With home offices being the new normal for many, there are bound to be occasions when you need to send someone a paper document via email. But how can you take a physical piece of paper and turn it into a digital image without a scanner?

Yes, you can simply take a photo and send that. But it's possible to get results that look like you used a proper scanner, as opposed to sending a badly lit, warped image.

There are various ways to do this, including a digital scanner app on your smartphone. You may even find your phone's camera app has a 'Text' or 'Document' setting for this very purpose. In fact, if you have an iPhone running iOS 15, you can even use the new Live Text feature to turn it into editable text without downloading anything extra - and use the Notes app to scan documents.

Tips for taking better photos of documents

Before getting to the apps themselves, here are a few tips to get the best quality: you don't want skewed text or shadows making them hard to read.

  1. Use natural light. Put your paper on a table near (but not too near) a window.
  2. Hold your phone square to the document, not at an angle
  3. Try different lenses if your phone has them. Telephoto tends to be the best option, and avoid ultra-wide angles which will distort everything.

Scan documents with Google Drive

You may not know it, but Google Drive has a built-in scanner feature that you can use to digitise documents, old photos and other printed material. To use it, open the app on your phone and do the following:

Tap the plus symbol in the lower right corner of the screen. This opens a menu pane with several options. Select Scan and the camera will launch, allowing you to capture a picture of the item in question.

How to scan documents on your phone: Android

Once you have the image, you’ll be able to crop it to the size you want, then save it as a PDF. The newly scanned image will then be saved to your Google Drive folder, allowing you to share it via email or other messaging app.

Scan documents on iPhone with the Notes app

As with Google drive, Apple’s Notes app also has free built-in scanner that can digitise your documents. To use it, open the app and tap the icon in the bottom right corner to create a new note. Select the Camera option then choose Scan Documents.

How to scan documents with your phone: iPhone

This opens the camera, which will start to scan sections of the image. Tap the camera shutter button to take the image, then you can adjust which parts of the image you want to keep by positioning the circles that appear on each edge. When you have things as you want them, tap the Keep Scan option and it will be saved to your device.

Scanning documents with other apps

If the methods above don't quite do it for you, maybe because you need a specific feature they don't offer, then there are many alternatives. If you have a Microsoft 365 account, then the Microsoft Office Lens – PDF Scanner is a great option, plus you should also check out SwiftScan, Genius Scan, Simple Scan as well as the many others available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

One that's completely free, with no limits and no adverts is FP Scanner-PDF&Image to Text. It's only for iOS, unfortunately, but it has various modes that let you 'scan' multiple pages of a book or document and share it as a PDF, as well as the ability to convert characters into editable text. Though, as mentioned at the start, that is somewhat redundant if you have iOS 15.

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