR software that scans your documents and saves them to your drive space. Camscanner is also popular and is free, as is SwiftScan, and Evernote fans can use Scannable as long as you use Apple iOS devices.

4. Scan to cloud

As the cloud has become an almost essential component of modern life, there are a number of services that enable you to scan directly to the cloud storage locker of your choice.

Both Windows and Mac OS X can scan documents, and applications such as Microsoft Word and Adobe's Acrobat can also power through your scanning. Epson's Scan to Cloud service seamlessly links your scanner to cloud storage.

With such an array of scanning options be sure to take your time to assess what kind of documents you need to scan today, and also what you might need to scan in the future. Developing a good scanning habit will mean that over time your paper mountain will be reduced and could even disappear…


Specialist scanners such as the Doxie enable you to quickly scan the hundreds of business cards you have collected

Always think digital

After you have dealt with the existing paper you have, fully scanning and filing your documents, it's then time to think about how to become a digital obsessive and abandon paper altogether.

This is now entirely possible thanks to a number of innovations - including DMS (document management systems). Not all of these will be useful for you or your business of course, but they do offer a number of options you can use to create your own specific and specialised digital document system...

1. Pen and paper

If you are used to carrying a notebook and pen everywhere you go, making the change to a digital equivalent can be difficult. You don't have to give up pen and paper when you want to go digital thanks to innovations such as Mod Notebooks which offers an integrated scanning service that takes your filled notebooks and digitises them for you.

2. Digital notebooks

Taking the idea of the notebook into the digital age, one of the most advanced systems is fromMoleskine. Linking the firm's popular notebooks to the Evernote app offers the best of both worlds. Furthermore, one of the most developed applications is Microsoft's OneNote. You can save anything to OneNote with the application also being compatible with scanners from Doxie and Brother.

3. Digital pens

We all know how to use a pencil or pen. Digitising what you write and draw is a great way to ensure the content you create can be used to its fullest extent. There are a number of options to choose from: You can link your beloved Moleskine notebook to the Livescribe digital pen system and digitise your notes and drawings. Or alternatively, another possibility is IRISnotes.

4. Stylus

Moving completely away from paper is of course possible by using smartphones and tablets as digital notebooks. Here there are a number of pens or styluses available including a specialised pen forEvernote fans. There's also a pen for Surface Pro users and of course the new Pencil from Apple.


All of the paper documents you have can be digitised (Image: Maia B, Flickr)

Freedom beckons

Digitising your existing paper documents and then adopting a digital-only approach to how you record information will free you from paper management that can be time consuming.

It's not really possible yet to completely remove paper from some aspects of your life, but you can certainly massively reduce the quantities you are producing and managing with some well-chosen tools and services.