“Scanning” documents and photos with your phone is a mixed bag. Thankfully, there are very easy ways to scan items and get reliably good results.
Sure, a dedicated scanner is great if you have lots of documents to scan, but using your phone will work in a pinch—and the results are probably better than you’d expect, as long as you use the right apps. Here’s what we recommend on Android and iOS.
The Best Way to Scan Documents on Android: Google Drive
If you’re using an Android phone or tablet, the best way to scan documents is Google Drive. Download the app and install it, if you don’t have it already.
How to Scan a Document to PDF on Android
You can scan documents directly into Drive by tapping the “+” sign in the lower-right corner of the app’s home screen.
When the menu slides up from the bottom, tap “Scan”.
When you are ready to create your scan, tap the blue capture button. To shed a little light on the subject, tap the flash icon to the left, if your device has a flash. If your device doesn’t have a flash, this icon won’t appear.
All scans are uploaded to Drive as PDFs. You have three options immediately after scanning something:
- Tap the plus sign to add more pages to the PDF.
- To redo a scan, tap the circular arrow in the middle.
- Tap the check symbol to finish and upload the page or pages to Drive.
You can also make minor adjustments to your scans as you go. The three symbols in the upper-right corner represent your options.
On the left is the crop tool. In the middle, looking something like a painter’s palette, you can change the scan’s image enhancement.
There are four image enhancement options. By default, the scanner will automatically pick the one it thinks is best.
Lastly, the three dots in the upper-right corner will let you delete, rename, and rotate the scan.
Once you’ve made any necessary adjustments, you can upload your final scanned document knowing it looks its best.
Uploaded scans are added to Drive as PDFs and the names are prepended with the word “Scanned”, followed by the date and time.
You can move, rename , or delete any of your scanned documents by clicking the three dots next to the file’s name.
You can also share documents from here: “Share link” will share a link to the document on Google Drive, while “Send a copy” will allow you to share the actual file over email, send it to Dropbox, or another app on your phone.
How to Turn Scanned PDFs into Editable Text
Since Drive converts your scans into PDFs, they won’t be an editable document. That is to say, you won’t be able to change any of the text in the PDF.
Fortunately, you can create editable documents with Google Drive from PDFs on your computer (sadly, you cannot do this on your phone).
It’s really easy to do. Just open the Google Drive website in any web browser, right-click on a scanned PDF, and select “Open with > Google Docs”.
Your scan will then be converted to a Google Doc, which you can edit to your heart’s content.
The Best Way to Scan Documents on an iPhone or iPad: Evernote Scannable
Google Drive doesn’t have a scan option on its iOS app, so if you’re using an iPhone or iPad, then the best way to get great scans is with Evernote’s Scannable app. You don’t need to use Evernote to use Scannable—just download the Scannable app and install it to your phone to start.
How to Scan a Document to PDF on iOS
Scannable is a cinch to use. Hold the device over the item you want to scan. Scannable will scan the document automatically, without you having to press anything. The document will turn blue, and a white progress indicator will appear in the center. When it forms a complete circle, the scan is done.
To manually scan a document, tap the “…” on the Scannable screen to bring up the quick settings, then tap “Auto” under Capture to change it to Manual.
A shutter button will appear on the screen allowing you to snap a scan manually. Tap the small “X” underneath to return to auto mode.
If you’re trying to scan something in varying lighting conditions, you can adjust the light settings from the quick settings screen.
Tap “Auto” under the Light heading, to change it to On, tap it again to Off, and tap it one more time to revert back to Auto.
As you scan more pages, they’ll appear at the bottom of the screen. To delete a page, press and hold an image in the scan tray and then swipe upward until it disappears.
Tap the trash icon to delete everything in your scan session.
If you delete a scan session, you can restore it from the quick settings screen by tapping the “Recents” button.
To edit a scanned page, tap on it to bring it up, then tap on it again to open the editing tools.
From here you can delete, rotate, crop, and restore the selected image.
While delete, rotate, and crop are self-explanatory, “Restore” restores the scanned item to its photo image (the Restore button changes to Enhance).
Tap “Enhance” to change it back to a black and white scan.
Tap the image again and the edit tools revert to the share/save screen. If you want to share a scan with someone else (or send it to another app for further editing), tap “Send”.
Scans can be shared via email, or using your iPhone’s regular Share dialog. Share it through whatever app you like.
How to Turn Scannable Documents into Editable Text
Since Scannable turns your scans into images or PDFs, they won’t be editable documents. If you want something you can edit, you can export your scans to Google Drive and turn them into editable documents on your computer (sadly, Google Drive can’t do this on mobile).
It’s really easy to do. First, share your scan to Google Drive as described above—you may need the Google Drive app installed on your phone to do so. (Alternatively, you can send it to Dropbox or email it to yourself, and upload it to Google Drive from your computer.)
Next, open Google Drive in any web browser, choose the image or PDF you uploaded from Scannable, then right-click and select “Open with > Google Docs”.
Then you can edit the converted document in any way you see fit.
Just like that, thanks to Scannable and Google Drive, the dream of an (almost) paperless office gets that much closer. While we don’t think any organization will ever be 100 percent paperless, being able to scan something and then effortlessly share it with your colleagues (instead of heading to the copy machine) moves things in the right direction.