Quick And Dirty Scanning On The Linux Desktop

Even though we’re supposed to be in the digital age, it’s amazing how much paper and printed matter we still have to deal with. Contracts, receipts, photos, forms. It’s hard to count how many trees have been sacrificed to print those kinds of things.

If you want to try to go paperless, one way to do it is by scanning all of your important documents and archiving them. That can be easier said than done sometimes, though.

Linux has a number of scanning tools, but many of them are big, bulky, or simply don’t work. If your needs are simple or if you need to scan something quickly and with a minimum of fuss and features, you can’t go wrong with Simple Scan and gscan2pdf.

Simple Scan

If you want simple, you can’t get any simpler than Simple Scan. It’s the default scanning utility in Ubuntu, and it makes the job of going from paper to digital easy.

Simple Scan main screen

Get going by selecting “Applications -> Graphics -> Simple Scan. All you need to do is put your document (or whatever) into the scanner and click the Scan button on the application’s toolbar. You can scan one page or multiple pages.

Once you’ve finished scanning, there’s not much else you can do in Simple Scan. You can crop pages or rotate them. Supposedly, you can email scanned files but I’ve never been able to get that to work. Regardless, those options are more than enough for most people.

You can also change the resolution of your scans from 75 DPI (which is pretty low quality) to a whopping 2,400 DPI. But remember that the higher the resolution, the longer your document will take to scan. That can be an important factor, as you’ll find out in a moment.

Simple Scan will save your documents as a PDF, a JPEG file, or a PNG image. Again, nothing special but those formats get the job done.

The only drawbacks to Simple Scan are that it’s a bit slow even when you’re scanning at lower resolutions, and what you scan often winds up with a light gray background – even if the original background was white.


If you’re looking for a scanning app that has a few more features but is still fairly lightweight, then look no further than gscan2pdf. While a little heavier than Simple Scan, gscan2pdf is actually faster and overall the scans it produces are better.

You can install it by compiling the source code or by using the package manager in any Linux distribution that uses GNOME. I recommend using a package manager. gscan2pdf requires a few additional libraries, which your package manager should take care of installing for you.

Again, this is an easy application to use. Just click the Scan button on the toolbar.

Before you scan, you can set a number of options like resolution, color, and paper size. This allows you to change your options as you scan, rather than having to remember to reset them before you scan. It’s not a huge gain in productivity, but it saves a bit of time.

Before you save a scan, you can clean it up and crop it or apply some graphical effects from the Tools menu. Other than cropping, I haven’t had much luck with the other tools.

Scanning with gscan2pdf

Saving scans is a different story. You can save them as PDF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and DjVu. You can also email a scanned document using your default email program. When you save a scan as a PDF, you can add metadata containing additional information to the file.

Final Thoughts

Both Simple Scan and gscan2pdf are simple yet useful. They definitely don’t produce the best scans that you’ll ever see, and they’re not the best choice for scanning photos but the results are better than pretty good. If you need to archive documents – anything from receipts to forms to contracts – then Simple Scan and gscan2pdf are a fast, easy, and efficient way to get the job done.

Image credit: earl53 from morguefile.com

Scott Nesbitt

Scott is a writer of various things -- documentation, articles, essays, and reviews -- based in Toronto, Canada. He loves to play with tech, and to write about it too. Scott hasn't snagged that elusive book contract. Yet.

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