What Does "Scan" Mean on a Printer?

By Nick Davis

All-in-one printers contain a single scan component among other components.
i Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Present on a variety of business and office printers, scanning is a function that digitizes printed documents and pictures and sends the files to your computer or outputs a duplicate copy of the items via the printer. Printers that contain built-in scan components include all-in-one, inkjet and laser printers. Some all-in-one printers also include fax components that enable you to send the scanned files to third parties.

Physical Specifications

The scan component resides on the top of the printer and is not movable. The component contains a lid, a glass surface on which items are placed to be scanned and a laser that moves underneath the item on the glass. The scan component works the same as a flatbed standalone scanner, but the component is physically attached to a printer.

Digital Specifications

A printer's scan component is managed by the printer's device driver and printing application. The software is installed via an installation wizard that walks you through connecting the printer to your computer and installing the device driver, the TWAIN protocol that enables the scan component to communicate with your computer, the printer's application program and any additional editing/printing files. You can also use third-party scanner applications, as well as graphic manipulation applications, with printers containing scan components; such applications include PaperScan, Scanitto Lite and PaperPort.

Other Uses

In addition to being able to scan documents to your computer and send faxes to recipients, the scan component on a printer also enables the printer to work as a standalone copier for making a copy of a photo, letter, contract, check or other document. The copier option doesn't require your computer, nor does it require downloading and installing a device driver or any other utility.


Printers containing scan components are available directly from printer manufacturers including HP, Canon, Epson, Ricoh and Samsung. They can also be purchased from computer, electronics, office supply and retail stores as well as online outlets. All-in-one printers are also known as multifunction printers; not all multifunction printers include the ability to send and receive faxes.