What Is the Difference Between a Scanner & a Copier?

By Andrew Aarons

Copiers replicate pages of information onto other pages.
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Photocopiers are pretty standard pieces of office equipment, having been a mainstay in most offices since the late 1970s and early 1980s. But as digital technology improves and becomes increasingly more affordable, a paper-free piece of technology like a scanner could meet all of your document reproduction needs and replace your traditional copier. Copiers and scanners operate in similar ways, but how they output information is much different.

What Is a Copier?

A stand-alone copier's primary function is to copy documents onto paper and in volume. It has a flat piece of glass or takes pieces of paper individually through feeders, records an image of the document, and prints duplicates of the document. Copiers output different sizes of paper, depending on the make and model. Likewise some create color prints, while others deal only in black-and-white.

What Is a Scanner?

Scanners work much like copiers, taking images of documents that you place on a piece of glass or insert into a reader space. Scanners create digital versions of the images and store them on your computer. You control the input settings and select the resolution for the scans and can use the digital files for a variety of things, from viewing on your computer to emailing to coworkers.

Key Differences

While scanners and copiers operate in much the same manner, their output is different. A copier transfers documents directly onto paper and can copy large volumes at once without having to go through a computer, whereas a scanner creates digital versions of the documents that live on your computer. Instead of producing hard output, scanners only convert the document to a digital format; they have no output trays, ink systems or printing capabilities. Some multi-function printers have scanners built in, in which case the scanner doubles as a copier as part of a multi-purpose machine.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Scanners are useful for creating high-resolution digital images from text or photos. You can then send the digital copies via email or share them over your network with other people. Scanners usually operate page-by-page, which makes them slower than copiers, which handle multiple pages in quick succession. Additionally, copiers create multiple copies of your scanned documents, so reproducing large documents is quick and fairly simple. High-end copiers may also collate and staple sets of documents, which isn't possible with scanners.