Digitizing printed documents can be tiresome and inconvenient, especially when a traditional scanner is not readily available.
Fortunately, Apple has made it possible to scan documents and photos directly within the native iPhone camera app. Moreover, with plenty of third-party apps available, most functions of the clunky scanners you’re used to now fit nicely into your pocket.
iPhone Native Apps
The iPhone has apps that allow users to scan documents and photos using the built-in camera. First and foremost, this is done through the Notes app.
Using the Notes App to Scan
The Notes app provides the most straightforward method of scanning documents with the iPhone.
To start, open Notes and either open an existing note or create a new one. Next, tap the camera icon at the bottom of the note. This will bring up a menu with a few options, including Scan Documents. Tapping this option will activate the camera. From here, position the document within view, and the camera automatically captures a picture. To scan additional pages, aim the camera at the following document.
The iPhone does a great job of recognizing the edges of a sheet of paper. When scanning, the camera is usually able to exclude the space around the page that
When finished, the save scan button is at the bottom of the screen, which keeps your images in a note as a PDF. In this format, you can search, select and copy text. In addition, you can Markup, add notes, and signatures to your documents.
Your scans are saved within a note but can be shared or saved elsewhere by tapping the share icon at the top of the screen.
It is also possible to add pages to a previously scanned document later. Just open the note, select the scan you want to add to and find the plus symbol (+). Tap this, and the phone’s camera will automatically activate and prompt you to place a document within view.
Using the Camera App to Scan
Scanning documents directly through the camera app works much the same as in the notes app. Starting in the photos app, you can tap the share icon to open the image in notes and follow the process detailed above.
Even with photographs and JPG images of text or documents, it can be saved as a PDF or other supported file formats.
The scan text option is an exciting feature of using the camera app for scanning. When the iPhone recognizes text in a photo, an icon that looks like a document appears on the image. Tapping this will highlight the text within the image and allow you to Copy All. So, rather than converting the image into a PDF, this tool will copy the text you can paste into a note, document, or any app with a text editor function. Scan Text will work if the camera looks at a document and any text that appears in a photo, such as a sign in the background, assuming the text is legible.
Continuity Camera is a feature of macOS that lets you take images with your iPhone and have them instantly appear on your Mac. It only works with specific native applications but offers a streamlined process depending on what you intend to do with the scanned document.
While it’s similar to using an iPhone alone to scan, Community Camera provides the added convenience of saving scans directly on your Mac. Alternatively, scans must be saved on your phone and shared with a particular application.
Using Continuity Camera to Scan
Continuity Camera works with computers operating with macOS Mojave or later and iPhones running iOS 12 or later. For this function to work, both the camera and the computer must be on WI-FI and have Bluetooth enabled.
Essentially, this allows your computer to use your phone as if it were a built-in camera. With the latest update to macOS, it’s worth mentioning that this feature makes it possible to use your phone as a webcam for your computer.
The following apps support Continuity Camera:
- Keynote 8.2 or later
- Numbers 5.2 or later
- Pages 7.2 or later
Start by opening any of the supported apps on your Mac to scan a document. Control-click in the app window and, in the shortcut menu that appears, select Insert From iPhone or iPad > Scan Document.
Doing this will open the camera app on your phone automatically. Next, scan the document with the camera as detailed before. The scanned image appears directly in the Mac app where you initiated the process.
Additionally, Continuity Camera allows you to take photos of something nearby or scan printed photographs. When it comes to larger documents, several or more pages, saving iPhone scans directly on the computer can make the process more organized, streamlined, and user-error-proof.
One of the main benefits of scanning with an iPhone is the ability to annotate and Markup without affecting the original document. Scanned documents usually save as a PDF. PDFs are an ideal format for most scans as one of the most universally used file types.
However, text within a PDF cannot be edited. So, for note-taking, annotating, and collaboration, the Markup tool is valuable.
Let’s say you are working with a scanned document saved in the Notes app on an iPhone. Select the document within the note and tap the share icon at the top of the screen. A menu will appear with a few options, one being Markup. Tapping this will put you in Markup mode. The bottom of the screen will display Markup tools (E.G., pen, eraser, highlighter, etc.), a color selector, and a plus (+) sign.
The (+) allows you to insert additional elements onto the PDF, including text and basic shapes. You can also add a signature by signing with your finger or applying a signature already saved on your device.
Third-Party Scanner Apps
Apple has provided many tools that give iPhone users scanning capabilities. But several apps from other developers offer similar and some advanced tools for scanning on the iPhone.
Of course, it comes down to user preference (and budget), depending on your needs. It may be worthwhile to explore some of these alternatives.
Some of the most popular and well-reviewed apps available in the App Store include:
- Adobe Scan
- Microsoft Lens
Photo Scanning on the iPhone
Digitizing photographs is as simple as snapping a picture of a printed photo. The photo gets saved to your photo library in a JPG format. And for most people, this is perfectly acceptable.
However, in some cases, you may want your photo in a different file format. As mentioned, it is possible to do this directly on the phone.
Following the steps to scan documents using the Notes app or the Continuity Camera feature, replacing the document with a photograph will create a PDF image.
Through the native Camera app (or starting with an existing JPG in your photo library), first select the photo you want to convert. Next, tap the share icon and find Print on the menu that appears. The Print Options page will, of course, allow you to select a printer to send the photo to, but it also lets you save it to any other location. When you share or save this, it will save as a PDF.
The trick with using an iPhone to scan photographs is actually getting a quality picture of the picture.
iPhone Scanning Tips
iPhones do a great job at capturing quality scans, recognizing text, and discerning the edges of a sheet of paper. The image quality is usually more than adequate. But apps have limitations, and scans don’t always come out perfectly. Fortunately, there are some things the user can do to ensure better-quality scans.
Stabilize the camera. A shaky hand takes a blurry photo. It can help to plant your elbow on a surface while holding the phone over a document to keep it steady. Better yet, use a tripod or a mount that can accommodate an iPhone. Even specialty mounts for this very purpose that are sometimes marketed for recording tabletop demonstrations and presentations.
Use the camera’s Grid feature. In the camera settings on your iPhone, you can select to display a grid on the screen. It will not appear on your scan (or recording) but will help you frame your shot from one scan to the next. Keeping the phone parallel to the document is essential to avoid a distorted scanned image.
Pay attention to lighting. You’ll want to avoid glare and shadows. Be mindful of the direction from which light is shining on the document you’re scanning, and adjust as needed. Natural light is preferred, but if possible, a soft white light will get you the best results.
Don’t use portrait mode, live photo, or your camera’s flash. Doing so may result in a blurry image or cause glare.
Focus. The camera’s autofocus usually makes this a nonissue, but if not, tap the part of the screen that you want to be in focus, and the camera will adjust. If this doesn’t work, you could have the camera too close to the subject. Of course, you can always crop the scan after.
Traditional scanners are notoriously headache-inducing. Apple has undoubtedly made this necessary task much more manageable and convenient with the iPhone’s scanning capabilities. For some jobs, the traditional scanners will remain the best option, but surely many people will be happy to let them become a thing of the past.