How to Convert Paper Documents Into a Digital Format

Four ways you can transform your business' paper records into electronic files.

Using an office scanner to digitize documents

When you’re running a business, paper documents tend to accumulate very quickly.

From invoices and receipts to contracts and HR files, business owners often find themselves dealing with an overwhelming amount of paper-based information.

But managing all that paper can be a significant challenge, which can lead to inefficiencies, increased costs, and negative business outcomes.

Digitizing your paper documents (converting paper records into electronic files) – offers many benefits for your business, including improved organization, increased accessibility, and enhanced security. 

There are several different methods that can be used to digitize paper, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of the most common ways to digitize paper.

Scan Your Documents 

Scanning is the most common method of digitizing paper documents. Commercial scanners come in all shapes and sizes, with many available which can rapidly scan documents. 

The advantages of using your own scanners to digitize documents for your business

Cost Savings: By having your own scanner, you can save money that would have been spent on outsourcing the document scanning to a third party. This is particularly beneficial for small businesses that do not have large budgets.

  1. Convenience: You have the flexibility to scan documents whenever you need to, without having to wait for an outside service to complete the task. This allows you to be more productive and efficient with your time.
  2. Security: Scanning your documents in-house reduces the risk of exposing sensitive information to third-party vendors. It also helps you maintain better control over your business data.
  3. Improved Collaboration: Digitized documents can be easily shared among employees, making it easier to collaborate on projects and tasks. This can help streamline processes and increase productivity.
  4. Better Record Keeping: Digitized documents are easier to organize and access. This can help improve record-keeping accuracy and ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Disadvantages of using your own scanners to digitize documents for your business:

  1. Upfront Costs: Purchasing a scanner can be expensive, especially for high-end models that can handle large volumes of documents.
  2. Maintenance: Scanners require regular maintenance to keep them in good working order. This can add to the overall cost of ownership.
  3. Training: Employees may require training to use the scanner and to organize your files effectively. This can be time-consuming and may require additional resources.
  4. Quality Control: Digitized documents may not be of the same quality as those scanned by a professional service. This can lead to issues with readability and accuracy.
  5. Time Constraints: Scanning documents in-house can be time-consuming, particularly if you have a large volume of documents to digitize. This can take away from other important business activities.

Tip: For more information about the disadvantages of scanning in house, check out our article about the dangers of DIY scanning in a business setting.

Photograph Your Documents 

Another way to digitize paper documents is by taking a photograph of it. This method can be particularly useful when digitizing large documents that cannot be scanned easily. 

Your mobile device or a digital camera can be used to take a photograph of the document, which is then saved as a digital image file. However, it is important to make sure that the photograph is taken head-on in a well-lit area.

Advantages of digitizing your documents by photographing them:

  1. Cost-effective: Photographing documents is a cost-effective way to digitize them, as it does not require expensive scanning equipment.
  2. Convenience: Document photography can be done with virtually any modern smartphone, making it a convenient option for businesses that need to digitize documents on the go.
  3. Fast and easy: Document photography can be done quickly and easily, without the need for specialized skills or equipment.
  4. Easy to share: Digitized documents can be shared as easily as any other image stored on your phone. 

Disadvantages of digitizing your documents by photographing them:

  1. Quality issues: Photographing documents can lead to issues with image quality, including blurring and distortion, which can make it difficult to read the text.
  2. Inaccuracy: There is a risk of missing parts of the document or capturing them in the wrong order when photographing documents, which can lead to inaccurate digitization.
  3. Security risks: Document photography can lead to potential security risks, as it may capture and store sensitive information to an insecure device.
  4. Time-consuming: Photographing documents can be time-consuming, especially when dealing with a large number of documents. You need to check and recheck every image to ensure each photo is a sufficient quality. 
  5. Organization: Digitized documents need to be properly organized and labeled to ensure they can be easily searched and accessed when needed. This can be a challenge when relying on document photography.

