Going paperless: is it (finally) time?

For years now, I’ve held onto the dream of going paperless — a dream that was usually shattered with an afternoon of clumsy scanning on a substandard consumer scanner and a few paper cuts. Every couple of years, I check back in on the state of the art and think about giving it another try. In the past, I’ve mainly been scared away by a very simple barrier: the lack of a reasonably-priced scanner with a document feeder that works consistently. I definitely didn’t want to spend my limited spare time placing documents on a flatbed scanner.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my latest round of research on going paperless and nearly every success story I’ve seen has one scanner at the center of it: the Fujitsu ScanSnap (if you’re using a Mac, the specific model is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S500M). By all accounts, the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner is the iPhone of document scanners (or, judging from the near-universal praise for the ScanSnap — which has been around for a while — the iPhone is the ScanSnap of phones?) No scanner seems to come close for going paperless.

The ScanSnap can scan up to 18 pages per minute (double-sided, so that’s really 36 pages) and the feeder tray can hold 50 pages. Judging from what I’ve read about the scanner, you can clear out your filing cabinet in fairly short order with this little workhorse. It’s definitely not cheap (~$450), but it does come with a full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 Standard (the latest version of the ScanSnap for Windows users, the S510, comes with Acrobat 8, but I couldn’t find an update to their Mac scanner).

Some other random notes from my research:

People who use the ScanSnap with the Mac seem to highly recommend DEVONthink Pro Office, a piece of software with the tagline “meet your second brain.” I’ve run across many mentions of DEVONthink in my occasional GTD spasms, so it might be time to check it out seriously. Wally Grotophorst, a librarian at George Mason University, writes a bit about the magic of DEVONthink and the ScanSnap. According to Wally, DEVONthink has a nice “see also” function as you’re browsing your documents, so if you’re looking at one of your scanned documents (which DEVONthink fully indexes for search), the software will recommend related documents. Compare this to flipping through a filing cabinet.

Other people seem to really like Yep, which is billed as “iPhoto or iTunes for documents.” Yep supports tagging of documents (it can determine the tags algorithmically from the content of your scanned documents) and even has a built-in tag cloud. While a tag cloud with terms like “insurance” and “taxes” isn’t as sexy as a Flickr tag cloud, it’s certainly more useful. Chris Gulker has a nice mini-review of Yep — check it out.

I’ve collected a few links to ScanSnap resources tagged as scansnap in my del.icio.us feed. Needless to say, I placed my order today and hope to be posting more about my paperless experience soon (and posting more in general — what a busy 2007 this has been!)

11 thoughts on “Going paperless: is it (finally) time?

  1. I’ve been scanning lots of documents, I bought an HP 8250, alas it’s duplex document feeder does not work well. And at $800 it was an expensive flop. I’ve considered a SnapScan, but I wonder how well its files work.
    One of the great thing about the HP is scanning directly to a PDF at 300DPI 1bit. The high contrast bitmap documents look great and print great. I use Acrobat to auto-straighten and optimize the scans, a 1Mb page scan can be reduced down to like 30k. So I do a lot of work in Acrobat, it’s very efficient.
    But the question I have is, how do the SnapScan PDFs work on a Mac? In Acrobat, there’s a feature to edit the PDF page in an external editor. It kicks you out to Photoshop, you correct, crop, or clean up the image, then hit Save and go back to Acrobat, the corrected page is right there. So, does the SnapScan produce PDFs that are editable for further optimization?

  2. http://www.remotecontrolmail.com will scan your paper mail and make it available online. An interesting alternative to paper. I don’t have time to scan anything!

    With the Internet/WWW, the amount of paper we were flooding ourselves with for so many years has decreased; we no longer use computer just for word processing, etc., and the Web offers up information in different bits and bites which don’t need to be printed. Can it be that our use of email from and to all devices has displaced paper? Would make sense.

  3. The ScanSnap is actually not that great a document scanner. I had one and gave it away to my father, and purchased a Fujitsu fi-5120C instead (with ScanTango software for the Mac).

    The ScanSnap’s paper feed is not reliable enough for significant batch scanning. The 5120C’s feed is reliable, on the other hand. It even has an ultrasonic sensor to detect accidental double-feeding of pages, with the ScanSnap double-feeding is common, and your scans may be missing pages without your noticing.

    For Windows users, the Canon DR-2050C is significantly cheaper than the 5120C and also has a reliable feed. In fact, I prefer the paper guides on the Canon document scanners, but unfortunately they don’t have Mac software, either from Canon or third parties.

  4. I too am attempting to go paperless, but as a student. I have bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S500M, and have tried out the different software you mention. Now it’s a matter of choosing; either Yep for it’s simplicity, DEVONthink Pro for it’s OCRing, or OS X’s built in spotlight and folders for it’s familiarity. Keep us up to date on what you choose!

  5. For Windows users, the Canon DR-2050C is significantly cheaper than the 5120C and also has a reliable feed. In fact, I prefer the paper guides on the Canon document scanners, but unfortunately they don’t have Mac software, either from Canon or third parties

  6. The ScanSnap is actually not that great a document scanner. I had one and gave it away to my father, and purchased a Fujitsu fi-5120C instead (with ScanTango software for the Mac).

  7. Articles on Going Paperless : Productivity501

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  9. Great review. I have to agree that the new document scanners are amazing. High resolution with a fast processing capability is the way of the future; and will help us going paperless.

  10. Here’s another way to go paperless: keep all your documents digital and online. The main thing I think that is the hinderance to that is the dilemma of getting signatures on a document. However, with electronic signatures now approved as legally binding, a simple switch to electronic signature software can save you a lot of time, money and hassle by eliminating the need for paper documents.
    I use eSign Online by http://www.gopaperless.com and I keep all my documents in their online vault which is accessible from any computer as long as I have internet connection.
    It has completely streamlined my business management and I am no longer messing with little pieces of paper everywhere or rushing to get to kinkos before closing. I simply click, sign, email, upload & DONE! Check it out yourself at http://www.gopaperless.com/EsignOnline.aspx
    Good luck going paperless!

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