PDF In-Depth

iPhone 3Gs as a portable scanner that creates PDFs

February 11, 2010

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For years I've toyed with the idea of getting a portable document scanner like the for those few times when I'm in court and need to copy a few pages of a case record. The local state court here in New Orleans charges $1.00 per page, which is of course ridiculous. But the real hassle is that it takes an incredibly long time to get the copies made, and then pay for them. Hence my motivation to find a way to scan a few pages here and there.

The problems with using the Fujitsu are: (1) it costs $240, which means I'd have to do a lot of scanning to justify it, and (2) it has to be hooked to a computer, which means I'd be lugging a lot of hardware just to do a few scans. And that is why I've never been able to justify buying that scanner.

Now, thanks to the improved camera on the latest iPhone, there is another option that is perfectly acceptable, and costs only $10. I've been testing an application called DocScanner, and I now report that it does a perfectly acceptable job of creating PDF images using the iPhone 3Gs. And let me emphasize that I am not suggesting that it would do as well with the iPhone 3G, because I think you need the focusing ability of the new phone to get acceptable images. Here is an example of a receipt that I was able to "scan" using the application. As you can see it's very good quality:

Receipt scanned using the DocScanner iPhone app Scanned receipt

DocScanner lets you create multi-page PDFs simply by continuing to take pictures. Once you're done you can choose to save the resulting PDF to your iPhone, or you can email it to yourself or anyone in your address book.

The process of creating the PDF can be slightly tricky the first few times you do it, but once you get the hang of it you can do it without much hassle. The images as displayed on the iPhone seem low quality, but when you email them to yourself and examine them on a full computer screen the quality is usually quite impressive.

Obviously, the trick is to get a good photo, which means having plenty of light and also holding the camera steady while you take the picture. In that vein I might suggest that you also try these two applications: iFlashReady (which adds light to a dark image), and NightCamera (which is a sort of self-timer for the iPhone that delays taking the picture until your hands are most steady). So, if you use these applications to take pictures, how do you get them into DocScanner? Easy. DocScanner lets you use images from your Cameral Roll. So you'd just take the pictures of the pages you want to have, then apply the light adjustment (if needed) and then use DocScanner to convert them to PDFs which you can then join together into a multipage PDF that can be emailed or saved.

So, if you've been looking for a good way to create PDF scans of a few pages here and there you may have the solution you're looking for. If you own an iPhone 3Gs, that is. As I said, I don't think it will work very well with the older iPhones. And I wouldn't try to do more than a few pages with it because I think it would get kind of frustrating. For small jobs like receipts and expense reports, though, it's perfect!

This piece originally appeared on PDFforLawyers.com, and has been reproduced with permission.

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