A flatbed scanner is an electronic device that allows for the conversion of paper documents or photos into a digital form. It is a large, flat device with a hinged lid that is designed to sit on a desktop. The lid is lifted and a document is placed flat against the glass underneath; functioning similarly to a copy machine, the device then scans the document using light or an image sensor.
Once the flatbed scanner has scanned the document or photo, it is transmitted to the computer and displayed on the screen. The user is then free to modify the document or image, print copies, or simply save it in a digital form as a backup. This type of flatbed scanner is a good choice for someone who wants to scan documents occasionally, but primarily works with film, photos, or other fragile images. Photo scanners at drugstores and discount stores are a type of flatbed scanner, albeit on a much larger scale.
Sometimes, a flatbed scanner is referred to as a document scanner. While this is true to an extent, a document scanner is generally a completely different device. Some document scanners are much larger, and are able to scan multi-page documents at once with an auto-feed feature. Again, this is more similar to a copy machine. Other types of scanners simply take photographs of items for display on the computer.
When selecting a flatbed scanner for home use, it is important to consider what types of images will be scanned. If photos and other high-quality images will generally be scanned, it is a good idea to select a scanner with a high resolution and color depth. This will allow the images to be scanned without loss of quality, and will allow photos to be enlarged and reprinted once they are scanned into the computer. If the scanner will primarily be used for text-based documents, it may be possible to purchase a less expensive scanner with a lower resolution.
Keep in mind that even after a scanner is able to scan a text document and transmit it to the computer, it will still be just an image. In order to convert it into text for editing purposes, it will likely be necessary to purchase additional software. Most flatbed scanners come with software to make it easier for the scanner to interface with the computer and to save documents, but they generally do not come with editing or conversion software.