Use a Mobile Scanning App

There are a ton of mobile apps that allow users to scan documents using their smartphones. These apps use the camera on the phone to capture an image of the document, which is then saved as a digital file. Some of these apps also have OCR capabilities, which can be useful for converting the scanned image into editable text.

To learn more about the best apps on the market, read our reviews of the best mobile scanning apps for Android and IOS.

Advantages of scanning documents with a mobile app:

  1. Convenience: Mobile scanning apps are easily accessible, making it convenient to scan documents on the go, without having to carry bulky scanning equipment. And in most cases, these apps have better features for scanning than just taking a photo.
  2. Cost-effective: Mobile scanning apps are often free or inexpensive, making them a cost-effective option for businesses that need to digitize a handful of documents here or there.
  3. Speed: Scanning documents with a mobile app is quick and easy, allowing employees to digitize documents quickly and efficiently while they work.
  4. Versatility: Mobile scanning apps can capture documents of different sizes and formats, making them a versatile option for businesses.

Disadvantages of scanning documents with a mobile app:

  1. Quality issues: Mobile scanning apps may not produce high-quality scans, leading to issues with readability and accuracy. While many apps are able to automatically align images and reduce skew, some others still rely on the skill of the user taking the images.
  2. Limited features: Mobile scanning apps may have limited features compared to more advanced scanning equipment, such as automatic document feeding or double-sided scanning.
  3. Security risks: Mobile scanning apps may capture sensitive information that should not be shared or made public, leading to potential security risks. It’s important to use only trusted applications as shady mobile applications are common in many app stores.
  4. Battery drain: Scanning documents with a mobile app can quickly drain the battery life of a mobile device, leading to potential disruptions in business operations.
  5. Storage limitations: Digitized documents take up a lot of storage space on a mobile device, requiring you to constantly micromanage your device’s storage space.

Outsource your digitization to a professional

If you have a large number of documents to digitize, you may want to consider outsourcing the task to a document scanning service. These services specialize in digitizing paper documents and can provide high-quality digital images in an organized fashion, quickly and efficiently. 

Advantages of digitizing documents with professional:

  1. Expertise: Scanning companies have the expertise and specialized equipment to scan and digitize documents efficiently and accurately. They are trained in handling a wide range of document types, sizes, and formats, ensuring that each document is scanned to the highest quality standards.
  2. Time and cost savings: Scanning large numbers of documents in-house can be a time-consuming and costly process, requiring significant resources, such as staff, equipment, and storage space. Outsourcing to a professional can save businesses time and money, allowing them to focus on their core activities while the scanning company digitizes your documents.
  3. Increased accuracy and quality: Professional scanning companies use high-quality scanners and imaging software to ensure that every document is scanned accurately and to the highest quality standards. This helps to minimize errors and improve the overall quality of the digital documents.
  4. Enhanced security: Scanning companies typically have strict security measures in place to protect the confidentiality and integrity of their clients’ documents. This can provide businesses with peace of mind that their sensitive information is being handled securely and professionally.
  5. Easy retrieval and accessibility: Once the documents are scanned and digitized, they can be easily stored, searched, and retrieved from a digital database. This makes it easier for businesses to access and manage their documents, reducing the need for physical storage space and improving overall document management efficiency.

Disadvantages of digitizing documents with professional:

  1. Cost: Hiring a professional can sometimes be more expensive when compared to scanning in house.
  2. Red Tape: In some instances, departments may need additional approvals and funding to hire a third party company, which can cause roadblocks and delays for larger corporations.

Final thoughts

While there are several ways to digitize your paper documents, chances are one method will work best depending on your needs. 

If you only need to digitize a few documents, using your phone camera or a mobile app can often be more than enough to get the job done, at no cost to you other than your time. 

If you have a moderate number of documents and a bit of extra money for a high end scanner, that may be all your business needs to go paperless.

And of course, businesses with large volumes of documents should certainly weigh the benefits of hiring a professional to ensure their documents are scanned properly and organized in such a way they remain accessible for years to come. 

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